The curse of the 40-minute drama

I still can’t get over how many filmmakers make 35-minute-plus dramas and call them shorts.

This week alone I have seen more than a dozen narrative shorts that are over this time mark in my batch of submissions.

It is driving me bonkers.

I have so many questions I want to email these filmmakers.

Who do you expect to watch your 40-minute film? 
Besides the fact that its my job, certainly others likely won’t see it. Besides your mother or your partner, who do you really expect to give up 40-minutes of their precious, hard-earned free time to watch (and even, pay to watch) this story? So many films often accomplish whatever story you may be telling in 40 minutes… in 25 minutes or less. Don’t you think you’d rather watch the shorter one too?

Have you ever tried to cut your run time in half?
Seriously, have you tried it? Editing is non-destructive. You can always go back. Your film can probably be cut in half. Easily. Most often with a drama of this run time, you’re repeating your point(s). Trust that the viewer is smart and will pick up the subtle clues you’ve laid along the way. Does each scene move the character or story forward? Does the scene make a point that is needed so the audience will understand or feel what they’re suppose to? 

Where do you expect people to see this 40-minute film?
There is storytelling on Snapchat and Instagram. These are 10, 20 or 30 second stories! While not directly competing with your 40-minute film, this is a form of storytelling that is creative and concise within our fast-paced, content-heavy world. 

TV? A half hour episode is actually about 21 minutes. (Commercials make up the extra time).  An hour” episode may be around the 43 minute mark, but is more likely considered episodic or series content. While some film festivals are dipping their toes into this genre of programming, if you’re submitting a stand-alone story into a shorts category, then the film likely doesn’t cross over well into TV or episodic. 

Online? YouTube and Vimeo viral videos are not this length. Attention spans are smaller and people have busy lives. They don’t commit to that much time unless they care about the subject, or perhaps, you personally.

And so, this kind of film is submitted to a film festival because that is where filmmakers are “discovered”. But here’s the (not actually a secret) secret: If filmmakers do their research, they would notice that most festivals screen shorts in 90 to 120 minute blocks. Why? Because that’s how slotting screenings work.

Each screening slot must allow for: loading in the theater, intros, pre-show commercials/trailers, the actual film, a possible Q&A and then loading out people (which always takes forever) and cleaning up the auditorium for the next show to cycle through again.

In other words, showing a shorts block takes time. Festival slots that run longer than 90 to 120 minutes means either:

A. a slot is lost completely. For most festivals, they try to get in as many as possible screenings because the org is paying for the auditorium rental by the day and need ticket sales as much as possible. More slots=more potential sales.
or
B. the next show starts late. And that is bad customer service. No one wants angry patrons.

When a programmer is comparing one 40-minute film versus two 20-minutes or four 10-minute films… which one do you think they’ll probably choose? The stronger film…which is usually the one that tells a better story in less time…so that the audience can have a fuller experience of storytelling, so more filmmakers can be included in a program, so more ideas can be discussed, or characters represented. Hard to justify one short hogging half the time of a potential block when you’re in that kind of competition.

You may disagree, but in my years of experience I can tell you, dear filmmaker of a 35-minute-plus short, you are not helping yourself with your epic run time. You have two options:

1. Cut it down. Be harsh with your scenes, thorough with your feedback. Editing is a skill and when used well makes a huge difference in creating a great film from a good film.
2. Develop it into a true feature film. This is no small task and takes equally if not more effort and thoughtfulness.

Either way, use this 35 or 40-minute film as a learning experience and move on to the next one.  Think about where it will end up, who will see it and why you’re making it. All roads lead back to storytelling with intention. Good luck.

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New Year, New Goals

Do you make New Years Resolutions? I haven’t always done it. When I started a few years ago, they were fairly simple: breaking a bad habit (nail-biting) or the typical be-healthier-and-start-exercising…again (most recently with an attempt at yoga). I think of resolutions as goals. They usually shift mid-year resetting with whatever reality has set in by May or September. As the year goes by, I’m changing, so it’s important to remember how the goals may change with me.

With that in mind, here are a few of my goals for 2017:

  • Learn how to make jam. My mother-in-law makes amazing raspberry jam and shares it with family and friends often. Not only does it seem like a good tradition to continue, but something needs to go on all the biscuits of 2017!
  • Have at least one coffee date a month with a friend or colleague. This may not seem like much, but we’ve all been there. You’re in the midst of Monday’s to-do list and then it’s suddenly Thursday and then how is it the end of the month already and you haven’t seen that person you care about and enjoy chatting with about life? I happens. I feel the predictament is especially true in Los Angeles. Making an effort to see someone who lives a mere 12 miles aways can be much more difficult than it should be. There are boatloads of excuses to keep from sitting in traffic for two hours, yet sometimes you (read: me) should make that extra effort. Social media is no longer an excuse to keep up with people. So part two of this 2017 resolution is: cut back more on Facebook because social interaction is amazing and REAL. If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that life is too short and you should spend quality time with the people you care about. And typing out a hashtag, while amusing, is not actually taking action.
  • Read at least one book a month. I go through stages of reading. Last year I got back into a solid reading habit and visited the library often. I want to keep this going and I know it’ll be a struggle when my submission screening is high. I tend to lean more towards nonfiction, with the occasional novel thrown in. I’m currently reading: Year of Yes. Tell me readers, what books should be on my 2017 to-read list?
  • Visit a new film festival. I have a regular schedule of festival travel due to work, so the festivals become very familiar. I’d like to add a new regional festival visit to the calendar this year and squeeze in a different fest experience. A SIFF screening may be possible this June, fingers crossed. Will I see you at a festival this year?
  • Grow this blog. Starting Cinema Sous Chef was scary and a little challenging between learning the basics of blogging and setting out the time to WRITE. I’ve never thought of myself as a writer, but I’ve enjoyed the learning process of starting a blog and the creative outlet it’s given me. Now I want to dig in and learning how to make it thrive. I will need your help here, so let me know what posts you’ve enjoyed so far or what kind of posts you’d like to see more here. Excited to see what happens and sharing more with you.

What are your resolutions for 2017?  Any resolutions you’re proud to say you checked off last year? Best of luck to you and yours!