There’s nothing wrong with being short — just look at these Sundance films.
It’s expensive and challenging to make a feature film, so naturally finding funding can be a difficult endeavor. But one great way for emerging filmmakers to bring investors on board is to show them a proof of concept. A trailer could work if you’ve already got a few projects under your belt, but a short film could really show the industry what you’re made of.
Let’s go over three critically acclaimed films that not only demonstrate this, but also made huge waves at the Sundance Film Festival: Whiplash, Obvious Child, and The Babadook.
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Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, Whiplash started out as a 2013 drama short film that premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Short Film Jury Prize. The feature film adaptation won three Academy Awards. You could say it captured some attention.
Both films star J.K. Simmons — in fact, the short is a scene nearly word-for-word from the feature script. Watch a comparison of the two side-by-side to see how similar and how different they are, from lighting and location to shot selection.
Whiplash is a great example of how a short film should start late and leave early — it doesn’t require the same conclusion that the feature film needed to satisfy audiences. It’s also a great example of how feature films often contain segments within them that could be their own individual story.
Watch the short below:
Gillian Robespierre first made the Obvious Child short film in the winter of 2009. “We were frustrated by the limited representations of young women’s experience with pregnancy, let alone growing up. We were waiting to see a more honest film, or at least, a story that was closer to many of the stories we knew. We weren’t sure how long that wait was going to be, so we decided to tell the story ourselves,” she wrote on the Kickstarter page for her feature film in 2014.
The short starred Jenny Slate (as would the feature) and did well online — sadly it is now password protected on Vimeo — and in a festival run. “But what was even cooler were the conversations the movie ignited,” Robespierre reflected. “That truly encouraged and inspired me to expand to feature-length, to share this film and these conversations with even more people around the world.”
The short served as a proof of concept that earned the filmmakers some funding from producers and grants — and the crowdfunding campaign covered the rest. The feature film would go on to enjoy its world premiere at Sundance and earn a Critic’s Choice Award for its lead, Jenny Slate (a loving reminder to actors to take a chance on short filmmakers — you never know where the road may lead).
Monster (The Babadook)
Jennifer Kent’s first feature film, The Babadook, was another Sundance premiere — and a critical and commercial hit. Inspired by her 2005 short film, Monster, which Kent has referred to as her “baby Babadook.”
The short has similar themes and concepts as the feature would later display, but it’s much more simple in its execution (including the black and white cinematography).
The passion for horror films is alive and well, unlike many of the villains and victims in them — and you can tell a scary film in under a minute (watch this nightmare fuel) — so if you’ve got a scary feature on the brain, a short version of it might be the best way to sell it (just ask the creators of Saw).
Shorts aren’t just great proofs for features — they can also be developed into television series. Broad City and Insecure both started out as online web series — and let’s not forget where Ted Lasso began. With filmmaking equipment becoming so accessible, it’s a great idea to create your own content to get some traction going. Filming a short will also make you a better writer, so grab your phone and some friends and get cracking.
Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com. She has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!