Five Common Short Film Mistakes


Mikael Colville-Andersen British-Danish is a writer/director based in Copenhagen, Denmark. He has written and directed several short films, including the award-winning short Breaking Up. He has also written, directed, and starred in a feature film, Zakka West.

I somehow found his blog 16:9 Cinematic Filmblog and scoured through the posts until I came to one entitled, “Five Classic Mistakes Made by Short Film Directors”.

Here they are with my thoughts as a novice filmmaker.

1. The intro or set-up is too long.

"In far too many shorts you sense that the director felt the need to establish character, time, place, mood, etc. A waste of time. The short film is an excercise in brevity. Get right to the central question, right to the heart of the conflict. In dramaturgical terms, start with the first plot point."

This is such a hard thing to remember. I constantly find myself getting bogged down in the details. The premise of the story should be established in a few opening shots. Remember the old adage: show, don’t tell? Well, it’s especially true in a short film.

2. No clear protagonist.

"It's a short film. There's no room or time for a buddy film or a cast of thousands (or even three). One crystal clear protagonist with one crystal clear conflict, please."

Your protagonist needs to have clear motivations throughout the story arc. It’s a short arc, but make it hard for your protagonist. He will be making decisions throughout the course of the short, those decisions need to have motivations.

3. Too much dialogue.

"It's a short film! Not a Shakespearean monologue. Tell the story with as little dialogue as possible and tell the story with images... it is film after all."

Again, show...don’t tell. And please, don’t resort to using the F-word to make your characters more “bad-ass”.

4. Too many stories.

"What's it about? It's about the protagonist and his/her conflict. Not the protagonist's best friend's subplot. One straight, red line from start to ending. Stick with one story."

I’ve heard many people relate to short films to jokes. There needs to be a clear story ending with a punchline.

Johnny, George, and Bert were driving along in their pickup

when they saw a sheep caught in the fence with its hind end up in the air.

Bert said, "I wish that was Sharon Stone."

George echoed, "I wish it was Demi Moore."

Little Johnny sighed, "I wish it was dark . . . "

If* that joke was turned into a script for a short film, you’d only need 3 actors: Johnny, George, and Bert.

* (This particular joke probably wouldn't lend itself to an award-winning short film.)

5. No story.

"Even worse than number 4 and, unfortunately, seen much more often. No story at all. If you can't figure out what a short film is about after a few minutes, then it's not a short film."

A short film should not be a montage of images. It’s not an experimental film. Tell me a story in a short amount of time. And don’t just tell me the story, show me the story.


Richard said...

Very true. i think I've been guilty of all of those at various times. By the way, loved the graphic on this page (the one that read: "the purpose of your life could be as a warning to others")