Short Subject by Joe Ochman

Last week I drove to Palm Springs to attend The Palm Springs International Short Film Festival. A film in which I was fortunate enough to appear was premiering there. The themed evening my film was a part of – Odd Couples – featured a wide assortment of duos, spanning styles and genres from two quirky love stories to a little girl buddy drama to a May-December not-quite-romance to a dystopian future road movie.

Though I went as an actor, my writer brain was impressed with each filmmaker’s ability to distill ideas, structure and emotion into such compact forms. It was a great reminder that brevity is the writer’s friend. And how tricky to cultivate that friendship can be. And how important it is to pursue that friendship.

In theater, there is a whole mini-genre devoted to the 10-minute play. Festivals are produced all over the country – heck, all over the world – consisting entirely of 10-minute plays. Many anthologies of these plays exist. The best ones are not glorified sketches, but fully realized mini-epics.

One of the finest proponents of this form, Mark Harvey Levine, has had over 800 productions, whether individual pieces or entire evenings of his work, staged all over the world, from Brazil to South Korea to South Africa to the Czech Republic. His plays make you laugh and move you with equal dexterity, using the simplest of elements in a minimum of pages. He clearly has a warm, rich, successful friendship with brevity.

No matter the length of the screen projects we write, that efficiency of execution is valuable. The biggie I often battle with is my novelization of stage directions. Others may go nutso with expositional dialog. Many bludgeon emotional moments to death, rather than find a simple, elegant, visual way to move us.

In my first decade as an actor, I would go back and take a beginning class every couple of years, just to get in touch with the basics again – to reconnect and re-center myself so the work flowed naturally and simply. It was a big help. Heck, I’m still working 30-odd years in.

I’d suggest that, as a writer, visiting a short form periodically is a great idea too. For a veteran, it might just help deplete any bloat that has crept in over the years. For a newbie, it might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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