While writing and directing a well-received short film can be a great stepping stone to features, aspiring feature directors should avoid the trap of making short after short.

Producer Raquelle David expressed that view on social media, prompting a flood of comments, some in full support, others disagreeing.

“Australian writers and directors that have made one solid short film need to stop making more,” said David, who has produced more than a dozen shorts and is developing several features.

“Seriously, stop. Focus on the feature or high-end TV concept and work with producers that will help you realise it. I'm so worried about our industry pumping out great shorts but bugger all else.”

Screenwriter Shane Danielsen, who made his directing debut on the short The Guests, which screened in official competition in Cannes, produced by David, responded, “Could not agree more.”

Danielsen, who wrote the features Errors of the Human Body and The World Made Straight, is attached to direct and write the drama Vatersache (A Father's Affair), which producers Kristina Ceyton and Sam Jennings are preparing as a co-production with Germany.

Rachel Okine, former head of development at Hopscotch Features, disagreed. “Warwick Thornton, Cate Shortland, David Michod and Justin Kurzel all had between two and at least four short films under their belt before they turned to features,” said Okine, who is now VP international production and acquisitions at Studiocanal.

“One is not necessarily enough to feel that you've honed your craft. It's a long game we're playing. Tortoise, not the hare.”

Kriv Stenders, who has just directed the Red Dog prequel Blue Dog, opined, “I'm hoping for the day when filmmakers can build entire careers on making short films and other kinds of cinematic content that breaks free of the standard storytelling and distribution models and formats.

“What emerging filmmakers need to do and we all need to encourage, explore and support is the breaking of rules, the taking of risks, and adapting and not limiting or pinning our hopes to what is fast becoming archaic and uneconomic

“There are also feature filmmakers pumping out movies no one sees. So it's all relative. The real issue is the business and that has crumbled away. The next step is to evolve and invent. I think this will be generational. It's only a matter of time before ground breaking video games made by that medium's first Griffith, Eisenstein, or Welles changes everything again.”

Writer-director-producer Tom Broadhurst, who is getting ready to make two shorts, understands David’s point of view but said, “I just feel anytime behind the camera is good time and the time between making long format work can go on for ages. That said, there are some directors who have clearly never made enough [shorts] and should have before attempting a feature; you have to jump through so many hoops to even apply for funding, shorts can keep you sharp. “

Kirsty Stark, who produced Matt Saville’s comedy A Month of Sundays, which stars Anthony LaPaglia, Justine Clarke and Gary Sweet, suggested, “Forget the short film and make a web series. Create a concept that works in an extended format and develops your storytelling skills; connect directly with your audience and find out what's working / what's not working as you go; learn marketing/distribution/financing so you have the skills to get your film out there; and build your audience and profile online so that when you do make that bigger project there will be someone to watch it.”

David is developing numerous features including Ashes, a supernatural thriller/horror film about three generations of women who battle a curse, with director Jonathan auf der Heide; futuristic thriller Lucid; and, with Antonia Barnard, Canadian producer Nev Fichman and director Fred Schepisi, a movie based on the Tony-winning Broadway musical The Drowsy Chaperone, which will star Geoffrey Rush.

Another project is Blackwood, a thriller about a teenage girl who sets out to find her estranged father after a natural disaster, scripted by Charlie Clausen, which will be the feature directing debut of Gemma Lee, who cut her teeth on shorts.

Expanding on her thoughts, David tells IF, “Short films can be great calling card which gives directors the opportunity to put their stamp on filmmaking. But directors whose first short is received well at festivals need to capitalise on that. I fear that too much of our filmmaking culture is stuck on shorts.”

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6 Comments

  1. There are pros and cons for making short films. Yes you must work on short films to develop your skills because it’s a big ask to get people to work on a feature for months and months with no pay if you stuff it up. The main reason so many get stuck in the short film genre is because it is so hard to get any funding to make a short film let alone a feature. Even if we all band together to work for free we all at least want to be fed and watered on set and there are always costs associated with film making that you can’t get away from.

    If there was a culture to financial support up and coming film makers that show promise with their short films, there would be a lot more feature films. Even trying to get someone with experience to read your script to make sure it is solid and filmable is near impossible here in Australia and so we are forced to pay US script readers to read them and give us feedback or enter script competitions to get feedback.

    The other problem is film makers who cracked a great film and are now eligible for grants and who make nothing now but crap films. It’s disgusting to see the same people being given grants time and again to make films and them in turn employing the same lead acting persons time and again. Where is the doorway to help others bring something different?

    We don’t even need thousands of dollars! Some of our features because of kind people wanting to work with us and our necessity to source things cheaply we could make a feature film on the smell of an oily rag but finding enough funds that equate to the smell of an oily rag is labour intensive and means we are forever begging for crumbs.

    Sadly until the buddy buddy culture ends it’s going to be a long hard slog for feature films to be made here in Australia

  2. Kriv Stenders puts it well. Evolve and invent. The latest initiative to emerge from our WA publishing imprint is the idea of renting art galleries to hang screenplays around the wall. Patrons can visualize their own movie unfolding along the line. Short films for the time-deprived. The most beautiful place in the universe is the mind. The story doesn’t need to be on a screen – the mind is the screen. Add some storyboard for extra spice. If 300 people a week read your ‘exhibition’ you are a successful screenwriter. Comment book at the door is a good idea. Evolve and invent.
    Graeme Bond WA

  3. As mentioned elsewhere on this site, one idea might be to bring back the screening of top quality short films before main features at cinemas.

    Part of the problem in making the jump from shorts is backers are less likely to see shorts gain the same kind of exposure and distribution as features.

  4. One of Australia’s’ creative industry problems – is that there exists little monetization incentive – reward – for individual short filmmaking creativity – i.e. nowhere to regularly show short films and get paid for that & right now we’re trying to change that culture – by creating a new distribution channel into Pubs, Clubs and Venues – which will enable a ‘box office type’ royalty stream – to be evolved from the public exhibition of short film into this sector.

    The short film format – has rapidly risen to become the global zenith of filmmaking creativity and needs to be supported – as this is where our future filmmakers will emerge. And if we can form a new distribution channel – we can create more paid employment across the entire industry.

    The short film tournament – we have just initiated – the AUSSCAs (Australian Shortfilm Creativity Awards) is an attempt to create a regular outlet (a new channel to market) – for the recurring – weekly – monetization of short films – with paid admissions revenue (the box office) into partner screening venues across the country – to see these shorts – then distributed – ‘shared’ – with the short filmmakers’ whose films are chosen to be screened

    This is Australia’s first ‘crowd-powered’ short film tournament – where the crowd votes – in venues via an app to select the films – they believe – deserve to be the winner – let the crowd judge your short films and get paid to exhibit them!

    We want your short films and ideally, if the community gets behind the AUSSCAs event – we’ll be successful in forming a new distribution model

    I saw this post and thought I’d jump in and comment and let you all know about it –

    See more on the event here
    http://aussca.com/

    To engage the crowd – we’ve launched the event via Pozible

    http://www.pozible.com/project/196513

    https://www.facebook.com/AUSSCA

    Check it out and please get behind it

  5. Spot on Shaun. We can take heart. Pixar has just released their latest gem Inside Out – preceded by a short film, Lava – a whimsical piece about a lovesick volcano. The good old days are not far away – if Pixar is to be followed as the leader among innovators. Another bouquet for their team.

  6. Having just produced my first funded short film (via Screen NSW Emerging Film Makers program) I have to say the experience has been intense and immense … a steep learning curve … but I came from a TVCs background, so the whole long-form side of the industry is new to me.

    I think doing the short was extremely valuable for me to learn about crowdfunding, funding, how funding bodies work, what going to a festival or market means, even when to and how to get a sales agent?!

    It’s clear to me though making more and more shorts will probably not expotentially increase my knowledge or experience – as a producer – getting into a TV drama production company or on a million dollar feature and being surrounded by more experienced people would seem to be of much more benefit.

    Just how long it takes to secure that opportunity might be the reason people “do another short” in the meantime.

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