Big Message, Small Package

Whenever I get the chance to teach an intro to creative writing class, the first genre I teach isn’t poetry, as many of you might think, but short fiction. There’s just something naturally human about telling stories, particularly short ones, and in today’s world they seem to be getting shorter. So it’s only natural that the short film genre is the younger brother of the feature-film. But by being seen as such, at times shorts can get overlooked as a tangible storytelling vehicle. Sometimes the reason is in the quality, and on that theme, I’ve only seen a few shorts that have inspired me focus on writing and shooting shorts that are of a higher quality than most of what’s floating around cyberspace these days the way broken satellites drift aimlessly about the cosmos.

Our Time is Up (2004), Rob Pearlstein’s Oscar-nominated short starring Kevin Pollack is probably my favorite short film of all time because of the story it tells; it’s simple and straightforward. And because I often use this film as a primary example of a tightly told short when I’m teaching students how to write shorts, it was easy for me to write Cerise in similar fashion as well. There’s nothing really exceptional about its cinematography, but it’s a tight blend of funny and poignant, and gives the audience a heartfelt moral all under 15 minutes.

You’ve probably heard the old joke How many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: Chainsaw! Another short, which initially appealed to my inner surrealist, is Delaney Bishop’s The Death of Salvador Dalí (2005). The film struck me as weirdly wonderful; it’s not as spectacular in its visuals as one would think (after watching Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or, or even Jean Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy, this short could be misconstrued as a snoozer!) but here again, the story is an intriguing one, a brief meditation on the nature of art as insanity and the minds of those who create it.

Two words: Guy. Maddin. And these two words will always be followed up with the modern acronym WTF?! The first short film I watched from this master of unhinged visuals was Sombra dolorosa (2004), and it was an utter mind screw. So many absurd, unrelated things being joined and juxtaposed. Beautiful color saturation only adds to the strangely invited experience of this tale about a woman battling against death. Now this is surrealism defined! Granted, some of Maddin’s other shorts are nothing in comparison (Sissy Boy Slap Party, for instance), but Sombra dolorosa and its four minutes of What the f*** am I watching?!?! impelled me to watch his feature films and has since made Guy Maddin an inspiration to me for the fact that this Canadian filmmaker can shoot whatever he likes and his films will be watched over and again. That’s power!

Last year, while I attended the Staten Island Film Festival in support of a short film I shot and an award-winning sitcom pilot I directed, I had the privilege of seeing an absolutely beautiful short film by director Daniel Brothers called The Big Fat Lazy Sun (2009) which stars Ink star Chris Kelly. In terms of story the film is a little “meh”––the protagonist wants to capture the American Dream on film––but man, what striking, original visuals! Every single shot in this short is a painting expertly crafted by DP Pablo Berron.

The Big Fat Lazy Sun
The Big Fat Lazy Sun (2009; dir. Daniel Brothers)

2095 (2007), a sci-fi love story by my very good friend Troy Romeo, whom I met that year at SINY, also inspired me. Prior to watching his short, I had always made films by a simple creed: “Create something from nothing” (which was the mantra of my former production company, Nothingman Productions), but once I saw 2095, I realized that even science-fiction is possible on a low budget. It’s a tight love story set in an uncertain future. I learned an invaluable lesson after seeing 2095: Despite all the short film rules out there, short filmmaker should never limit themselves to only what they think they can afford. It the story is to be told, then it must be told.

2095 (2007; dir. Troy Romeo)

This is just a quick glimpse into my short film cupboard. I’m attending the Staten Island Film Fest this Saturday thanks to my pal and fellow film tweep Jerry Cavallaro, and I’m hoping to see a few quality shorts that will inspire or at the very least, that I’ll remember longer than the average Youtube million-hitter; after all, those ain’t worth much in the long run anyway.

So tell me, what’s your favorite short film?

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2 thoughts on “Big Message, Small Package

  1. I enjoyed The Big Fat Lazy Sun, too. Mainly because of the look. Gone Fishing is another one that’s visually stunning.

    I found this short doc called “Up There.” You should check it out.

    1. Yes, Gone Fishing is another example of quality short filmmaking (though for me it was all about the beautiful way it was shot over the story itself.) I’m gonna check out Up There today.

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