The Sundance shorts program began as a box of VHS tapes in 1989. In 2010 there were more than 6,000 short films submitted. For her five years as a shorts programmer Roberta Munroe was responsible for wading through them, deciding which ones would make it to Sundance.
I recently attended her excellent Short Film Workshop, where she posited an interesting theory; even though the number of shorts being made has exploded, the number of really good short films hitting the festivals each year hovers around 300. Whether there are 600 or 6,000 shorts sitting in the Sundance Institute’s mailbox this year, that’s generally the number that will be good.
Roberta’s book lays out the path to making one of those 300 with wit and candor. The book covers every stage of the filmmaking process, from story development and structure through exhibition and distribution. It’s wonderfully practical; addressing subjects as diverse as money, cameras, and festivals with an honesty that could only come from someone at the small end of the filmmaking funnel. Vide chapter titles like “Why 43 Minute Shorts Never Really Work,” and “How to avoid kicking your producer in the throat.”
Munroe emphasizes filmmaking as a collaborative process, highlighing the importance of underestimated contributors such as assistant directors, casting directors, editors and producers, all of whom play a vital role in most films’ success. Yes, you can do everything when you make a short. The result will be entirely yours, but will often be weaker than what you might have achieved with the aid and expertise of a few skilled professionals.
For interested parties there is also a heading on whether or not to go to film school. Hearing arguments on film school from a programmer’s perspective is refreshing (Columbia seems to be a favorite). The moral of the story; if you decide you can afford to go to film school, pick one that focuses on STORY.
With the proper help, commitment and faith, making a short film can be an amazing process. The digital age has brought us the greatest opportunities for short filmmakers since D.W. Griffith. This book attempts to make the process cleaner and more fun. Possibly even a reminder of why some of us didn’t end up going to law school