A short film can be up to 40 minutes if submitting to the Academy Awards.

How Long is a Short Film for Sundance?

The Sundance film festival accepts short films up to 50 minutes in length.

Perhaps a better question is, how long should a short film be? Or…

How Short can a Short Film Be?

A common misconception about short movies is that the longer the film the better. When in fact, the opposite is true. I know, I know, you’re currently in post with your short and debating if you should slow-mo your ending credits to extend the length of the film. Longer films are more legitimate, right?

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Film festivals put together short film programs for a reason: exposure. They want to cull the best shorts from the entries and offer exposure for the filmmaker. They’re looking for those diamonds in the rough. Diamonds like Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket), P.T. Anderson (Coffee&Cigarettes), or Trey Parker and Matt Stone (The Spirit of Christmas). These are the short filmmaker diamonds of yore, and film fests want to introduce audiences to the future filmmakers before anyone else.

 

How Long Should a Short Film be for Festivals

Consider this:

A film festival is programming a slot time of 30 minutes. They have two choices: choose a great 30 minute vs. 4 great 5 minute shorts and 5 good two-minute shorts. Which do you think they’ll choose? If the M.O. is all about exposing potentially the next wave of gem-filmmakers onto the innocent masses, they’ll likely choose to cram as many promising shorts into their program as possible, right?

That’s why a common mantra is: the shorter the film, the more festivals you’re likely to be accepted to.

How Long Should a Short Film be for Online Audiences?

Perhaps you have no intention of submitting to festivals. You are an entrepreneur like that, and want to create your own channel (move over Oprah!) or sell your film to a VOD distributor. So how long should a short be in this case? Again, put yourself in your audiences’ flip flops. They just got off work, cooking dinner, eating dinner, bickering kids, barking dog – the toilet won’t flush, again! Where’s that plunger? Fuck, I need a new one. What was I watching again? Oh, forget it…

See? There are a ton of distractions, and this Joe Shmoe is going to watch your 30 minute short film on Vimeo? Likely not. The shorter your film (think 2 – 5 minutes), the better the chances of it reaching audiences – or maybe even going viral.

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How Long is a Short Film Supposed to Be?

As long as it takes to tell your story. Can you tell it in five minutes? Awesome possum. If you look deeper, can you shave off two minutes and make it a three minute short film? Even awesomer possumer.

Just like it’s not all about the shoe size, or how big your pick-up truck is – what makes a short film a transformative movie-watching experience isn’t about length.

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Short films aren’t the puny step-children to features. Shorts are a terrific way for filmmakers to hone their craft as well as push through the lowest bar of entry into film festivals. We here at Short Script Gods are rabies-gone-wild for the short genre, and so are tons of other people!

Having said that, I’ve heard that European festivals may frown upon short films less than ten minutes in length. The thinking goes that the short film is “unfinished” in nature. While in the United States, we like variety and stories that set up the issue and give us the punch line. Bing, boom. Let’s call our style of shorts akin to the “high-five.” And for Europeans? Well, they do love their soccer after all… (after all that, the final score is 0-2?) Do they have longer attention spans than Americans? I will never know… I wasn’t paying attention and stopped reading the question mid-type.

How Many Pages is a Short Film?

Whether you’re writing a short, short film, or a long short film – as with features, a typical rule of thumb is one minute per screenplay page.

A typical three-minute short film will be about three pages. A thirty-minute short film will be about thirty pages. Of course there can be quite a bit of variance, as action description can take up more page space, and the pacing run longer when shooting, than dialogue.

What Makes a Good Short Film?

As a sophisticated connoisseur of media, you know which short films flow, and which short films overstay their welcome. Check out any supposed viral hit, say – “Cute Kitten Sneezes National Anthem” – and you just KNOW there is going to be about two minutes of boring video waiting for the cat to sneeze out that final “home of the brave.”

To make a good short film, focus on your story. The short film medium provides fertile ground in which to plant your story seed, and give the audience what they would never expect. Challenge yourself and deliver that climax in as short amount of time as humanely, writerly, possible.

 

Written by: Mich Medvedoff