It is not unusual to find quite a few first time filmmakers wanting to shoot a feature as a debut, whist there is nothing wrong in this, most get frustrated at their failure to create a film which is engaging and has a coherent story.
Needless to say, filmmaking is about telling stories in pictures, but the important word here is ‘telling stories’, and this is an art that needs mastering through practice. There is no better way to learn the art of film than to start with short films - they are cheaper in terms of production cost, and its very flexible in terms of ones imagination and visual creativity.
Many of the best African filmmakers like Ousmane Sembene, Djibril Diop Mambéty, Youssef Chahine as well as celebrated international film directors, all started out at one point shooting short films.
A good short film can be a great calling card for a filmmaker, the film, Areaboys is a classic example of a good short film by the Nigerian director (Omelihu Nwanguma), which was picked by the Hollywood movie studio Focus Feature and is now being turned into a feature length film.
However, in order for a short film to become a great calling card, you need to have the perfect script as well as good production values.
What does a good short film entail?
Filming in general is about pictures. It is the ability to show things rather than tell them, but a ‘good film’ is only as good as its writing. Therefore, it is important to work with a good writer if you are an aspiring film director, creative collaboration with other talents can be a hugely rewarding experience – for there is a chance you will spoil your film with inexperienced or poor writing.
Also, watch as many short films as you possibly can, there is no replacement for knowing what works and what does not. You learn a lot from viewing films as an audience as well as a budding filmmaker.
The first and last sequence in a film are crucial and this is why good writing is revered; if you fail to get your audience emotionally engaged
early on in your film you loose their attention.
Likewise at the end of the film, it's easy to come away feeling very little about a film, so it is important to work towards a meaningful, satisfying ending.
Food for thought
The best short films are often moments played out with a story at its heart or a conflict that has to be resolved, or a choice that a character has to make.
It is also crucial to spend time thinking about how your film will play to its audience, does your story have a popular appeal or is it a niche one? What can you show without having to explain? In addition, how do you use local aesthetics to enhance the imagery of your story?
A short film can be anything from thirty seconds to thirty minutes in length, and it is a fantastic opportunity to push the boundaries of cinematic storytelling at a cheaper cost.
In our next tutorial, we will take a look at screenplay, narration and character development.