Less is More: Short Films Make Big Differences

As Encounters says goodbye to our brilliant University of Bristol work placements, we bring you a great blog written by one of our recent placement students, Ziqi Wang. In the lead up to Encounters 2017, the following article traces the role of short films in establishing the careers of some of Hollywood’s best-known directors. If you’re a student filmmaker or thinking of making your first short, here’s some interesting facts and films to inspire you – enjoy!

By Ziqi Wang

Before producing a full-length film, making a short film is a good attempt to reflect a filmmakers’ initial enthusiasm, especially on a low budget. Short film is also a good way to improve a filmmakers’ production skills, and a number of renowned directors have manifested their incredible talent through their student short films. Therefore, for those current entry level filmmakers or outsiders, looking at the shorts made by the following directors before they became giants could be very inspirational and encouraging for all film lovers. Let’s have a look at those great directors and find out what they did before becoming a top-level director.

When they were students…

1. Freiheit, George Lucas (1966)

Freiheit is the very first short film by George Lucas from when he was a student at USC. This three-minute short film is about a young man who is trying to cross the Berlin border in Germany but dies trying. Editing and music are carefully applied to showcase the characteristics of the young man who dies for freedom. Interestingly, the role of the young man is played by Lucas’ USC roommate, and the role of the soldier is played by another friend. After this, Lucas continued to make student shorts, such as Look at Life and Herbie, in his student life before his first full-length film THX 1138 – which was derived from his short work Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB.

2. What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?, Martin Scorsese (1963)

This short film is made during Scorsese’s college years at NYU, and it’s also his first film work. What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? tells the story of a writer that becomes drawn into a photo on his wall. In this short, we can see his filmmaking talent through amusing editing skills and voiceover. His filming style is inflenced by 1950s and 1960s European cinema trends, such as the French New Wave, so it is very experimental and avant-garde. If you watch this short film, you might be surprised to find some foreshadows contributing to one of his very best films, Taxi Driver (1976). Apart from What’s A Nice Girl Like You Doing In A Place Like This?, there is a second notable student project by Scorsese, The Big Shave (1967), an anti-Vietnam parable. If you are a fan of Martin Scorsese, you’ll be rewarded by digging through his student work.

3. Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times), David Lynch (1966)

Are you a fan of Eraserhead (1977), Twin Peaks (1990), or Mulholland Dr. (2001)? David Lynch is definitely a master of cult film, the person who could differenciate from other great directors with abstract, surrealist and uncanny films. During his student life at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, he made his very first student film, Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times), which was an animation with no plots but a loop of a one-minute scene. No one can tell what Lynch wants to express but himself here, and similarly every spectator has a different view on his later, full-length films. To produce this short animation, Lynch bought a 16mm camera and had to learn how to use it from the staff in the shop. As in other short films from great directors, Lynch manifests his crazy ideas in filmmaking.

4. Stalk of the Celery Monster, Tim Burton (1979)

Tim Burton is a director whose audience is always children. His works were, in fact, very popular among his classmates, so much so that Disney Animation Studios offered him a contract immediately after he graduated. Burton performed very well in his years at California Institute of Arts, and one case is Stalk of the Celery Monster, made long before those well-known films such as Big Fish (2003), Edward Scissorhands (1990), or Corpse Bride (2005) were released. Although only fragments of the film are left now, we can still enter into Burton’s fantasy world.

It is so inspirational following the steps of great directors, and an increasing number of new filmmakers appear to showcase their talent currently. The film world is always open to new practitioners, and it’s never too late to set out because everyone is a director of his or her own life.

If you’re after some more inspiration, you can watch past shortlisted DepicT! films here.