Short films live and die on how with it being such a short commitment to watch them what makes them worth remembering? Often filmmakers will pander to political biases to make their work noteworthy… when that doesn’t work they may try to demonstrate their outside the box writing chops by creating an ending the audience just didn’t see coming. Introducing a unexpected ending may seem like a gamble but in actuality its a safe bet. This is because either your viewers are left questioning, re-watching or pondering what lead to this provoking ending or they think its complete bullshit but I mean hey that beats the audience being bored out of their mind or feeling indifferent. Bad advice maybe, but ask your average Joe off the street to name 3 Shyamalan films and 3 Gore Verbinski films and you tell me who has the higher success rate. With that said let’s see how we feel about the twists and turns of these films.

The Lunch date

Directed by: Adam Davidson

This is our first example because while the twist ending has really been perceived as this M. Night Shyamalan dramatic revelation that alters the whole perception, shakes the foundation sometimes its just a neat little plot point that subverts your expectations. This was an Oscar winning short back in the day and I think its well deserved. The twist in this one is hoping that we’ll fall into following the film based off assumptions. If the hoity-toity lady says that’s her salad, we really don’t have a reason to mistrust her. What can you say it’s a nice short that doesn’t necessarily feel preachy or overly imposing on morals and in fact one of the best attributes to the film is that it understands that in short films you probably won’t have a dynamic character. This is opposite of screenplays in that in most cases to have a fulfilling narrative your character needs to go through some sort of transformation or change brought up by the acts they partake in. Not always I mean if you’re writing Oedipus Rex or The Wolf of Wall Street then your character is someone with a fatal flaw that is their stubbornness to not change. But short films are different, what cataclysmic event is powerful enough for you to change your entire world view or personality in 8 minutes? Despite this being a nice moment, our protagonist just laughs off the misconception and is shown not changing by again not donating to the homeless man.  While this short might not completely change our world view or misconceptions as an audience the film challenges us which is baby steps in the right direction.

Still Life

Director: John Knautz

Now doesn’t that just make you say ooh what a twist. In a very Twilight Zone concept, we see a protagonist hurled into a world unknowingly and trying to figure out what the hell is going on. This film deploys a clever tactic to pulling off a twist and that’s capturing single perspective. It turns out that our guy is somewhat of an unreliable narrator, but cinematography and editing do an effective job not revealing anything outside of this perspective’s field of view. If we were to see the mannequins move that may sway our opinions one way or the other towards actual sentient store mannequins or predicting the twist. This film also does another element of pulling off a twist ending and that’s retrospective. Hindsight is 20/20 so if you can make scenes impressionable, then their impact once the twist is revealed will have an effect on the audience. Now that you know the twist there is something sickening in recalling the way the mannequins were absolutely shattered being completely obliterated. The film also does an effective job at misdirection. This is a really good job of if you’re going to mislead the audience or need a bridge one action to another you might as well make it a moral dilemma. The purpose of hearing the baby cry from upstairs only serves the purpose of drawing our protagonist to the mirror and essentially to corner him when the police arrive. However, when we hear that baby cry we are not in the mindset considering the consequences of his previous actions but rather his future actions. Will he be justified in shattering an infant of whatever strange mannequin society or will he spare it in some sort of recognition of their humanity. The film never attempts to answer it but it’s a fun What would you do for the audience. Finally, the last talking point I have as to why this is a truly effective twist delivery is the idea of premeditated and length. Does the twist feel earned? In this case the film does discretely show him taking pills while driving and has sort of a restless mannerism to him. In terms of length it might be something to consider, how much can you give before your audience either loses intrigue of the mystery or is clever enough to figure it out pulling the punch from your reveal. Length isn’t something to obsess over getting it perfect but this concept certainly works better around the 10 minute mark rather than being a 20 minute long drawn out affair.

Here’s also an addition analysis on this short that focuses more on the use of shot composition.

Food For Thought

Director: Davide Gentile

Have you ever wanted to see the twisted love child of Quentin Tarantino and the tunnel scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Most won’t have the production value of this short but let’s appreciate both it’s excellence in cinematography and casting. The film certainty loses its edge if our fat slob is some college student. I know there’s a negative stigmatism towards writing stereotypes but in short films you don’t have the most time to develop a cast of 7 people and it’s both a stylistic choice in this case and I think it’s a clever way to exercise writing distinct voices. Having every character sound like the author can be a tough habit to crack so consider it the next time you attempt your next creative endeavor.  The use of sound is superb, the constant bombardment of sound elements really brings an atmosphere to the diner and helps aide in the film’s message.

Maybe your initial intentions were to create some gore-fest but to me the piece takes a step up for adding meaning and sort of doing this intense thrilling PSA. The use of violence is an appropriate symbolic representation to the gruesome effects of heart disease. I’d say its risky to depend on an allusion for some of the thematic statements where I love when a film gets me curious about a reference I’m unaware about I’m sure that its always going to be lost on someone. This isn’t the best example as I’m sure most have at least some preconception of Alice in Wonderland but sometimes it might be less advantageous. I also adore the costume and production design. All the characters sort of have a timeless look to them it looks like some neon interpretation of the clue board game. I could tell that it was pretty recently because… I recognize the Baltimore Ravens field and the scoreboard are both the modern designs but overall it still shows how stylistic it can be and interesting to have a piece of media outside of time period. Consider avoiding phones if they aren’t important to plot because they will become out dated and then everyone’s just laughing at your protagonist’s stupid Nokia phone.

What did we learn

Nothing. Well actually I hope there was something to take away rather it was writing advice for short film or something to consider when watching or creating your own twist endings. Let me know what you thought about these shorts did you enjoy their unexpected conclusions or did you groan with disapproval. Thanks for reading, and thanks for following down the shortcut.

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