Thursday, 17 September 2009

Tip # 11: A short or a feature?

By Dan Parkes (Director)

It seems in the world of filmmaking that films must sit within two basic catagories: the short film (no longer than 15 minutes) and the feature film (no shorter than 70 minutes). Anything in-between is a no-man’s land of potential viewer disappointment and no funding.

So what’s the difference? Well the rule is that a short film is normally a ‘moment in time,’ based around a single event or chain of interconnected events over a short period of time. However, a feature film will likely have a much longer narrative timeline and adhere to the classic three act structure with a much wider story arc: the first act being the set up (introduction), the second act the obstacle (development) and the third act the resolution (conclusion).

The original draft of Ambleton Delight (then titled Millfield Pie) was 30 pages in length and was in three acts. There was no way the story could be reduced down to a 15 minute piece –so we had the exciting task of developing it into a feature. Using the rule of a minute-to-a-page the rewrite thus required another 30-40 pages at least.

This was where I came in. As the director, it is always a great opportunity to flesh out an idea –to explore character’s motivations and play with visual possibilities. The original script was solidly based in the restaurant with emphasis primarily on the character of manager/chef John Miller. I wanted to explore more of his background and motivation. So I created what eventually became eight flashback scenes, completely from John’s POV, detailing his friendship with young lads Wayne and Andy who draw him into a world of drugs and violence. I then connected these flashbacks with John’s life in the village. I also developed in much greater detail the mayor and the council scenes, expanding on the small town politics (giving Brian Capron some long complicated speeches that he later cursed me for!). The end result: the next draft was 65 pages long, and once we got a third writer on board (Ben Rohde) it finally became 80 pages –a good length for a feature.

So if you are developing an idea or a script you need to decide whether it is a short or a feature –which will work best for your idea? Is it a moment in time, or a three act journey?

For an interesting example of a short that became a feature check out ‘Alive in Joburg’ a six minute short that director Neill Blomkamp later developed into the blockbuster District 9:

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