Short filmmaking usually lies a little to the left or right of the limelight as far as media coverage is concerned.
Yet, for many in the industry, their first shot at directing, writing or even crewing on a production, began with work on a short. Most professionals continue to work on shorts throughout their career, and many of the best, award winning productions would not have been made without the often voluntary, or reduced-fee work offered by skilled crews.
Shimmy Marcus, director of award winning short, ‘7th Heaven’, understands the importance of getting volunteers onside: “If it wasn’t for people being prepared to work for nothing, half the shorts around would never have been made.”
However, not having a professional crew behind you shouldn’t discourage the first time filmmaker. Shimmy’s first efforts were made on a second hand camcorder and edited using two VCRs. His documentary opus, ‘Aidan Walsh – Master of the Universe’ included scenes shot on the same machine. Though he couldn’t submit it to some festivals due lack of a film print, it has since become the first Irish documentary shot on video to receive a theatrical release, and has enjoyed unsurpassed media attention for a work of its kind. The message is clear: don’t let lack of equipment or expertise put you off, as Shimmy, about to start casting on his first feature points out: “It doesn’t matter if a short lacks visual quality because it’s the content that will keep people watching and ultimately if you see a great piece of filmmaking you’re not going to suddenly hate it because of the picture.”
Prospective short filmmakers should look also to the various bodies that provide training, equipment and importantly, awards or funding. The Galway and Cork Film Centres/RTE short script awards are for original, short Irish fiction films between 5 and 15 minutes long. The funding is divided between three winners each. The Filmbase/RTE and Filmbase/TG4 awards work on a similar basis. The Irish Film Board/RTE Short Cuts award offers substantial awards to films of 10 – 26 minutes in length. Details of these and other awards available for shorts both north and south of the border can be found in the IFTN Handbook.
The first stop for many people on the road to making a short has become Filmbase, Galway Film Centre (GFC) or Cork Film Centre (CFC). All of these offer equipment, training and advice to members, and provide an opportunity to meet like-minded people, many of whom you will inevitably have to approach for favours during the course of your career in film, however long or short it turns out to be.
Not working with a producer can cause problems at the earliest stages of developing even the simplest short. Most organisations insist on projects having a producer before renting equipment or considering a project for awards. Shimmy Marcus has found that having a producer on board allows him to concentrate on the job of filmmaking: “It means that the director can focus on the creative side and not have to worry about things like where the crew are going to eat.”
Producers rely on maintaining extensive industry contacts and can bring considerable expertise to a fledgling project. Colin Cowman produced the 1999 short, The Long Run. Raising finance for the 13 minute drama was tied to sponsorship deals with several equipment suppliers: “We needed money for initial expenditure, particularly insurance because the equipment for 35mm film is much more expensive than Super 16mm or 16mm. I rang a number of people I knew and some were interested in putting in money. From the beginning we were very, very lucky with the whole thing because I managed to get favours on pretty much everything. We did have to pay for catering, insurance and all post production.”
The Long Run was processed on credit. Money was then raised at a launch in the IFC where sponsers were persuaded to come and see the finished product, enabling the producer to pay the Telecine costs.
Tom Maguire, a producer who has received grant funding for short films, explains the difficulties involved with trying to finance a project: “Sales of shorts are very limited, making a short film is not a money making excersise. If you use £5000 of your own money you will never see that money again which is why most are backed by awards or grants.”
The value of a short film to its makers, besides creative expression, lies in their use as training grounds for future projects and (hopefully) paying work. They also add material to a show reel and should they do well, can catapult a director into the limelight, making producers sit up and take note of new talent.