2. 15 Second Film Ideas
One of the key ideas your students must grasp is that their ideas must fit the space and parameters of their 3-5 minute slot. This exercise is aimed at getting them to begin thinking about the short format as a separate and distinct form of expression. You might want to consider this for your student’s first foray into filmmaking.
‘Have I passed?’ by Jason Fairley on the BBC's Film Network is an excellent example of a narrative told in 15 seconds and just 6 shots. Here, Jason explains how the film came about:
Steve Robinson wrote “Have I Passed?” He never did say where he got the idea (where do ideas come from, after all?) but I don't believe it wasn't autobiographical.
The film was made as an entry in the Nokia Shorts competition ( www.nokiashorts.com). It's a fun competition and might make a great motivator to work on a 15-second film which are, in most cases, a weekend of work.
We spent a bit more time on it than that. The clipboard and car are both CGI (computer generated) and I spent about 5 weeks in total building them in a 3D animation program called Maya. After a few tests we were confident our effect would be convincing and shot the film in a day, with about a week ’s preparation. Using an actual car would have been too expensive or dangerous. We shot on miniDV using a Sony PD150 but any digital tape format (or even Super8, check out the Straight 8 Competition) will do. No lights, but we did have clip-on microphones.
Most short films, or even just scenes, have a key prop, location or element without which the thing won't work (although such a statement should always be challenged). In our case we needed a car, and the idea came first.
However, on low- to no-budget films it is often more productive to reverse engineer a story from the elements you have access to. This could be an unusual prop, location or even transportation or light effect. For example, you may have a relative who can let you film in a supermarket overnight. It gets tricky when you keep reusing the same thing though, at the point when the film becomes about the element. As with all films, script is king.
Let me just add, finally, that one of the things that makes "Have I Passed?" stand out from many (but by no means all) 15-second shorts that I have seen is it has a beginning, middle and end and is about a relationship: shocked examiner and cocky examinee. A lot of great ideas get lost because there is no ending or 'stuff just happens'.
Put your students into pairs and consider the above paragraph. Now, develop two characters that ‘play off’ each other and think of a situation, which could be developed into a 15 second film. This might make an ideal homework assignment.