Thursday, August 16, 2007

Short is the New Long

Later in the year, I’m to help judge the best 60-second film at Filminute, The International One Minute Film Festival. The other judges include Canadian author Michael Ondaatje, Kenichi Kondo, a new media curator at Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum, and Samira Makhmalbaf, who is a member of an extraordinary family of Iranian filmmakers. You can guess why I’m there. For one thing, my son Dan is a budding movie maker and recent graduate of the New York Film Academy. I’m also, as a passionate believer in sisomo and lover of 30-second movies (aka TV commercials), and this is going to be a fantastic opportunity to see some of the world’s best in action. Filminute asks a big question about what makes a great one-minute film, and answers it with:

“A great one-minute film will deliver a well-balanced equation of content, acting, dialogue, storytelling, photography and sound design. It’s everything a good film or animation should be, only in 60 seconds – no more, no less!”

Personally I’d put a question mark over ‘well-balanced’, but that’s a debate for another day. The attraction for me of short, short films is their accessibility. They are pretty well within the creative reach of just about everyone. Maybe not to the level of Filminute award winners, but most of us really can express ourselves in short sisomo. We just have to jump in. I had a good experience of this at a workshop in Geneva last year. As part of the day, each group was challenged to create a short film. The theme? How to change your world. The results were surprising, fun and fantastic proof of sisomo creativity. Try experimenting with sisomo to tap into ideas, engagement and connection. Start with a digital movie camera and a laptop, mix them with a whole lot of enthusiasm and get moving. The deadline for Filminute entries is August 20, 2007.


Susan956 said...

When I was a writing tutor and worked students through differing genre, students either focused on plot or on character. The best works made one a strength and focus. In this sense I would argue that 'well balanced' is not apropos per se in the best works. However, you said the debate was for another day. :)

I would think some of the best works would be those that *could* have been an hour. Perhaps an odd thing to say. Often we look in reverse; we praise the 60 or 90min work that seemed to pass in 20. We were so thoroughly engaged the time passed quickly. I find in short piece work that quality for me often arises when I either think.."darn it, I SO wish I could have seen more albeit I know that was a 'whole'", or, "WOW, you managed to give me one heck of an insight - you opened my eyes and mind to a new facet of existence - in such a short space of time." Not exactly 'short, sharp, shock' - just akin.

In the sense of the latter (the 'Wow'), the best ideas can often be stated very simply as we know. So, the latter may be satisfaction at insight, the former (wanting to see more) may be longing (based on a different perspective of satisfaction).

Again because I just can't help but try and offer people who don't have, an experience, I'd like to take someone who has a digital and laptop (as I don't have either and would not automatically know what to do) and locate a few people across generations who held some fabulous ideas/conceptions and set about helping them realise the same in film.

Congrats to Dan btw on his graduation. I would think he encountered a rich society there and learned a significant base of skills.

What an interesting experience judging the films and what a challenging one.

Piotr Jakubowski said...

As mentioned above I think this will be a very interesting experience for you, Kevin.

I've always liked the idea of testing creativity with very specific rules. In photography, for example, creating a photo essay while having only one roll of film to use all day. One must choose their shots very wisely. In this case, the one minute time rule. By putting up walls in one area, people are forced to try and find other ways to maintain effectivity. It's definitely a great way to refresh the category.

How these filmmakers can fit content, acting, dialogue, storytelling, photography and sound design into a well balanced piece is beyond me (for now), and I really hope these will be online to watch (and possibly vote for the People's Choice).

Kempton said...

Hi Kevin,

I love short film so thanks a lot for linking to the Filminute site. I quite enjoy the 2006 winner "Line" on the website. The Jury commendations -- "Future Box" and "The Human Coral" were nice too.

Great to hear your son Dan is a filmmaker, if his works are available on the web, I would love to watch them.

Now, I will have to put a question mark over "Short is the New Long" even though I love short film and can't get enough of them but that's a debate for another day. I do agree with your question mark over "well-balanced". Telling an artist or filmmaker to be "well-balanced" is just asking for trouble.


P.S. For the short film lovers out there, I came across this short film (10 minutes long) while I was screening films for the Calgary International Film Festival. It is called "Who Wants To Be An Amerikan" - by Aaron Beckum from the Vancouver Film School. Love it. Great work. Highly recommended.

Andy said...


In the 30 second ad I believe that the brand message is often lost.

These ads sometimes go on to win creative awards and an agency is praised and often respected for their works of art.

My point is this:

Creativity, sisomo and awards are amazing - but I believe that they can only achieve masterpiece status when created to a certain criteria (as Piotr mentioned above)

I would love to hear your view on this.


Susan956 said...

Forgive me andy weren't the two issues Piotr commented on effectively covered within the lead article of Kevin's? Kevin did speak to a delimiter albeit Piotr offered another version and they both queried the issue of balance.

That said, I think the matter you raised as to whether a brand message is lost or not in 30sec interesting and important. I can think of beautifully photographed ads - visually superb - that didn't give me the brand at all. I can think of 'orrible raucous ads that I could remember the brand.

I wonder about the film judging criteria and whether they ask the judges to allocate points to each of the areas. I could probably do that but may battle if an accumulation of point don't in fact correctly represent what I felt were the best pieces. I have rejected using examination sheets that required me to allocate points for the same reason - instead choosing an ultimate grading or point score and providing a written justification. Perhaps hard if you are asked to watch score of films and you need to try and remember.

I often like the 'watch 20 and pick 2' rolling approach (or watch 10 and pick one). This means you are culling from the get go and picking best of the group similarly and you don't have to keep up a recall per se. Once you had a top ten you choose 2 and then the same from the next top ten. A constant series of selections.

Kevin Roberts said...

Piotr - Exactly, the best creative work comes when there are limitations or restrictions imposed. Whether it be budget, time, duration – it forces people to tackle the job in a different way, outside of the square.

Kevin Roberts said...

Andy – The best way to judge good creative is by asking yourself if you want to see it again. That said, if the spirit of a film stays with you long after it has finished playing, then it’s a winner. If it makes you think ‘man I hadn’t thought of that’, then it’s a winner. If you can feel strong empathy for the characters, then it’s a winner. It is also about knowing when to break the rules and when to abide by them.

A brand message can be lost in a 30 sec spot, yes, but the best creative builds an identity / personality / brand in an almost subliminal way – not by overtly stating ‘we stand for this’. Consumers have had enough of this type of advertising and it really doesn’t work anymore - she wants to be entertained, touched, moved, excited not shouted at.

Kevin Roberts said...

Susan - You may remember the 'orrible raucous’ ads but do you remember them for good things? Would you want to buy from them – and not just because it may be on sale.

Susan956 said...

Kevin. Good question. In the main the answer is no (hah he thinks, I've made a point. Yes she responds, you have) although that said, I have wandered into one or two and found a selective bargain amongst the trash. But only wandered because I happened to find myself there as opposed to seeking the store out.

The flip side of your question of course is, would I buy from a company whose name I can't remember after seeing the ad 4 times. No. I don't remember who they are. I'm not sending that up either. I honestly can't remember. I CAN recall the details of the aesthetics and could describe the ad, but have no memory of the brand.

So, either end of the spectrum bottoms out (so to speak).

Susan956 said...

Kevin..your comment to Andy. If, as I just suggested, I can recall the majority of ad details and found the ad aesthetically beautiful, but can't remember the brand or the manufacturer, is the ad clever? I have to say no. A lovely piece of art (sisomo) perhaps but not a clever ad.

My point all along has been about not trading off the core intent for the sake of aesthetics.

Susan956 said...

Piotr and Kevin..and yet restrictions can be freeing in an entirely different way; they can actually make a task easier. Example, I'm currently doing a short freelance job taking over a task from an exhausted writer. The writer asked me what topics I wanted to do - they made it totally open ended and my mind was bombarded with ideas. I simply asked them to decide what THEY were most fed up with and to perhaps pass those on to me. That served their needs but it also saved me having to select from a vast pool and just gave me a framework upon which to immediately commence. In that setting that was purposeful and freeing. Maybe this is a zen of freedom thing :)

Kevin Roberts said...

Susan – The ‘core intent’ is always to sell more stuff, that’s all advertising is. I’ll put it this way. What are the things you remember most vividly? Maybe it’s a holiday, maybe it’s a type of food that you crave, maybe it’s the birth of your son…or maybe that one is blacked out! Whatever it is, the reason why you remember it so well is because the experience invoked a strong emotional response. Now tell me if you can remember exactly what you were doing four months ago.

Good advertising can be beautiful, make you laugh, make you cry, make you angry, and it can shock you – you may remember this one:
Whatever it is, you are more likely to remember it and you are more likely to associate a feeling with that product and are therefore more likely to act in a way that the advertiser wants you to act.

I hear what you are saying about ‘brand’ recognition – there is a well known story about one burger chain advertising its chicken burgers, and chicken burger sales at a competing chain increasing as a result. This type of thing happens quite often but if the product is good it will win every time and people will come back (even without advertising). The aim is to build something that people want to be associated with, and something that they want to tell other people about.

Susan Plunkett said...

Kevin, I can't disagree as such with anything you have offered here however I can pose some questions.

I'd never see the Chopper ad before and I admit I had that frisson of chill at the end. One of the elements I've enjoyed about your blog is ad association with marketing/ideas company because as a consumer you rarely know who has created an ad. I've sometimes contacted a company asking could I have the name of the creating company and they have almost never wanted to give that up - even though I have wanted to pass on a compliment. Another story.

I've been an immersed observer about the high and rising death rate in the youth demographic here and advertising has largely failed to hit the mark and act to dissuade. There is a youth optimism about often being able to come out on top, about beating the odds and so on that overwhelms such messages. It would tend to be my son and responsible drivers (e.g. he never ever has a drink if he's driving, not even a sip) who may be most influenced and open to the message in that ad. I am sure some people watch things, like the grim reaper, and switch off. And I mean not just mentally switch off but turn the TV onto another channel. I've done it with disturbing ads.

Would the ad have made more impact if it had been allowable to talk about jail rape, urine or ground glass in your food and so on? Or would the behavioural mindset I discussed still overcome?

I think the ad a great ad Kevin, don't get me wrong - however, how do we fire into the brains of youth that relying on overcoming is not always the best roll of the dice.

And to add to this mix, an elderly woman and her disabled son were badly beaten and she to death. The two young men involved stated openly that they knew the system would make allowances for them - and indeed the system did and has. So, introduce a sense of a legal/Court system being largely inept and I bet some would scoff at the potential of jail time - albeit the reality.

I have no answers. As I said, I can only raise the issues.

I know which was the most poignant ad I have ever seen and it will remain with me for ever. And having that evocation leads me to state than I would know how to generate an ad - one of those big small ads - to encourage giving to the elderly and poor in our community. It would be based on a short experience I had in a fruit and veg shop once - an experience that has played again and again for me across the years.

Susan Plunkett said...

I will tell it. It has always disturbed my conscience and I will forever regret not acting. I was buying fruit and had a nice variety. Across at the other counter an elderly man shuffled up with two small red apples and a peach. He struggled to drop change onto the counter and was told he didn't have enough. He looked confused. I wanted to offer to pay but didn't want to humiliate him either. I didn't have the class then to know what to do. I would now.

I still feel very emotional at that memory. He couldn't have his darn peach. I get teary every time I think about it and my inaction to assist. A poor old man and his peach while the rest of us there had fruit bowls.

Piotr Jakubowski said...

Speaking of emotions, Kevin, there has been one advertisement that I will never forget.

While I was studying abroad in Tokyo, Japan, I was watching local Japanese television at my host family's house, and an advertisement for Sony DVD Workstations came on (I don't remember whether it was cameras, DVD players or the Blu-Ray. I do remember it was Sony).

As you may know, the amount of free time the average Japanese salaryman can amount to is negligible. At the same time, these men have families and children. Both spots played on the idea that when you have time, Sony will be there with you to capture these moments forever, and when you don't have time to actually enjoy the moments, you can relive them again.

The sheer power of this concept, mixed in with the lifestyle of the Salaryman and the emotion of missing out on your own life. Brings chills to me when I write about it.....