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Making Short Films
May 27, 2005

Clifford Thurlow, who may be best known for his book The Sex Life of Salvador Dalí , here exhibits the dilemma that dogs all of us who attempt to encourage aspiring film-makers. He quotes not only from Dal’ but also from Luis Bu–uel and Jean Cocteau, alongside the pragmatism of producers and short film-makers, and gives bullet-point practical guidance, at the same time as recognising that the process cannot be reduced to rules.

Early in the book he states: “One thing that first-time writers and film-makers need to overcome is that everyone has grown up on the same diet of countless movies and endless hours of television. We know how it’s done because we’ve seen it done, over and over again. It looks easy. Film courses and textbooks, including this one, light the road for us. The struggle then is to break the mould of our education and environment, think in fresh ways and use new technology to find our own originality.”

Thurlow admits that the short and longer forms are different beasts. Yet many successful directors cut their teeth on shorts. But most of these films are not strong linear narratives, or even narratives at all. They are attempts to play with the form on the way to discovering a style and developing creative muscles. Many of these films were made without a thoroughly worked-out screenplay - and benefited from the freedom this gave - which is why I find rather self-defeating the fact that more than half of this book is taken up by four scripts of less-than-famous short films. You are not going to “break the mould” by making pale imitations of existing forms.

I am reminded of Jean-Luc Godard’s belief that the form of the screenplay was invented by a Mafia accountant because it allowed control of film-makers. What we need to do is liberate the imagination, not inhibit creative expression. This book is a prime example of the dangerous split that exists between the value of inspiring models and platitudinous formulations.

Many undergraduate students may find this book useful as it aims to cover the whole process from idea to distribution, but I would encourage the aspirant to watch and carefully analyse early films by directors they admire. Thurlow states that “of all the jobs in film the director’s requires the least training”. I would add only that they need the most education. Making short films should be an opportunity to develop skills and hone the craft. The danger is that by pursuing product over process you neither learn nor profit.

Roger Crittenden is director of the full-time programme, National Film and Television School.

Making Short Films: The Complete Guide from Script to Screen. First edition

Author - Clifford Thurlow
Publisher - Berg
Pages - 246
Price - £50.00 and £12.99
ISBN - 1 84520 062 4 and 063 2

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