Short films research

Research is one of the keys to success. Before filming our short film I wanted to see more examples of short movies, I wanted to see when it started to appear, its evolution and its history.  On The Telegraph (, I saw a brief history of short films. Look what I’ve found:

“In the beginning, all films were short. The earliest cinema audiences may not have been particularly aware of this as they marvelled at seconds-long scenes of circus performers, exotic cities, scantily clad ladies and people going about their daily business. For them, the novelty and the thrill of witnessing man’s latest technological triumph was paramount. But as the 20th century dawned, films began to get longer.

Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel's 'eyeball-slicing' Un Chien Andalou. 

Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel’s ‘eyeball-slicing’ Un Chien Andalou.

The very first films were presented to the public in 1894 through Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope, a peepshow-like device for individual viewing. These, and the projected films that succeeded them, were often one-shot “actuality” or “interest” films depicting celebrities, royal processions, travelogues, current affairs and scenes from everyday life. The best-known film from this time is perhaps the Lumière brothers’ Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1895), which supposedly had audiences fleeing in terror as a celluloid locomotive hurtled towards them.

The brevity of these one-shot films suited Victorian modes of presentation. As Bryony Dixon, the BFI national archive’s silent film curator and director of the British Silent Film Festival, explains: “The major outlets for entertainment at that time were music halls and fairgrounds, where programmes were made up of a variety of different acts lasting up to about 20 minutes. Most early films imitated other entertainment media already in existence: magic lantern shows, illustrations, variety acts, tableaux presentations. So short was the norm.”

But in the early 1900s, improvements in recording and editing technology allowed film-makers to produce longer, multi-shot films. Some of the most memorable longer short films from the pre-features era include Georges Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon (1902) – in which a group of astronomers build an improbable space ship and encounter some acrobatic moon men – and Edwin S Porter’s The Great Train Robbery (1903), often celebrated as the first Western.

From about 1910 onwards, studio competition and audience demand induced film-makers to make even longer, multi-reel films and the first features were born. While DW Griffith’s controversial Ku Klux epic The Birth of a Nation (1915) has gone down in popular memory as the first feature film, it was in fact preceded by several feature-length multi-reelers from Italy, France, Denmark and the United States, including George Loane Tucker’s equally controversial Traffic in Souls (1913), which dealt with white slavery and prostitution.”

Then, I’ve started to look after Britain’s short film history. I’ve found a site: Hellum: Hollywood & Movie Industry (

“The one-reel film was similarly adopted in Britain and dominated the film industry between 1908 and 1913. As John Hawkridge says the tendency among film historians has always been to represent the British cinema as having had influential and innovative beginnings.’ (Hawkridge, 1997, pg. 130) This is seen in Britain’s many non-fiction actuality films, and narrative based series’ films such as the commercially successful Lieutenant Darling series. The series’ in which many short films were made over a period of time with a continuing narrative thread binding them, can be seen as an early form of the television serial.

Certainly, British filmmakers tried to push the medium further and were more willing to test the medium than their American counterparts. Sometimes this caused problems such as The Passion Of Men where the temporal logic of the narrative is at times disrupted when shot transitions are made by fades rather than cuts, and vice-versa’ (ibid., pg. 131) Yet at other times their ingenuity worked in such films as the two-reel A Visit to Peek Frean and Co’s Biscuit Works which is remarkable because of its use of high-angle shots, panning, and tilt movement, and its use of scene dissection to give a more complete view of specific factory processes.’ (ibid., pg. 131) British filmmakers also pioneered the ingenious cheat’ whereby actor movement is used to simulate camera movement’ (ibid., pg. 131). In Britain the short film was being used to break new boundaries in the medium, it wasn’t creating stars like the American films.

1.3 The Modern Day Short Film
By the 1930s the short subject as a viable commercial product in America was in serious decline. Charlie Chaplin had moved onto feature films and Mack Sennett was out of business. After 1935, Laurel and Hardy moved full time to feature films, which left the short subject bereft of talent and only exhibited via independent production houses and at times through block-booking. The reason short films struggled to find an audience was largely due to the exhibition of two feature films at the same time (the double feature) which meant there was no need for them. The short had become the poor relation of the feature film’ (Eder, 2004) with short-film units relegated to run down pieces of property separate from the main facility.’ (ibid.) But ultimately, it was television that killed the Hollywood short. As audiences shrank and production costs rose, it was no longer possible to supply the shorts.

I also found a site with the Most Voted History Short films (

About adinavlad

Optimist, friendly,'ll get to know me :)

Posted on February 18, 2011, in Narrative. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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