Aspiring filmmakers are likely to find greater success through short films: Seigo Tono

Garima Dutt

Short films are rage today given the fact that digital connectivity has provided aspiring filmmakers the much-needed access to a wider, geographically dispersed audience to showcase their work.

Lately, short films have found resurgence in the new long format (3-10 minutes) advertising through which brands are increasingly using fictional storytelling to grab the attention of their target customers, build brand trust and recall, inform and entertain.

Earlier this month, the Embassy of Japan, in association with Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia (SSFF & Asia), the annual international short film festival in Tokyo, organised a screening of a few Japanese films. The four films, ‘Can & Sulochan’, ‘Pieces of the Future’, ‘Color of Life’ and ‘Half & Half’ explored the varied themes of love, friendship, shared values, displacement and search for meaning in life, all in under 15 minutes.

With more than 5000 short film entries from more than 100 countries, SSSFF & Asia has become one of the largest short films festivals in Asia. They are also looking to partner with Indian filmmakers and companies to take new short films to different places and platforms.

On the sidelines of the event, I chatted up with Seigo Tono, the festival director who is working hard to make short films a popular format for storytelling and we exchanged several ideas like how mobiles phones are the new medium to consume content, the bright future of short films for advertising and as a narrative device for alternative, new concepts and stories, and how even silent films as a genre can be revived through it.

Edited excerpts from a chat that threw up some important points that could help upcoming filmmakers and all those who wish to explore their creative side through this medium:

Q1. Do you feel short films work better on mobile screens?

Filmmakers today are aware that most of their work would be seen on the mobile phone. Therefore, I do encourage new filmmakers to keep in mind the composition along with the size of the screen, intentionally. And this awareness of the medium is not new. When television came in Japan in the 1950s, filmmakers, I am sure, kept the TV frame in mind too. Something similar must have happened in India too with the arrival of TV. Now, we are doing the same in a world where most of the content is being increasingly consumed on the go.

Q2. Do you feel the art of narrative employed by present-day long-form advertising also influences the short films genre since brevity is common to both?

Here the main question is what kind of message advertising aims to deliver. A traditional ad film is more direct. But there is no one fixed way to tell the story though all narratives have an ‘introduction–build-up– struggle – solution of problem’ format.

The long form advertising which we see these days, wherein films are made for digital first, where the brand (he meant ‘brand attributes’ precisely) and what it stands for is the focus and not direct selling – in this new form advertising does influence short films. It tells us how a good tale can be told in 3 to 5 minutes.

Q3. How should new filmmakers manage rhythm and time since short films have a small time frame?

In our festival, we have the upper limit of 25 minutes for a film, including end credits. But the average length of the films we receive is about 15-18 minutes. We do not receive very short duration films of say about 3 – 5 minutes. In this very short category, we do however get small animation films. The 25 minutes long films are heavy on drama and are also well-appreciated at the Oscars which have the upper limit of 40 minutes for a short film.

Perhaps today unless you have a compelling dramatic narration, it is difficult to hold someone’s attention for 25 minutes. I always tell new filmmakers to deliver the message that they have between 10-15 minutes. For our clients, we always make films between 10-15 minutes.

Budgets are limited so we also advise filmmakers to use good actors as you need someone to pull the audience in. It makes no sense to make your friends or relatives act and squander money. The key is to use quality actors who are able to deftly convey your story in the shortest span of time. They bring a natural rhythm and finesse to a film.

Q4. Can silent films work better as a genre in short films?

I think silent films as a genre would work the best for short films. While watching YouTube, we can now change the subtitles to different languages. If anyone can watch a film and understand it through its visuals alone, then that is the greatest success of a story. In CG animation films competition last year, the winner was a five minute no dialogue film with a powerful message. So yes, people are exploring this silent or no-dialogue genre in short films format more than before.

Q5. What kind of audience should be kept in mind today since movie hall goers are unlikely to consume this content immediately?

Cinema remains a big part of our lives to fulfil our entertainment needs. But youngsters are consuming more and more content on mobile. For filmmakers, it is going to be tougher to make big films because it requires deep pockets and the shelf life of a film in cinema halls is only about two weeks unless it’s a big budget mass appeal film. Initially, young filmmakers are likely to find greater success in making films for YouTube and branded long-form short films for companies.

I don’t discourage young filmmakers to make feature films but I also tell them to make short films for the mobile platform with themes that resonate with the youth so that they can get access to larger audiences and also make some money.