One of the biggest pitfalls of student films and first time filmmakers is making their movies way way way way too long. In fact, the interminably long length of scenes or entire movies is a good reason why one of my favorite quotes from the book “Shit My Dad Says” is: ‘That student film festival was like a 3 hour prostate exam”.
One of the things I suggest to the students of Film School Secrets is to keep is simple, and keep it short! Don’t take more time than necessary to get to the point of a scene. Especially these days, people’s attention spans are shorter than ever and long form entertainment is pretty much dead, especially if you’ve got dead time. You’d be amazed how many student films will bore you to tears because of time the camera spends watching a person walking up stairs, or doing something mundane that has nothing to do with the story.
On the complete flip side, I found a site called 5 Second Films. This site was set up as a joke by Brian Firenzi after he claims to be so incredibly disappointed with all the overly long films out there. This site is awesome! Every film has a couple seconds of titles, a 5 second film.. and then credits. They throw up a new one about every day. Go to the site and check it out for some short form inspiration.
Something to realize is that while these films aren’t going to win you too many awards at festivals, they do raise an interesting point. I’ll bet if you asked 1000 people to watch a 5 second film there is a good chance you’d get a lot of them doing it; but you ask the same group to watch your 26 minute thesis film and probably only 10% will do it. Shorter is better 90% of the time.
You should try doing this yourself. Take all the complexity out of your creative process and boil down a film to 5 seconds and see what you can come up with. And then take that lesson and apply it to all the scenes in your movies. Cut cut cut!