Embedding micro short films into a larger narrative whole
Once you have made a micro short film or two, you start to develop a way of seeing and a way of doing that lets you perceive an opportunity to address a particular theme in a quick, easy to shoot manner. The attitudes and practices I cover in my book, Micro Short Filmmaking: A guided learning journey and in my training workshops enable you to spot a filmable situation, marry it to a particular passion theme and narrative of yours, and bundle it up into a completed film in a few days.
When you become practiced at pulling together micro shorts, it is only a matter of time until you start to consider stringing a bunch of them together into a larger work. This isn’t a new idea, but it is a great one. So-called “framed tales,” for example, have been done in literature for ages. An example is Dubliners, by James Joyce, where several stories in a collection share elements of place, character and themes. The same can be done with micro shorts, particularly if you start with the intention of embedding them into a larger work.
If you write to include embedded micro shorts in your storytelling, it gives you an instant increase of control over the ultimate outcome of your project. If, for example, half of your larger film can be told by embedding micro short films into it, and you already know how to shoot a micro film yourself, you know right away you will be able to film half the film yourself. This a lot stronger position to be in than needing to wait for other talent, gear or money to come your way. The frame of the overall film just becomes a series of segments that you can start grabbing today.
To do this, you will want to have a really clear layout of the entire narrative, from beginning to end. One of the best ways to do this is to start building your timeline in your editing software as soon as you have the script finished to your satisfaction. Start with the obvious, the beginning and end titles, and block out an appropriate space between the two for the rest of the film. By this point, you should at least also have a clear sense of the first and last shots of the film, and ideally most everything in between. Figure out what parts of the film can be told with an embedded micro short. You may want to try using my swipescaping technique for some segments.
If you are using voiceover narrative for some of your embedded micro short segments, you can actually start recording those now, and find the appropriate video imagery later. This lets you populate your timeline with proper length audio clips, in the right order, and also tells you how much video footage you need to acquire to marry with the audio portion of each segment. The end result of starting this process is that you end up with a clearly thought-out shopping list in your mind for what footage you need. For example, if you need 85 seconds of a street scene, you can be wandering around with your smartphone or other camera, ready to grab that footage when you see it.
To experiment with this technique, why not try a short film, say 6 minutes, half of which could be made up from standalone one-minute micro shorts? Or some variation of that formula? Give it a try, and start gathering your imagery today. Grab a copy of my book if you would like some encouragement and guidance in making micro shorts, or take a class with me. Don’t forget to bring your camera, and have fun!
Robert David Duncan, award-winning director, actor, writer and producer with a passionate interest in art, storytelling and the whole amazing journey called life. Founder of Fat Punk Productions Ltd. and Festival Director of the Miniature Film Festival.