the standard movie length is no longer the gold standard it once was. on one side of the equation, television miniseries are more popular than ever. on the other side, the short format—always the underdog in the history of the medium—has come alive on sharing video sites. along with that, the internet and social media have accustomed us to search for the nuggets we really want. we thus regularly skip over any material when it takes a direction away from our own train of thought. it makes sense therefore that digital stories need some serious rethinking. do authors really still have to include all the details that propel the protagonists forward? aren’t we familiar enough with stories to guess what these would be? much of what we see in films is there for two reasons only, the assumption that a story must be clear as well as complete, so we keep justifying and explaining things (the end of psycho).
what is distinctive about a short digital project is that it does not have to create an all-encompassing world. nor does it have to tell a complete story, with a beginning, a middle and an end. it could instead take its cue from something called “flash fiction”. the idea here is to tell a story as briefly as possible, suggesting a lot, but never filling up the blanks. hemingway is said to have provided the perfect example of flash fiction with “for sale: baby shoes, never worn”. a film could easily be made of this classified ad in a few shots. a woman is sitting at a desk, looking at the little shoes in front of her. her hand goes instinctively toward them. she stops, holds her breath, then faces the computer. she opens craig’s list and types “for sale, etc.”
the key in flash fiction thus consists in identifying a pivoting moment in a character’s life, focusing on it, then getting out quickly. there is no need to involve a before or an after. in hemingway’s example, we don’t need to know whether the woman is a single mother or the baby stillborn. the time passage between the tragedy and the decision to sell the shoes is not important either. whatever information you want to communicate has to be available instantly. her social status for example can be revealed through her clothing and the décor in the room. based on her behavior we could also surmise that she is selling the shoes because she wants to move on with her life rather than because she needs the money. no matter what, a lot would still be left to the imagination of each viewer.
embrace the idea that your viewer has no more than a few seconds to give you, possibly holding a cellphone while standing in a subway train. be brief, make each frame count. think of your “movie” as a burst of images that tell a lot, a jolt that leaves the viewer thinking about what he or she has just come across.