What Are the Types of Short Film?

There are a range of different ways to make a short film, and a range of different styles for you to make it. I’m not necessarily talking about different genres or shooting styles – though there are many of them, of course. I’m actually talking about the structure of the film and the way it’s written: the different types of short film.

There are probably more than I’ve listed here, but here are 5 types of short film that I feel can classify most of them.

The Gag Film

This is a classic type of short film (and in my opinion, the best way to structure one). Essentially there is one specific idea, thought or “gag” being explored and the entire film revolves around it.

A great example of this is the film “The Black Hole”, which was directed Phil Sampson and Olly Williams. The single idea presented is an office worker who discovers a black circle on a piece of paper, and realises he can use that circle to walk through walls. He uses it to steal from the vending machine and sneak into the boss’s office.

Finally, as he is using it to steal cash from the office safe, he climbs through the hole, into the safe. The gag appears when the paper drops off the safe leaving him stuck inside.

The film is hilarious and really well made. Plus the structure of the film works perfectly for the short film medium. It’s this single idea that is explored completely with a beginning, middle and end. It doesn’t need anything else or leaving you want more, such as the next category of short film.

Watch The Black Hole here.

The Scene From a Bigger Picture

The next of the types of short film acts as a small scene from something bigger – as if you couldn’t tell from the title. It may be a massive overarching story and we come in to watch a couple of the characters interacting in its world. It might lend itself to having a sequel, following these characters as they continue on after this scene. Or it might be the set up of a “cinematic universe” (groan) where other characters tangentially involved here, become the main characters of a follow up.

But effectively, this type of short sets up a bigger world. Now, this could be both good or bad. It might not be a good thing when the short sets up a sequel that never comes (because short films don’t often get sequels). Or might leave a cliffhanger ending which never gets paid off. The thing I really like about short films is that they tell a complete story. If a short ends on a cliffhanger like that, it would tend to annoy me.

But, a cliffhanger ending can also work in a short film, if the film does actually tell a complete story. The cliffhanger ending could end up being the “gag” that closes out the story. In “The Black Hole” the main character is stuck inside a safe. Will he get out? Will he get caught? It kind of ends on a cliffhanger, but because the whole point of the film was that he is being greedy and starting to go too far, it’s a perfect ending to the story.

A scene that ends without an actual ending, and just setting up a second film, just seems a bit lazy.

The Mini-Feature

This type of short isn’t really a short. It’s a feature film that has been crammed into a tiny running time. There are a lot of scenes; there is a long, possibly complicated story; and there are plenty of characters. I find a lot of times (but not always) that this type of short film is made by student filmmakers or first time filmmakers because they are trying to replicate their favourite feature films. In my opinion, this style of short is the one that doesn’t really work or lend itself well to the format.

An example of a short film like this would be “Kung Fury” made by David Sandberg. This is a crazy film – and one that I do actually find hilarious – but does feel more like a short feature film rather than a short film. It’s about a detective who receives crazy kung fu powers. It then then skips to many years later where he’s still fighting crime and he gets a new partner. After that, Adolf Hitler appears as a bad guy and they travel through time to stop him but meet a Norse god and Vikings and battles robots and Nazis.

Check out the full film here or just watch the trailer below.

It’s a crazy ridiculous movie, and while technically it is a short film, it definitely feels more like a feature film that has been shortened. It also feels like it could be a the first of a series, such as the next type of short film…

The Pilot

The pilot is a short film that acts like the first episode of a TV series or web series. Similar to the Mini-Feature and to the Scene From a Bigger Picture, it sets up a bigger world and establishes characters from that world who we are going to want to follow. It might also leave cliffhangers, or easter eggs that are meant to be picked up and followed on through the next series of episodes.

Again, I don’t particularly like this style of story, for a short film. Unless you’re specifically making your short film as a starting point for a series, and are trying to drum up interest or excitement for your series, I’d stay away from this category. 

The Short Short

The final types of short film is one of my personal favourites and that’s The Short Short. Essentially it’s a Gag Film, but incredibly short. Think, less than a minute long. These types of short films have become incredibly popular online on sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Vine – even though I’m sure many people don’t think of those videos as “short films.”

Yes, some of those are amateur and not-so-well-made, but there are some who are making really cool and interesting stories. The 5 Second Films are sometimes incredibly creative and can tell a great little story in just five seconds. My favourite is Late For Work.

Then you have the fun little stories created by Zach King. They tend to rely heavily on editing tricks and visual effects but still actually tell really good stories. This is likely why he has amassed such a huge following.

Then there a number of short film festivals dedicated to films under 1 minute long and plenty of blog articles showing off the “best 1 minute short films” like this one.

If you can tell a creative and engaging story in under a minute, you really know what you’re doing. Plus it’s a great way to test yourself.

Which of the types of short film will your next one be? Check out our articles on Screenwriting and Short Films for more info.

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