Subtitled “Pulling off Your Shorts,” this book by Troy Lanier and Clay Nichols is less about the penchant for baggy pants and more about the growing interest among teens for producing their own films. Lanier is a documentary filmmaker; Nichols is a playwright and screenwriter. Together, they teach filmmaking at St. Stephen’s Episcopal High School in Austin, Texas, where they’ve encountered many kids who dream of the “silver screen” during Algebra; this book is designed for those they may never see in class.
Conversational, engaging, and frequently amusing, Filmmaking for Teens is a guidebook for those who want to start making movies before they graduate from high school. Lanier and Nichols suggest starting with a five minute short film rather than a feature: “It is our belief that you raise the odds of finishing your movie, of pulling off your shorts, if you tackle a project of reasonable size.”
“Five minutes,” you ask, perhaps out loud, attracting stares from other Starbucks patrons. You start to think about things that take five minutes: making a bowl of ramen, brushing your teeth, going to your locker for your books – none of which sounds very much like your Hollywood dreams.
But, as the authors observe, in five minutes you can “tell a story that makes people laugh or cry or both.” You can “communicate a lot about what you think and who you are.” And more importantly, five minutes is a manageable project: the bigger the project, the more complicated it becomes. They suggest beginning small, simply because it reduces the number of headaches and remains relatively manageable. It’s rather like walking: you have to take baby steps before you can run.
The authors recommend that even for a five minute short, you script it in advance (“The problem with improvised films is that they usually have that homemade, America’s Funniest Animals look.”). In order to be taken seriously, even a short film needs “professional polish,” which means preparation and focus before, during, and after filming. They hit the idea of concept, and state the obvious: for a short film, the storytelling structure of Hollywood feature films simply won’t work. They offer tips on screenwriting (even though we’re only talking five pages of script here, it remains important), how to be an effective producer (essentially, how to ask favors, the “fine art of the mooch,” and more – very important for filmmaking on a shoestring budget), how to prepare to be a director, the importance of equipment, how to get good sound, and more.
Unlike some books that are all about reaching for the stars, Filmmaking for Teens is basically grounded in things which anyone can do to get their cinematic feet wet. The authors provide concrete, useful information and give tips on how to get the most bang for your buck. Given the developing interest in quality short films online, this is certainly a helpful guide for almost anyone – even those whose high school days are behind them – interested in short film development.