In 2005, on BBC2’s Culture Show, Mark Kermode gave his top five tips on making short films.
For those who missed it, here they are:
1. Quirky is Good
Being genuinely surprising and original will always make your short stand out. The Kermode made particular reference to a short film where seven naked men march down a cosy suburban street, for no apparent reason. Their behaviour appalls children and women but husbands are curiously drawn into joining the naked men on their inexplicable march. The clip was very funny. Another reference was made to a Brazilian short (I think) where a girl is given a present of a small record player but is told by her mum never to play the ‘little green record’. Of course she does, and every time she does, her mother loses a limb…
2. You See with Your Ears
As your budget will no doubt be miniscule, you can still get away with a vast cornucopia of imagery (I’m turning into Kermode now) thanks to a discerning use of sound. The Kermode gave an example of a huge car crash being witnessed by a guy in the street but all we see is him staring and HEAR the noise of the crash, and then cut to cars piled up. Worked very well. Also, using sound to heighten tension and elevate the drama of your scene.
3. Robert de Niro is Waiting
A short may be fine and well even if it’s done with friends and family but it truly can stand out if you can attach a known actor. The presence of a recognisable actor (or preferably star) does automatically give your story more appeal and enjoyment (that’s why stars have so much power). If you think your script is really good, then why not aim high and send it to the actors you’d love to be in it.
4. Never mind the Popcorn, Mind the nuts and Bolts
The technical aspects of your short need to be sound - from the basics of sound and photography etc - but quirkier and more original aspects of technicality can make your short stand out from the rest. The Kermode showed us a clip of a black&white film of a man & woman about to kiss but the editor (part of the film) makes a mistake and he splices the man & woman upside down from each other, and the setting around them collapses around them in whatever gravity is pulling their side.
5. Keep Your Shorts, Short
Fifteen minutes can feel like interminable death if your story’s a dud. Five to ten minutes is more common, three minutes widely acceptable but now shorts are running on anything from 10secs upwards. But the best shorts are exactly that. Short.