5 things I learnt about writing shorts by watching Paris Je’Taime (2006)

1. The longer a story’s time span the more the writer has to rely on devices to compress time. For instance, Tom Tywker’s five minute story about the beginning, middle and end of a two year relationship relies heavily on voice over and montage.

2. The more subtle and complex a story, the more the writer has to rely on devices to convey back story. Isobele Coixet’s five minute story about a man who wants to leave his wife and then finds out she has a terminal illness, also relies heavily on voice over.

3. The more implausible a premise, the more creativity, imagination and set up is required to enable the audience to suspend disbelief. Sylvain Chomet’s story about a mime’s make believe world uses jump cuts as well as imaginative sound design and rear projection to immerse us in his world. At a narrative level, it also uses a framing device (his son is interviewed by an unseen narrator) to good effect. The framing story makes us care about the main story; while the development of the main story provides an emotionally satisfying resolution for the framing story. Compare this with the dismissal effort by Nobuhiro Suwa in which Juliette Binoche plays a grieving mother comforted by a magical cowboy – a premise crying out for imaginative interpretation, but sadly lacking anything like it.

4. Surprise twists pale in comparison to deep emotional engagement. Compare the success of Gus van Sant’s short (about a young American in Paris who is chatted up in French though he doesn’t understand a word) with that of Alfonso Cuaron, whose attempt at a surprise ending fails because it makes the audience feel tricked rather than engaged.

5. The simpler, the better.

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About Darwin Franks

Filmmaker, Cinephile, Writer, Athiest, Civil Servant

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