I recently gave a masterclass at the New York Film Academy (which was so much fun!) We had a very lively Q&A session and one of the key things which came out of that discussion, which led me to write this article today, was a film’s duration.
A lot of the students seemed very keen to get their short film at exactly 15 minutes and 90 mins for a feature. It became what I nicknamed ‘the magical 15 minutes’. When I asked why they needed to get their film to 15 minutes they explained it was because that was what they heard (through the grapevine) was the ideal length.
That I can tell you is a myth and not true. The golden rule is your short film needs to be whatever length it needs to be to tell your story. I’d advise not to get attached to a number and especially not 15 mins for a short film and 90 mins for a feature film.
A few years ago I represented a Sci-Fi short film called ‘THE SHIPMENT’. The length was 30 minutes and it justified its running time as every scene counted to develop the story and add character depth. It was a very tight, smoothly put together edit that was nicely paced and featured strong performances from the cast.
The film got off to a slow start as it didn’t get a huge amount of selections. The Director was worried that the length was hindering it but I said no it wasn’t and just to stay patient. He created a 15 minute cut which didn’t work at all, as all of the emotion and energy disappeared and it felt incomplete. That film didn’t get selected for any festivals however, around a month later the 30 minute version was selected for the Tribeca Film Festival followed by Palm Springs Shorts Festival and many more.
A longer short tends to mean you won’t be able to submit to every festival as some festivals have maximum running times of between 10-25 minutes. And you read that right some festivals have a 10 minute maximum running time!
Another golden rule to bear in mind is that every festival is different and they all have very different perceptions of the duration of a short film. Some perceive short films to run between 5-60 minutes, some up to 40, some up to 45, some up to 30 and some up to our favourite number – 15.
When you’ve shot your short film be ruthless in the edit suite and kill your darlings as the saying goes. And most importantly ignore cutting it to a specific number. Make sure every scene counts to develop the story and characters. Ensure that there is no repetition or ‘dead air’. Get to the action quickly and ensure everything flows. If it needs to be 15 minutes then that’s fine but if it needs to be 28 minutes that’s also fine too. 😊
I’ve recently begun offering a film analyses consulting service. The report includes a detailed constructive critique of your film. One of the key talking points which always comes up is length. Contact me to find out more about this service and how we can help you identify what length your film needs to be.