The question of whether I should make a feature film or a short film next is one that all aspiring filmmakers face. I kept answering ‘short film’ for many years. But one day I reached a breaking point and I had to finally decide.
For you to make an informed decision, let me share with you some differences between a feature and a short film.
This one is obvious of course. A short film is short and a feature film is long. But what is not so obvious is what exactly short and long means.
There is no universal standard as of now. In the US, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines feature length as over 40 minutes while India’s Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) defines any film of more than 72 minutes as long. Most film festival submissions require a minimum duration of 40 or 60 minutes for feature films. For short films, the minimum duration can be even in seconds.
There is no standard whatsoever in the maximum duration for feature films. As Indians we are used to seeing 3 hour long movies. Even today most Indians consider 90 minutes film to be a short film. But anywhere outside of India, 90 minutes is the average length you would find features in.
If you are looking for festivals, it is better to keep your film around 90 minutes. It is easier for them to program than a 2 or 3 hour long film. Which is not to say such films cannot make it in festivals. But generally that is what is suggested, unless you are an already established film director.
Sweet spot? 80 to 100 minutes.
A feature film is going to need a lot more resources than a short film. By resources I do not just mean money, but also time and crew. A short requires less of everything. It also does not need big marketing budgets either.
Not only does a feature film take more time in production, but also in all the stages of writing, pre-production, post-production, marketing and so on.
Probably a short film is not going to be released theatrically. It might play at a few festivals and then end up on YouTube or some online platform. You might also be able to sell it on Video On Demand (VOD) platforms, or as DVDs. But not many are likely to purchase as they can get a lot more value for money from features. At least as of now.
The advantage of releasing a short on a platform like YouTube is that it might go viral and gain you viewership that make theatricals look petite.
Features can collect money by releasing online, winning at festival, running in theatres, airlines, TV, radio, DVD, Blu-Ray, selling music, making remakes, dubbed versions, and various other ways. We pay and consume feature films through such ways. Whereas paying for short film is almost unheard of.
It is not likely that any actor is going be a star by acting in a short film. It might get them an opportunity to act in feature films. Historically, stars, fame and recognition have been part of feature films on the big screen.
Though interestingly this was not the case right after films were born. During those days ‘film’ only meant short films, and people who acted in them were popular.
The big one for me is that the longer the duration of a film, the more nuanced I can make the characters. It is difficult to show the different sides of more than one character in a short film. Even showing conflicting aspects of one character in a short film requires mastery of the craft.
Whereas features have the time to explore such deeper conflicts. TV and Web Series offer an even wider space, granted you can craft an engaging story. Think of it like short stories, novellas and novels. All have different scopes and purposes and people expect different things from each of them.
That said, shorts let a director explore more freely. And hence shorts need not always deliver a cohesive story as compared to a feature film that is to be released and consumed in theatres.
So Should You Make a Feature Film or a Short Film?
Only you can answer that. Most of the points above would be obvious. But weigh yourself on each of these. A feature is going to demand a lot more on each of these than a short.
- Watch the YouTube channel Film Courage’s compilation of US film directors talking if you should make a feature film or a short film https://youtu.be/ki6_ckQllyI