Read a sobering article in Hollywood Reporter about how shorts, particularly those streamable on the web, are no longer the calling card aspiring filmmakers have hoped. And they probably never were.
The gist of the article is this: The proliferation of short film websites has robbed indie shorts of much of their mystique. Now, I have, in many of my previous posts, touted the internet as a fantastic distribution avenue for small films in a world where theatrical and other large-scale distribution is simply closed to them. The downside, it appears, is not only a glut of product, but the fact that most of that product is fanboyish and not the sort of thing studio execs or high-powered producers would flock to in a search for new talent. I learned some good things from this article, I can tell you, that will certainly influence my own filmmaking plans in 2006.
1. Make something original, not a lame fanfilm or spoof. One point the article drives home is that too many of these shorts are fan spoofs of popular movies or TV shows. There must be a zillion Star Wars fanfilms, running the gamut from cheesy spoof to serious attempts at making something respectful to the source material. But in the end, fanfilms are all they are, and they're not likely to land you your Big Break, even if well-made.
2. Make absolutely the best short you can make, don't just gather a bunch of your friends together and shoot them doing inane things with your $299 Best Buy camcorder. If your sincere goal is to make actual theatrical motion pictures for a career, what a producer is going to want to see is real craft. If they can look at your film and immediately conclude that they're looking at the work of a filmmaker with real talent who deserves a development deal, that will literally separate you from 99.9% of the rabble. So write a strong story. Get a DP to actually light the damn shoot. And forget the Lars von Trier aesthetic; use sticks (aka a tripod) instead of doing the whole thing handheld. Do everything you can so that your short looks like the work of a filmmaker, not a fanboy (or -girl). And if spending money is what's worrying you, then think of it in terms of what you're prepared to invest in your future. Is it your burning desire to see a movie you directed playing at the megaplex down the block? Then what's that worth to you?
3. For chrissakes, have your next project ready! This, to me, was the galvanizing lesson of this article, as it's a trap even a skilled aspiring filmmaker can fall into. Many of the filmmakers interviewed for the article sheepishly confess to not having anything ready when a producer popped the question, "So, what else ya got?" They had concentrated so hard on their shorts that they literally hadn't thought ahead to the feature they wanted to make, which, irony of ironies, was entirely the goal that the short was supposed to bring them closer to realizing! A greater Homer Simpson "D'OH!" moment I don't think you could have. So the smart filmmaker's plan ought to be to make your short, then before you shop it around, have at least one and preferably two feature film screenplays finished and in your attache case for the moment that question is popped. What this says about you to a producer: "This person's prepared!"
4. Finally, persevere, persevere, persevere. Say you make your first short. And it's good. But it's not enough to open the desired doors. No big. Not the end of the world. Make a second short. Then a third if you have to. A fourth. A fifth. Persevere. And think of the advantage of having a DVD making the rounds in Hollywood with not one but five of your shorts on it. You now are an aspiring filmmaker with a body of work. Five directing credits instead of one. You're serious. It's obvious. And even if all this isn't enough to sway a studio yet, it may very well impress the hell out of an independent production company eager to finance the first feature of a hot new talent.
So while this article may seem depressing to those of us still clawing our way up, I think the sensible thing to do is roll with the changing times. Know what's feasible for you at this point and what isn't, and work within what is. And at all costs, keep making movies.