ARE SHORT(ER) FILMS THE FUTURE?
I'll keep this short...
As a business owner, filmmaker and father of one I’m not blessed with a great deal of free time so when the wife and I eventually settle down to a bit of screen time at around 9.30pm the prospect of a 2 hour movie is not that appealing. Neither is an epic boxset of 26 episodes, even though the episodes are only an hour each - I just can’t commit. And half-hour primetime comedies such as The Big Bang Theory or Two Broke Girls or Keeping Up With The Kardashians (that’s a comedy, right?) are a non-starter. So what’s the alternative? British 3 and 6 part mini-series such as Sherlock and Broadchurch are a great options but there aren’t that many of them, which is why I think there is a niche for a shorter film format combining the story architecture and production values of film into a 45 - 75 minute running time.
Films used to be 90 minutes long but running times have steadily crept up since the 90s and the top grossing films of all time regularly push the 3 hour mark. More running time means more budget which means less opportunity for independents to compete because a) we can’t raise the capital and b) we can’t expect an audience to take a 2 hour punt on an unknown indie. Shorter films would be cheaper to make and easier for audiences to experiment with, allowing for more diversity. They could run as genre double bills in cinemas (like the grindhouse days), on TV or on-demand but the film industry doesn’t like diversity, it likes control.
TV gets it. House of Cards famously threw out the rulebook on running times and simply produced episodes as long as short as they needed to be, ranging from 41 - 59 minutes in the first series. This was unheard of at the time because TV shows were always produced to fill half-hour or hour slots with ad breaks. But with on-demand viewing there are no ad breaks so who cares how long the episodes are as long as they serve the story? Yet, as I scroll (and scroll, and scroll) through Netflix, iFlix, Google Play and Singtel VOD (amongst others) my options remain rigid as Sophia Coppola’s performance in The Godfather Part III. She wisely pivoted into directing, we need a change too.
"Give people what they want, when they want it" (2'15") - Kevin Spacey, star of House of Cards, schools the Edinburgh International Television Festival
In an over-the-top, on-demand, pick-and-mix media landscape content isn’t king - choice is! Not just the choice between an ever-increasing library of boxsets or films but also genres, formats and running times. As Roger Ebert famously remarked, "No good film is too long and no bad film is ever short enough." So lets free films to be whatever they need to be not just for filmmakers but for audiences too, particularly the tired and stressed out parents of young children who want an hour’s intelligent entertainment before bed without having to mainline caffeine to stay awake or sign up to a six month relationship.
Told you I'd keep it short.