FAQ: How Long Is a Short Film?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 8, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When creating a film, differentiating between short and long formats can help you determine the different elements of the film, such as its budget, cast, story and theme. Short films have specific characteristics that can make them a unique form of media. Learning more about what a short film is can help you better decide if this type of format is right for your story. In this article, we review what a short film is, how long they are, what the elements are of short films and what some of the best practices are for making them.

What is a short film?

A short film is a cinematic piece that runs under a short time margin. They usually have a complete conflict that introduces concepts and characters to an audience and then ends in a resolution. Like longer films, short films can be in any genre and for certain audiences, depending on the film's content. They can also have ratings, which help ensure only the intended audience views the film. While short films typically don't appear within theaters, they can be contest entries, personal projects or part of larger compilations.

How long is a short film?

A short film has an average run time of 20–40 minutes. Short films have no limitation for how short they can be. For example, some might only be a few minutes, while others might be up to an hour long.

What are the elements of a short film?

There are many elements of a short film that directors and filmmaking professionals consider when creating the project, including:

Length

While short films do range in length, they rarely exceed an hour. The short length of the film may influence other elements of the film, such as how quickly the story develops. This makes length one of the most important elements of a short film, as it sets the parameters for how much content the film can have.

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Plot

Another element of a short film is the plot and how the director orchestrates it. The plot is the narrative arc or the storyline of the film. The short nature of the film may reduce elements of the story that impact the plot, such as the number of characters, scenes or plot devices at work within the project.

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Story structure

Another element of short films that may change because of the film's length is the story structure that a director uses throughout production. Story structure doesn't entirely rely on storytelling conventions, such as visual and characteristic mediums, to tell a story. Story structure is how a story forms through the scenes' visuals and audio. Short films differ in story structure options because they have less time and fewer resources to resolve a story. A short film might have fewer plot points, characters, motivations and settings than a feature length film.

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Characterization

Characterization is the building and structure of characters within a story. Characterization is also the implementation of the characters within a film. A short film may not focus as much on explaining every aspect of a character, but only what is relevant to the plot.

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Scenes

Scenes are sections within a film that allow characters to communicate and for the story to progress. In any film project, scenes have the flexibility to tell a story and progress a plot in many different ways. For instance, a scene might feature one character divulging important information to another character, which prompts them to go on a quest. Because short films are not as long as feature-length films, they have fewer opportunities to implement character development, plot and other story mechanics, so they often feature fewer scenes.

Dialogue

Dialogue is the exchange of speech between characters within the story. Dialogue can not only occur between any number of characters within a film, but can also come from someone like a narrator. This can be useful for different things within the film, such as progressing a plot or building a relationship between two characters. Because a short film has a limited runtime, it may limit dialogue in the size and quantity of each character's lines.

Conflict

Conflict is a disagreement between two elements within a story. They can be between two characters, a character and their surroundings or a character and themselves. Conflict not only allows an audience to understand more about a character and their desires, but also helps move the plot forward. Conflict allows the audience to see elements of the character, such as what they're willing to do to obtain something, or how they feel about something. In a short film, a conflict may be on a smaller, more personal scale than it would be in a feature length film.

What are some best practices when making short films?

There are many suitable practices that professionals can use when making a short film, including:

Limit story elements

One practice that directors of short films can use is the limitation of story elements within your film. Elements such as plot devices, characters and resolutions all come before the conclusion of the short film's runtime. It may be helpful for directors and writers to limit the story elements they use during the film. For example, if you're planning on writing a short film with a complex conflict resolution at the end of your story, consider limiting story elements elsewhere to give yourself as much runtime as you need to display your resolution properly.

Build your story around the time limit

While drafting your short film, always keep in mind the amount of time you want the story to fill. It can be helpful to use a drafting tool, such as a plot chart, to make sure that each of your scenes gets the correct amount of screen time. Since the length of the film is so short, it's important to make sure that everything that you outline in the script can fit into the film.

Limit dialogue

Limiting dialogue can be a great way to ensure that your short film stays under the required time limit. Make sure that characters aren't repeating information throughout the film and that everything that is being said has a clear purpose. To make your dialogue effective, it can be helpful to review each line in the script and decide whether it adds anything to the story or if you can omit it.

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