Monday, 11 October 2010

Part 1 - Context

Why do people go to the trouble of making short films in the first place?

There are many different reasons why people go to the trouble of making short films, however one of the most common reasons is that they are an artistic film-maker who sees shorts as an art form in their own right and so therefore use shorts as a way of expressing their views on pressing or controversial issues or even as a spring-board for them to deal with their own problems and the issues that others have with them. An example of a film-maker who uses shorts as an art form to express his own problems and the issues that others have with him is Isaac Julien, a 50 year old black, gay film-maker from London, and his 42 minute short ‘Looking For Langston’, a black and white film made in 1989 that celebrates black, gay identity and desire. This film directly relates to Julien’s experiences of being a gay man of black origin by using the life of poet Langston Hughes as a black, gay cultural icon as the main subject of his film.

While many directors make short films to express their views or to make a statement, other people go to the trouble of making short films as a spring-board for them to go on to make a feature-length as it is a way of directors of stand-out talent to get recognised within the industry.

The situation with short filmmaking when shorts were still being shot on celluloid.

Until recently both feature length and short films were shot using traditional celluloid film and for this reason it was extremely difficult for someone who’d never made a film to secure public funding due to the expense required to shoot with celluloid. Caroline Cooper Charles, short film consultant for the UK Film Council says that “The situation in the late 1990’s was that there were limited opportunities for a small clique of people to get healthy funding for their shorts but there was very little investment in the discovery of new talent.” However, budgets for 35mm celluloid shorts had increased dramatically with films made under FilmFour’s Short & Curlies programme regularly costing between £60,000 and £90,000, with the £90,000 budget for Tinge Krishnan’s BAFTA winning ‘Shadowscan’ being a peak for the British Film Institutes New Directors scheme. Although ‘Shadowscan’ and many other shorts had gone on to do well by being successful with critics and picking up a handful of awards the costs of these shorts were difficult to justify due to the small amount of people who had actually seen them due to the lack of both cinema and television screening. The increasing costs of shorts were also difficult to justify when a fraction of these enormous budgets could be used for supporting emerging, up-and-coming film-makers who were willing to work with digital equipment.

The impact that DV technology has had on the short film.

The introduction of digital video (DV) and digital technology has had a profound effect on the ways in which short films are created and edited, but most importantly they have allowed more and more short films to be made giving up-and-coming film-makers the opportunity to make and distribute their films for little to no money at all due to the availability of cheap equipment such as cameras and home computer editing suites. These new, cheaper technologies then enable would-be film-makers to present their film to one of the major short film schemes to secure funding for a more ambitious piece of work or to distribute it via the Internet, with both the Internet and the introduction of the DVD emerging as important new mediums for extending both the lifespan and audience of shorts.

The emergence of DV and the belief that more money should be channelled into supporting budding film-makers is what prompted the UK Film Council to launch a three-year scheme to support digital shorts in August 2001, pledging £1.5 million to produce 100 short films a year with the only catch being that each film had to be shot solely on digital for less than £10,000 and that each film had to be less than 10 minutes long. The scheme got a mixed response with Caroline Cooper Charles saying that “We were angrily told that it was impossible to make a decent film for less than £10,000, and that forcing people to shoot on digital was too restrictive.” Critics of the scheme also felt that the format of the ten-minute film was unable to be a serious bridge to feature-length films. One of the schemes critics was Asif Kapadia, acclaimed director of ‘The Sheep Thief’ and ‘The Warrior’, who stated that “When you’re a film student you’re very aware of how much film costs, so you’re not going to start shooting until you know exactly what you want. There’s a danger with digital that you don’t make any real decisions until you’re on set, and then you assume any problems can be sorted in post-production.” However, Soledad Gatti-Pascual of London-based production company The Bureau disagrees stating that “The most successful digital shorts are those that work with the format rather than pretending to be shooting 16mm on the cheap.” A good example of this is Simon Ellis’ ‘What About The Bodies’ where Ellis said he’d learnt “…how to make DV look less like DV, but that doesn’t mean emulating celluloid.”

The distribution and exhibition possibilities for short films made in the UK & the limitations of the format (what, according to some, can’t shorts achieve that features can?)

The introduction of DV has not just had an impact on the production of the short film it has also affected the distribution and exhibition possibilities for short films made in the UK. However the biggest challenge yet is still to secure a theatrical release with the easiest option for getting your short screened in UK cinemas being to have it programmed with a feature, though this is a rare and unusual event. The cost of transforming a 16mm or 35mm print from a digital master tape also hinders your chances of getting your film screened, with the cost of this being around £3000. Although the steady introduction of digital projection equipment into UK cinemas will save the cost of converting digital masters into film prints since the masters will be directly downloaded on to the cinemas own servers.

Short Circuit Films, the UK-based organisation responsible for the distribution of shorts made on the Digital Shorts scheme, has tried funding distributors to assign a short to a feature, nevertheless this only works if the cinema manager is enthusiastic about the idea as the exhibition of the short is at their discretion. Short Circuit’s Meabh O’Donovan says that “We found it more effective to go to individual cinemas to persuade them to take shorts rather than attempting to do it at the point of distribution.” Yet several cinemas across the UK are hosting monthly short events with The Cameo in Edinburgh running The Blue Room in conjunction with Mediabase and Cinema Extreme inviting established directors to talk at screenings of their own early shorts at London’s Curzon Soho. Underground events are also becoming more and more common with Exploding Cinema screening unfunded films in squats, church halls, disused factories and anywhere else it can find a venue.

The length of the short also effects it’s chances of being released, with the shorter the short, the better its chances. A key example of this is ‘Desserts’ staring Ewan McGregor, which was sold across Europe and Asia because it’s a one-gag film that’s under five minutes long. Damien Spandley from City Screen confirms that “With a 90-minute feature we wouldn’t usually run anything longer than 10 minutes, and we wouldn’t programme anything with a two-hour film.” However these restrictions aren’t helpful to would-be feature film-makers with the problem being that most three-minute shorts are “…little more than a witty idea with a sting in its tail.” Asif Kapadia also has concerns that “Some short film-makers aren’t learning to develop characterisation, and so financiers aren’t convinced they can make features.” This being one of the main limitations of the short film format along with the inability to develop narrative.

The conclusion reached by the writer about the situation of short film in the UK at the time of the article’s publication.

The conclusion that the writer of the article has come to is that in general this is a wonderful time for short films with “…virtually no obstacles to making your first moving-image work.” The fact that the UKFC is also using the inexpensiveness of DV “…to help empower hundreds of would-be film-makers,” confirms this as it “…can only be a good thing.” However it does have it’s disadvantages as Caroline Cooper Charles admits to reading around 1000 scripts a year for the various regional and national elements of the Digital Shorts scheme, the majority of which are poor quality. The UKFC also carries through government policy to help “…empower Britain’s regions and nations,” therefore meaning the responsibility for nurturing up and coming talent lies with film commissioners on arts boards across the country, something which the writer of the article believes to be “…a welcome resistance to a London-centric industry.” Though the fact still remains that the UK has found it hard to discover film-makers of stand-out talent in recent years.

How up-to-date do you think the article is?

I don’t believe that the article is very recent due to the fact that it doesn’t include any mention of more recent, emerging technologies such as high-definition cameras and blu-ray. It also fails to go into detail about online distribution, which in the past year or two has had a dramatic increase in both visitors to these sites and the number of online distribution sites available. It also fails to give any examples of online distribution websites such as YouTube and and so therefore I believe that this article isn’t very up-to-date and definitely not written in the last three or four years.

Catch 22: “Short films represent the way that many if not most filmmakers get recognised initially. Done superbly well, they can become a new director’s ticket onto the restricted access ladder that leads to making a feature film. Yet so many obstacles still stand in the way of short film-makers and the all important “airplay” of the short films they make.” How effectively does the article explain and answer this paradox?

I believe that the article effectively explains and answers this paradox by going into detail about how important the short film is for would-be feature film-makers and giving examples of directors of stand-out talent who have gone on to make features off the back of their shorts. It also explains how digital technology is evolving and changing the short film industry at the same time and how the emergence of new, cheaper technology is enabling anybody to create their own short film and try and break into the film industry. However the article then goes on to state how much of a struggle it is to get your short screened, particularly if you are an amateur, unheard of director, therefore making it seemingly hard to get an audience to watch your film and for you to break into the industry. Yet with the emergence of online distribution it is also somewhat easier to reach a wider audience.

Find at least two other articles which examine the importance of short films and their effectiveness as stepping stones to longer format films for emerging film-makers. Do they address the paradoxes/challenges for short film-makers?

Screen Online -

This article effectively explains the paradox of short films and how important they are to would-be feature film-makers by giving key examples of British directors who begun by making shorts and have now gone on to make several successful feature-lengths. It also discusses the decline in shorts and lists the reasons for this, with the emergence of blockbuster features in the 1970’s one of the main reasons. However it also says how short films can now be seen as repetitive and that new, thought-provoking plots are being compromised for the desire of a bigger audience. A lack of funding is also stated as one of the reasons why there has been a decline in the popularity and innovativeness of short films and is one of the main obstacles standing in the way of film-makers and the distribution of their shorts. The Internet is however mentioned as a new medium for distribution.

Left Lion -

This article completely contradicts the previous two as it’s basically a guide on how to make a short film with no budget at all, eliminating the majority of the obstacles that stand in the way of creating a short that were mentioned in the previous two articles. It explains what needs to go into the planning of your film and how you can assemble a cast and crew and gain the equipment you need. It even goes as far as to tell you how to edit your film together on a home computer editing suite making it believable that anyone is capable of making their own short if they want too. It doesn’t however mention how making your own short in this way can lead to making a feature, therefore not fully explaining the paradox.

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