Recharge creativity and passion for films by shooting short films
Damien Chazelle, a talented young filmmaker, who made a big splash with the movie Whiplash last year, has followed it up with the audacious musical La La Land that is receiving tremendous attention this year.
His advice to young film-makers is to start with making a short film. “You’d think that’d be all you need.” Chazelle writes in a 2015 Movie Maker article about the moment he finally found producers interested in making Whiplash and how that wasn’t enough. It was still difficult for those producers to secure financing for “a movie about a jazz drummer.” So they told him to choose a scene from his feature script and shoot that alone as a short, as a taste. He continues: "Now, I’ll be honest: I did not want to make a short. I’d written Whiplash as a feature, and that’s what I wanted to do. But, as it turned out, the producers’ idea was a brilliant one. Not only did it arouse interest in the project that hadn’t existed before, it also allowed me to get my feet wet, to fine-tune what I really wanted this movie to be."
He discusses the process further in a 2014 Variety article: "Yes, it was a film about jazz musicians, but I wanted it to play like a thriller or an action movie. I was a newbie director, and so people were essentially telling me, “Show me first” … With the influx of material, I don’t think people really read anymore, so a little piece of footage can go further than a 120-page script … It was handy, because it was one location, and it was a way to introduce our approach, to show that you can put musicians in a room with a teacher, where there are no guns or ticking bombs, and make that feel like life or death. If we could make that work, then we knew the movie as a whole could work."
There’s a familiar itch that any filmmaker can relate to after going too long between projects. That desperate urge to create. With most other artists you can simply practice your passion, but with film being a team sport, it’s much more difficult. It takes time, money and a crew with just as much passion from you.
Here's a challenge: shoot a short film in an hour.
Script out an idea, remove potential time consuming obstacles like dialogue and complicated plot, and build an element of control into the process so that it’d be possible to complete production in 60 minutes. The result will be exciting. Pull together a small team and keep them on the same page as you are about it. Be extremely focused, and do not get weighed down by the ball balancing act of making a feature movie.
If your creativity and passion are real - you will be amazed at the results.
It may start off as an ambitious move, but you will be ready to open things up and let loose your creativity. You will learn to trust actors as collaborators and find indigenous ways to make the scene work. Collaborating with actors in this way as a director leads to compelling work, but introducing this to the one-hour process will have to be a leap of faith. The most important thing isn’t coming in under the clock, but to accept conditions and mistakes, and to learn how to use them as tools as opposed to excuses.
You will hone in your directing skills. Having to know exactly when you would need to edit and how to cover the scenes to accommodate the crazy schedule, will help you develop your skill for visual economy. You might make the occasional deviation when something special catches your eye, but in the age where digital cameras are just about the only way to tell a story without a massive budget, we tend to shoot way more than what we need. It’s easy to become lazy, but the one-hour shorts will become important exercise to get your film-making muscles in shape.
You will notice just how carefree the sets would become as you and your team learn to work with each other. That isn’t to say that you wouldn't care about the story you are telling. The often vilified process of shooting a film would become a fun group activity. Like the actors, the crew will enjoy being focused on a creative team project for a concentrated short period of time. It will start to become fun and something to look forward to. The entire cast and crew could meet up, make some dinner, drink some wine, and shoot a short film. When you can turn your labor of love into a celebration, you’re tapping into something that will not only make your films better, but will make you want to tell stories more often. And when the calling comes to make that feature film - you could confidently scale up the muscle that you had shaped up while making the short film(s).