Film tips for staying within a short time frame!

In this generation, content that consists of short and quick messages is the best way to get as many viewers as possible. As Victor O’Frank (filmmaker behind Purpose) says, “in the age of social media, attention span has dwindled.” Thus it becomes even more critical to tell stories within a short period of time. However, when it comes to sharing mental health stories, doesn’t that seem unlikely, if not impossible? Fortunately not! Our OLIVE Film Collection is proof of that – it’s where 46 films and counting live that are all under 5 minutes and on the topic of mental health. So naturally, we reached out to the pros who have kept films short and impactful – competition winners and filmmakers behind the OLIVE Film Collection. Keep reading to discover their helpful tips! If your film fits within a 5 minute or less time frame it’s eligible to submit to our competition for a chance to win $1,000. 

Start specific

Being efficient with the storyline can help get to the main point without taking away too much on-screen time. Abby Thompson – the filmmaker behind ‘When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny’ – says starting specific is the best way to go. I’m a believer in being as efficient as possible, especially now with viewers having such short attention spans. If you are being thoughtful and innovative as a creator, a time limit shouldn’t hold a film back.”

Starting specific can also mean excluding scenes that do not add to the main point of the film. Filmmaker Elizabeth Ayiku says, “my rule is to always get in late and get out early! In my short film ‘Little Elizabeth’ I started in the middle of the story. There’s a mystery woman walking somewhere and we don’t know why… The beginning would have been with her at home, getting really to go out, writing in her journal then deciding to go for the walk, but I think starting late always makes the film (or scene in the film) more interesting and it keeps your short film short!” Check out this film below to see how Elizabeth achieved this:

Skip the unnecessary: Quality over quantity

This tip may seem like a no-brainer, but it is important that it is done properly. Sometimes we get caught up in details and forget to look at the bigger picture. To keep a film short and interesting, make sure to put the majority of your focus on the main idea. This will not only shorten your film, but also make the main message more impactful. ‘About That‘ explores mental health acceptance in society through a sensitive love story that takes place outside of reality. The main actor and filmmaker – Damien D. Smith – reminds us to “cut out everything that is not essential to the theme of the film. I know it’s hard but we have to do it.” Fun fact: Damien’s film actually started out as a 20-minute version, and was cut down to 5 minutes to fit within our competition guidelines. If you start with a 20 minute film you’ve probably got a really solid 5 minutes in there!

The short film ‘Sal Tran’ reflects on living with suicidal depression and PTSD through a queer, nonbinary, Vietnamese filmmaker’s perspective. Filmmaker Kim Huynh says, “when it comes to documentary work and short profiles, I interview my subjects about absolutely everything I’m curious about and then pick out the strongest soundbites. From there I trim my selects down to the essentials and rearrange them in a way that flows with a full arc, a beginning, middle and end. It’s important to be ruthless here; you can get attached to certain thoughts and ideas but only keep what makes sense for the story.” 

Narrow your focus & write what you know

To meet a short time frame easier, focusing heavily on the main message from the start can really help. ‘Autobiography of a Body’ is based on a poem about the struggles of self acceptance and body image. The director – Randy Kelly – says, “I think sticking to a 5-10 min limit is easier to do at the scriptwriting level. The story must work on paper/screen if it’s to work on ‘film’ so it’s when it’s being crafted that you should be trying to fit all the elements of your story into a shorter piece. That usually means knowing what the core of your story is, what the main theme/message is, and sticking to it so that trimming unnecessary dialogue or scenes becomes easier.” See how Randy beautifully achieves this below.

Again, there can be a tendency to get caught up in making the story fit into the time frame rather than remembering the focus of the film. ‘Till Death Do Us Part‘ is a short film involving a couples counselling session between a young man and his obsessive compulsive disorder. Eric Bass – the filmmaker behind this story – shares his wisdom: “stories should never be trimmed or expanded for the sake of time. A story should be exactly how long a story takes to tell for the best impact. Instead of trying to fit a story into a time frame, think of a story that fits inside the time frame you are allowed. There are so many stories out there and so many way to tell them. Do not compromise a story for time, choose your story for the time you have.”

Looking for more insight into creating a short? Check out 5 Tips for Writing a Short which reiterates some of the concepts above, and outlines the importance of embracing visual components.

If you have any comments or questions about this blog, post in the section below or connect with us on social media. Next time, we will be discussing hacks for technical filmmaking components – be sure to tune in!

Ready to submit your short film? Do so here!

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