Writing and directing a short is much harder than it looks. And writing and directing a good short is very, very difficult. In a small amount of time, you have to tell a story. Unlike a short story, you can’t cut to the chase and start by describing your main character. I think the closest thing to this is a voiceover – but as soon as you go too far into character, the audience is left expecting more and you don’t have time to give them more. And because you’re working with film, which is so unforgiving in this respect, each frame has to advance the plot. So how do you manage in that small amount of time to constantly tell the story without making it characterless?
I think the best method of approach is to tell the story as visually as possible. Narrate through images more than dialogue. In ten minutes you can tell a long, meaningful story through images but you just can’t if you work only with words. I don’t think this means you should avoid dialogue, but it’s essential that the images do most of the work, more than they would normally do in a feature. This way you can pack a punch into ten minutes and your film will be a self-contained work, rather than a suggestion of a longer piece.
I don’t know if I’ve managed to do these things or not, but it’s certainly one of the main lessons I learnt after making Music Wherever She Goes, a four minute short film about memory and grief.
The lack of a student film-community at Oxford is surprising, particularly given that the theatre scene stages over thirty productions a year. The reason behind this is that there is a staggering amount of money in student theatre and next to nothing in film. Despite rapidly falling costs of film production, the price and investment that making a film costs seems to make people shelve it for later. And who’s to blame them? Stephen Daldry, Sam Mendes, Danny Boyle and Anthony Minghella, to name just a few directors, all started out in theatre when they were students.
I think this is indicative of a larger British trend: we are better at theatre than we are at film, and as in many other parts of our culture, traditions are slow to change.