With professional grade equipment getting cheaper every year the filmmaking process is becoming increasingly democratized. But how do you make sure your fledgling project isn’t lost in the crowd?
Writer Chris Nelson is the Director of the annual London Surf / Film Festival and as well as serving as a festival judge on the continent, he watches over sixty features from across the globe and some thirty short film submissions every year for the London event so CARVE thought we’d tap him up about just what makes a short film work.
The annual LS/FF x Reef Shorties short film contest has become a showcase for the wealth of surf filmmaking talent in Britain and Ireland. Entries to the 5 minute homegrown shorts strand are open until 9th September. For more info: www.londonsurffilmfestival.com/shorts-submissions
Every surf movie was a big deal when I was a grommet. They were delivered via the slightly blurry medium of betamax or via a snowy projector in a rented church hall in the northeast. It was a shared experience. The ‘surf short’ as a genre didn’t exist but many movies were actually an amalgamation of ‘shorts’ or sections strung together under one banner. Think Green Iguana, Gripping Stuff, Hawaii Nine 0 or Bunyip Dreaming.
Here in 2015 the surf short is all around us. It has become one of our main forms of narrative delivery reaching beyond our daily social media feed. Get it right and a short film can have a massive impact; think Duct Tape Surfing, Dark Side of the Lens, The Shaper or Perfect Holiday. It can capture the zeitgeist, move a whole section of society. It can help catapult an aspiring director onto a bigger stage. Think Uncommon Ideas and the trajectories followed by Mark Water and Chris McClean – both now multi award-winning, full-time filmmakers.
But with so many movies pumped out onto the Internet, how do you make your film stand out? The truth is you don’t need John John, a RED Epic or a remote backdrop to make a film that can have a global impact…
The best shorts have a solid concept that binds them together. Ask yourself why do you want to make this film? What do you want it to say? Keep reminding yourself of the big idea throughout the process.
Narrative is key to making something that’s more than just a montage of moving images. Story telling, through visuals or audio, is the essential ingredient to any good short. Does it tell a story? If not, move on.
Cinematography is not about the equipment you use, it is about the way you use it. Hand held has its place, but a steady image is key. Always ensure you get the basics right. Get a tripod. Get the horizon straight. Get it in focus.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice from fellow filmmakers or film festivals. We often have rough cuts submitted to the LS/FF and have helped with things like the sourcing of music, footage, funding and distribution as well as introductions across the world. This is just part of what we do
Give it room to breathe. It just doesn’t need slashing hack followed by slashing hack. Some of the best surf shorts actually use surf action quite sparingly. Don’t be afraid of landscapes, line-ups, wildlife, culture, people.
Be consistent. Don’t go mad with the jump cuts – unless this is your style. When filming, always allow enough space for when you get into the editing room.
A good film can be made or murdered by the wrong music choice. The right soundtrack can elevate a good film into a classic. Spend time, find the right piece by the right artist that aids in telling the story. It needn’t cost the earth – an up and coming artist may be happy to allow the use of one of their tracks for the exposure it brings. Be sure to get all the legal clearances. Mine your friendship group – there might be a talented musician in there.
Less is often more. If in doubt, leave it out. Which leads onto…
Set the bar high. Make it all killer, no filler. Do you really need that 4th shot of the same guy, on the same board, on the same wave, from the same angle?
Someone is paying the tab, but nothing looks worse than the protagonists wondering round with a can of energy drink in their hands for the whole film. If it’s there make it subtle – the audience is savvy. They know a blatant plug when they see one.
Finally what would you like your film to achieve? Where do you want it to go? There are a number of excellent film festivals looking to showcase good creative talent on the big screen and a film premiere is a chance to share your work with an appreciative and stoked crowd. Then quality media outlets will help share it with the world. Think about what your end goal is for the project.