1. The ‘What Happens Next’ Exercise
One key approach to the short film format is the unexpected ending or twist. In this exercise you simply show your students a short film based on this premise but pause it strategically and ask them to write down what they think happens next. There are no right or wrong answers; rather the object is to encourage your students to think ‘outside the box’.
‘Where were we…’ by Matt Smith on the BBC's Film Network provides a good resource for this task (pause just before the car is dug out of the sand). Here Matt explains his inspiration for the film:
“ The idea was based on the observation that while modern communications make it easier and easier to communicate with your chosen social group wherever they are, so people arguably are less spontaneously and generally communicative in public (ie you don't have to talk to people in shops or buses so much because you can sit on the bus and text your friend). The one time people completely drop that front is when there is a crisis. Suddenly they are completely open, talkative, helpful (obviously only in the context of the situation) but I found this an interesting juxtaposition. It’s like getting to a primal human bit left in this entire high tech communication world.
Anyway, I wanted to do something really simple about this funny crisis reaction people have. Simple stories work best. Its not that deep an idea and I have never claimed it is. It was one of the first films I made and I just wanted to play with that. The actual scenario just came into my head. It was initially a couple talking interrupted by this nutter they helped. I didn't know what the ending was at that point but rapidly had three ideas. One I have forgotten. One was that he was being lifted off into the sky by a kite, and the other was that he was on his way to drive his car into the sea when it got stuck and he needed help getting it out. I had a friend and we always talked about when our bikes got knackered, riding them all the way down the hill from Cabot Park in Bristol, straight into the docks. Then they built a railing so if you actually tried it now you'd kill yourself. But essentially it’s this absurd desire to do something reckless that is driving the guy. Something he sees as totally valid.
That was it really. The script ended up being 7 mins long and I had a last minute panic the night before the shoot, cut it down to four mins, then shot that and edited it down to the exact original story in post, by chopping up and reversing the order of half the dialogue.
Simple story, simple idea, well told, is our idea of a good film.
Frank Cottrell Boyce (writer of ’24 hour party people’) spoke at last years Foyle film festival about the banana skin principle. When a man slips on a banana skin and falls over (as in classic silent era comedy) it isn’t that funny. However, a skilled film-maker will show the audience the banana being peeled, the man proud of his clean clothes, the banana skin being thrown down, the man proudly stepping around it and then…promptly falling down a man-hole. (In fact, the comedy ‘Not the nine o’clock news’ featured an ongoing sketch where a smiling young Rowan Atkinson met a similar fate each week, always in not quite the way the audience expected. Often the key to conflict resolution in your film is just that – That the audience is given the ending they expected but not in the way they expected.)
Mik Duffy’s film ‘Hitch’ (http://www.atomfilms.com/af/content/hitch_duffy) can be used for this exercise also, as can many available online films. Pause as the Killer produces his knife.