Why I was wrong about short films

I was going to write a post about why I don’t like making short films. As I was writing I realized my reasons were kind of garbage. I had all of these misconceptions about short film production that weren’t true. I haven’t been thinking about short films in the right way. Here are the reasons I thought short films weren’t worth the effort they take.

“Short films are too short for my stories.”

Animation takes so long to produce it’s often in the best interest to make the film as short as possible. I thought that short films had to be so short, you couldn’t fit a full narrative. I want to tell stories that are long and deep. This isn’t a good reason to not make a short film. There’s no reason you can’t take your bigger idea and simplify it to fit the format. I used to think that short films work better when they were funny, and you couldn’t do epics. I think this was fear, each time I tried to make a short film I tried to game the system. I’d make something that I thought would work. In the end I always ended up with something that wasn’t honest to what I wanted to say. This was my lesson from those films. I tried to hard to make a good short film, instead of trying to make my own short film.

I convinced myself that self contained short films were better. I didn’t like the idea of making trailers, or a short that was clearly a pitch for a series. I thought it was more pure to make a film that could stand on it’s own two legs. This is silly, if you’ve put all the work into designing the characters and building the world why not tell more stories. Why not make a long story told in installments. I had this idealized version of what an animated short film was and it prevented me from making the kind of films I wanted to make.

“Short films take forever to make”

Many of us only made short films during school. In school the way you make a film is you start in September and you (hopefully) finish in April. I was lucky in that I started working on my first short film at the end of my second year of animation school. I got funding and worked on it on top of doing coursework. After I graduated and finished my thesis film I had to return to animating this film. The process was excruciating, this is where I get my negative feelings around short films. It took me two and half years to finish it. From that experience I thought animated films took forever to make. At least a year of hard work, for maybe a minute of animation. You can make a short film in however much time you like. When you make the film on your own, you can set the schedule, and the deliverables. I’m probably not going to spend a year on a film again. I’ll manage the scope differently so I don’t have to spend another 2 years on one film.

“Short films are lonely experience.”

The two films I made I animated entirely on my own. Animated filmmaking is unique because you can make a film by yourself. I don’t endorse this, for my money, animation is the best when it is collaborative and a team sport. When working on your own project its common to use yourself, you are the cheapest person you know. Everyone else costs money. I think there are interesting ways that you can raise money or call in favours. Making animation with other people is one of the great benefits of making cartoons.

“Short films have no market.”

I was under the assumption that nobody watches short films. That there wasn’t much success outside of film festivals, and I don’t really get film festivals. What I realized is the struggle of getting people to see your work is hard no matter what your selling. Getting people to watch a short film is as hard as getting someone to read a blog post, see your drawing, read your comic or buy your product. This is a marketing problem and the medium isn’t what’s holding you back. It’s true that there is a very small group of people who are looking for animated short films. They are probably not your audience. What you really need to do is to make something that is for a specific group of people who are looking for what your making. You want to find a group of people who like to share what’s interesting to them. It doesn’t have to reach everybody it just has to reach the right people.

I wrote this post to try and explain why short films are a waste of time. I don’t think that any more. I’m actually kind of excited, I want to start making one. It’s a whole new perspective. I think we all have an idea of what a short film is supposed to be. Often we make it to hard on ourselves. This gets to the point of Indie Animated. You choose the terms of what you want to make. Question your assumptions about the proper way to do things. Don’t wait for someone to approve your idea, or funding to come through, or the perfect story. If you see an audience waiting for a certain kind of story, and you want to make it, start making it. Get it out in whatever crude version you can. It might not work, but try to have the bravery to make something better next time.