Archive for Research

Short Film Research – Origins Of Ideas

Posted in University Work (Old) with tags , , on January 31, 2011 by Adam Broome

As with most modules, it’s always good to start with a post based around the history of what the module is about. 264MC is Short Film – a module where I will hopefully be able to film and broadcast my very own movie short. We have started the module looking at the origins of short films – namely, the ideas and the pre-production processes. Particularly, we have looked at scripting. In upcoming posts I’m sure I will be able to demonstrate what I’ve learned from these lectures, but for now, I will look back at certain points of my movie knowledge to scenes that have demonstrated a deep level of understanding script.

I’ll start by looking at one scene from my favourite and personal all-time best film of all time, Once Upon A Time In The West (a film I watched for the first time only about a year ago!). This film is often cited as being a film that has no dialogue for the opening six minutes or so. For me though, one of the best scenes in the movie is in the last ten minutes, when the final enigma code is revealed. There is little dialogue, yet the whole story is explained in this one encounter:

The Importance Of No Dialogue: (I probably wouldn’t watch this unless you’ve seen the film already!)

In one lecture, we were told that a good short film can deliver all of it’s message through the visual medium alone. This scene is a fine example of such – the props and locations establish time and setting. Conventions such as the man in white having a shootout with the man in black constitutes good vs evil. Only a few words are spoken, yet almost the entire film is explained in this one scene.

Yet, dialogue can also be useful in being a crucial part of the narrative as well – not just in exposition, but as part of development of characters. Along with Once Upon A Time In The West, the two other films that really stood out for me last year were Inception and True Romance. The latter featured an early turn from Quentin Tarantino, who shows his potential particularly in the dialogue. This one scene features Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper. Both characters are largely irrelevant to the plot (Walken is only in this one scene in the whole film!). The only thing that happens that is relevant to the narrative is that the address is found on the refrigerator at the end. Yet, this ten minute scene is one of the most memorable in the movie because of it’s dialogue:

The Importance Of Having Dialogue:

Part of the magic of this scene – besides the quality of the acting – is the way that the very formal and serious situation becomes something much more informal, comedic and friendly. This scene particularly may play a part later in the module, as my own short film idea is based around a similar style of turning a stereotypically formal situation into a mockery. In contrast to the previous clip, this film is very different in the way set design or props, meaning the visual element is not as important as what is being said. This is perhaps true for most of Tarantino’s future work.

A film director that I’ve been investigating a lot recently is Stanley Kubrick. He’s made some of the most famous films in history, yet I seemed to have viewed very little of his work. The most recent experiences have been Eyes Wide Shut (too long) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (too long). However, when I was about fourteen years old, my mum taped a film and told me not to watch it. She herself had never managed to make it past the first twenty minutes, but wanted it on tape in case she ever felt like giving it a go. Naturally, I watched it the first chance I got. The film was A Clockwork Orange. To this day it remains my favourite Kubrick movie.

I bought it on DVD recently and gave it a second watch. The music is wonderfully suitable to the events on the screen, and the dialogue is most memorable in the opening scene as viewed here:

The Importance Of Simplicity

It is a wonderful way to start the film. Here we have the challenging of conventions – characters dressed in white, drinking milk. In this film, white often seems to signify danger or violence. The dialogue heard in this opening shot doesn’t explain much of anything, yet sets the tone perfectly for the events to come. More importantly, it identifies the narrator within seconds of opening the film, which allows the viewers to actively identify with who they need to pay attention to the most. Although in this scene, the narrator merely describes what is on screen, inevitably he will talk about emotions and more complex issues later in the film.

This scene also identifies another concept introduced to us in lectures – that of K.I.S.S – ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’. The dialogue is merely a description of what is on screen, and draws the audience in. It is not complex, and because of that, it is a good way to start the film. There is no doubt that in order to take on challenging concepts or make difficult points of observation, you will need a longer film. Our films have got to be three minutes long however. In a recent seminar, I put forward a few of my ideas. Other people had come up with post-apocalyptic tales, stories of the beginning and end of marriages, and the back-stories of imaginary friends. My idea of a job interview was deemed the most simple – we have also been advised that the script must be one page to each minute – i.e: no longer than three pages. So, to some degree, our three minutes films need to be a nice stream of opening scenes from A Clockwork Orange.

Clearly I’m drawing a lot of inspiration from longer films. It’s true that I have seen a vast quantity of feature films more than I have short films (despite always viewing short film festivals on TV On Demand). I recently went to the Rapid Eye Movement (R.E.M) Short Film Festival, and viewed some more substantial work there. It was interesting to see what some people had decided to film for their piece – some where stories fitted in music videos, and some were just scenes from a longer narrative. Some had lots to say – and I got the feeling some of them intentionally had nothing to say at all.

The ‘Virgin Media Shorts’ competition is one way I’ve kept in touch with short films. I managed to find this one from years ago:

The Importance Of Romance

In lectures, we were told that romance is a sure-fire hit in terms of genre. It is easy to do, and the subject is something that everyone can relate to. The way our lecturer put it: ‘Boy gets girl, Boy loses girl, Boy gets girl again’. This made me want to make a short film romance, but I had difficulty developing emotions and narrative in three minutes. An opportunity recently arose on my 201MC trips to Prague, which may spark off this course a little as they both progress. I managed to script a romance for that, as Prague is a very romantic setting.

I have seen quite a few short films, but often I come to the barrier of feeling that three minutes is not long enough to develop a proper narrative. I have often cited three minute films as being always being part of larger narratives, rather than stand alone stories in their own right. But it is indeed possible to create narrative – of any description – in this time window. A friend of mine showed me a clip of 5-second films a few weeks back, which goes to show that ‘narrative’ by definition can not only be made in three minutes, but also in five seconds. The key is creativity – and also, perhaps, humour:

The Importance Of Being Short:

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