Making a living as a filmmaker can be a tricky thing to pull off. Sure big-name directors can afford homes in Malibu and multiple ex-wives but what about the rest of us who are driven to make films but also need to pay the rent on a studio apartment in Burbank?
One of the best ways to eventually get put in charge of that big Hollywood release while still managing to put food on the table is by producing short form content.
The Minimalist Guide to Leveraging Short Form Content
Whether it be commercials, music videos, or anything else with a duration under roughly five minutes, many of the biggest names in film – David Fincher, Jonathan Glazer, Tarsem, Ridley Scott, among many, many others – got their start making short form content.
But why is this and how exactly does one go about becoming a short form filmmaker who gets paid for your work?
1. Short Form Content Is A Great Training Ground For Directors
Let’s start with why short form can be such a great place for directors to learn their craft. For starters, short form allows the aspiring director to hone her skills with relatively few headaches. Making a great film is a logistical undertaking of epic proportions – every independent filmmaker knows how making a feature is often less about the art of filmmaking and more about the art of line producing – but making a great music video might only take a you a couple of days and can be shot with an extremely small cast and crew.
For example, check out the legendary “Trumpets” ad by Tom Kuntz and you can see how simple amazing short form can be:
Producing short form content provides a great way to learn how to efficiently tell stories. In long form you have lots of time to get across information and evoke an emotion, but in short form every frame has to be working extremely hard.
As Sam Walsh, Executive Producer at Team One and formerly General Manager of Propaganda Films and Satellite Films puts it, “it’s all about storytelling discipline. If you can tell a story in 30 seconds, chances are you can tell it in 90 minutes.”
2. How To Make Money Directing Short Form Content
In order to make a living directing short form content it helps to be represented by a production company. Big names in the industry include Anonymous Content, Caviar Content, Iconoclast, MJZ, Park Pictures, RESET Films, and Smuggler, but there are hundreds of solid production companies out there that represent directors and help them get work while also taking care of the business end of productions.
How do you get signed by one of these outfits? One of the most common ways of getting noticed is to have your work shown at short film/advertising festivals such as The Saatchi and Saatchi New Directors Showcase or the SHOOT New Directors Showcase. In this day and age though, there are lots of ways one can get seen.
Online destinations such as Vimeo are followed closely by reps and others in the business, and if you make something amazing there is really no reason it won’t get seen if you put it out there properly.
3. Where To Find Short Form Content Jobs
This is where it gets interesting. As I note in my book, The Art of Short Form Content, advertising agencies and others in the short form ecosystem are going to be looking for very specific qualities in a filmmaker.
Since the vast majority of short form is, in one way or another, an advertisement, people in this world are going to be judging your work on whether or not it can quickly attract attention, skillfully evoke an emotional response, and subtly shape perception.
Directors like Michel Gondry excelled in short form before they were directing Hollywood films because they have a visually interesting style, a gift for hooking viewers from the first frame, and an ability to make viewers feel something very quickly.
It’s not enough to just be talented though, as production companies are going to be looking for directors who have a unique vision but who can also collaborate effectively. As Walsh states, “if you look at a director like Spike Jonze, who has worked extensively in short form and got his start in music videos at Satellite Films, he has a completely original vision – and always manages to stay true to this vision.
But he also understands the larger reasons a piece of short form is being created and can work within that. That is the biggest trick and the people who do it the best, like Spike, are the most successful.”
Lastly, people in the short form world are going to be looking for filmmakers who have mastered all the elements of the craft. Short form content can often be quite sophisticated, as in order to tell a story in 30 seconds one needs to be effectively utilizing imagery, editorial, motion design, sound design, color correction, and every other facet of film.
The most successful short form content creators are those who know the craft well enough to be able to reach for the proper tool at the right moment, so you need to be comfortable with all of these tools and understand, on a deep level, how to use them.
Bryan Cook is Executive Content Producer and Director of Multimedia at Team One Advertising in Los Angeles. Prior to joining Team One, Bryan worked as an Editor and Post Producer for some of the best agencies, brands, networks and production shops in the world. Projects Bryan has worked on have been recognized by Ad Age, Adweek, Cannes, Digiday, The Effie Awards, The Facebook Awards, FWA, and The Golden Trailer Awards. Check out Bryan’s just released book, The Art of Short Form Content.