Avoid the short films trap

16 June, 2015 by Don Groves

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.”