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Short Films vs. Feature Length Films

cinema screen

What is the Difference between Short Films and Feature Length Films?

Feature films are the backbone of the movie industry, raking in billions of dollars each year. Box office sales are higher than ever, as people are lining up to see movies in 3-D, 4-D, and big-screen animation in record numbers.

But where do short films fit into this movie craze?

Short films obviously can't compete with the big money the features at the box office bring in…right?

In this article, we will compare the production features and values between short films and feature length films. First, let's take a look at the definition of a short film.

A short film is basically any film that is too short to be considered a feature film. There are no set boundaries on this, although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines a short film as "an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits".

The special effects, music, actors, and all other aspects of a movie are irrelevant; the only thing that is relevant to defining a film as a “short film” is simply its length.

 

Why Make a Short Film?

Many people think that budgeting issues are why most short films are created, and while it's true that budget issues can be the cause of a short film, there can be many other factors that influence the decision to create one.

Many new directors/producers choose short films so that they can be used like a business card or a resume to attract clients and investors. If you try to take on a role as director or producer, and you have no experience that can be verified, you are most likely going to be passed over for someone with a full portfolio.

On that note, a full portfolio is nice, but not necessary. A single short film is usually enough to determine if you have what it takes. This is why many aspiring directors and producers create short films with the hopes that they will help advance their career.

Some aspiring directors and producers use short films as a self-critique of their abilities. A short film is a cheap way to determine if you should move on to feature films, or if you need more experience in certain aspects of film production. A short film is an inexpensive way to learn the production process, and gain experience. A short film can be looked at like a trial. If your short film is successful, it can lead to larger projects, higher budgets, and feature film production opportunities.

Some people just love short films. Two-hour movies are great for most people, but there are many people who love to watch short films. There's a reason that millions tune in to watch 30-minute TV shorts in primetime.

There are many producers who feel that it's actually harder to create a short film, because you have to fit an entire story into a specific, short amount of time. With feature films, you can take as long as you need to tell the complete story, so there's not as much pressure.

 

Budgeting

The most obvious difference between short films and feature-length films is the budget. A 10-30 minute film will not require a budget anywhere near what a 90-120 minute feature will need. Film costs are much lower, equipment costs are much lower, and costs for wardrobe and props will be much lower.

In a time where a $60 million dollar budget is considered low-budget for a full-length feature film, there have been some successful films with extremely low budgets. Some of the most notable low-budget successes include:

  • The Blair Witch Project, which brought in $249 million on a film that was shot with a $60,000 budget.
  • The film Deep Throat was shot on a $22,500 budget, and it is rumored that it grossed around $600 million.
  • Halloween was shot on a $320,000 budget, and grossed around $47 million.
  • Rocky was shot on a $1 million budget, and grossed over $117 million.

As you can see, many full-length feature films have been produced on small budgets, and have gone on to become huge successes. But what about short films?

Unfortunately, it is a well-known truth that the vast majority of short films do not make any money at all. Therefore, it is wise to shoot with a budget without the expectations of a huge monetary return. However, many short films are not created to produce revenue, such as these 16 short films that launched the careers of famous directors, some of which were produced for as little as $500. Others were adapted to become full-length feature films, and went on to become large successes. So while your short film may not show an immediate ROI, the long-term benefits may be much greater.

If you are worried about budget issues, you may want to check into crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is one of the most popular methods for independent movie producers to fund their films. Kickstarter is the top crowdfunding site that has helped many aspiring directors and producers fund their movies.

 

Shooting Technique

Budgeting is often an issue for short films, so it's best to keep costs as low as possible. One example is lighting. Shoot using natural light whenever possible, and you can cut down on the need to buy expensive lighting equipment. Here are 10 tips for shooting with natural light.

Audio is one aspect that should not be overlooked. You can use the built-in microphones on the cameras you are shooting with, but you may end up with a lot of background noise and low-quality audio. If you want your short film to be taken seriously, you should at least invest in some lavalier microphones. “Lav mics” are used in feature film shooting as well, as they reduce background noise and produce clear audio capture.

Extra takes may be a necessity depending on the experience of the actors you are working with, technical issues, bad lighting, or other aspects. The 1992 film, El Mariachi, was directed by Robert Rodriguez, and was shot on a $7,000 budget. Because of this, it was shot with no extra takes. The film went on to be a huge success and kickstarted Rodriguez's career as a director. If you can afford second takes, do it. The chance to improve upon a take can make a huge difference in the final product. But if second takes are not an option, practice as much as possible before the actual shooting so that you get it right the first time. This is a vast difference from full-length feature films, where it's not uncommon for a single scene to have around 100 takes.

 

Audience

As mentioned previously in this article, some people just love short films. When any film is created, the producer must contemplate the type of audience he is directing the film at. No one produces a film without considering the audience, as the audience is what will determine if a film is successful or just another flop.

An action film with long dialogue between elderly people will not be as successful as an action film that keeps dialogue short and focuses on action. Conversely, if your short film is a romance or drama, long dialogue is possibly required for the audience to get "feels" (emotions) from the movie.

Most short films end up on YouTube and/or Vimeo, and the average YouTuber is between the ages of 14-17. If you plan on making money from one of these video-sharing platforms, you should keep in mind the type of users that will most likely be viewing your content.

 

Summary

While full-length feature films are where the money is, we all have to start somewhere. Creating a short film can be the step you need to get your name out there as a competent producer. If the right people see your short film, it can lead to increased budgets and larger projects, and will perhaps open the door to a multi-million blockbuster on the big screen!