By Ben Feuer

Short films have been around for as long as film itself.  In the olden days, filmmakers used them as experimental laboratories, places to play with new cinematic techniques and technologies.


Frankenstein Goes to College, an early Edison film


Gertie the Dinosaur, the first keyframe animated film

Today, short films are used as industry ‘calling cards’. Much as a short story can get a novelist ‘discovered’, a fantastic short film can get a filmmaker her first opportunity to direct a feature.


Todd Haynes (Carol) got his start animating barbie dolls

So you’ve decided that you want to join their ranks and make a spectacular, award-winning short film of your own? Slow down, hero. Even before you brainstorm, you’ll want to run though a basic checklist to ensure that you’re ready to create your magnum opus.

• Watch 100 Short Films

This is not an exaggeration nor an approximation. This has, in fact, been scientifically proven to be the precise number of short films one must watch before making a great short.

Okay, that was obviously a complete lie. That said, you should watch at least that many short films before trying to make one. Watch recent festival successes on websites like these … they’ll help you get a sense of what people are looking for. Take notes about what you liked and what you didn’t like.  Keep a record of your favorite shorts and watch them three or four times — figure out how often they cut, how much dialog they use, what style of camerawork they employ.

• Attend a Local Film Festival

Sure, you can also go to film school or haunt your local art house theater (provided you still have one), but attending a film festival is a great way to meet other people who share your interests. Who knows? You might even find a few willing collaborators …

• Examine Your Life

Sure, but for what? What should you be looking for?  What are the stories, issues and themes that matter to you? Did something happen to you that was unusual or particularly interesting that you would like to share with the world?  Do you live in an unusual place, or are you part of a group of unusual people?  Don’t just copy successful filmmakers — think about what makes you stand out!

• Take Stock of Your Resources

How much time do you have? Money? Access to equipment? Willing friends? You’ll need all of these things to make a memorable short film. Figure out what you have plenty of and what you’re a bit short on, and start seeking out the resources you’re going to need.

** ** ** **

Okay! By now, you should have everything you need to get started on your short film!  Next time, we’ll talk about brainstorming the perfect short film concept.

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Just as social profiles are becoming key tools for employers, your target schools are also considering your online presence when you apply.  Here's how to manage what they see.

by Ben Feuer

It's a weird new world -- just a few short years ago, a resume was the be all and end all of your professional life.  Now, nearly anything is fair game, and not just for employers, either.  Surveys show 30 percent of admissions officers are checking up on what you do online, and that number will only grow.  So here are a few Forster-Thomas-style tips to help you manage your online presence.

1.  Don't whitewash.  White's NOT your color.  In all seriousness, though, one of the first things you'll read online is to delete all sorts of pertinent, identifying information like your religious and social convictions and causes.  Well, don't.  Remember -- you WANT admissions to get to know you better, and seeing what you stand for is a great way to make that happen.  Of course, use your best judgement -- that keg stand you pulled off last week might NOT look quite so impressive to Harvard.

2.  Be logical, be consistent.  Wherever possible, purge irrelevant or misleading details or elements of style -- they may lead a reader who does not know you well down a rabbit hole you'll have trouble getting out of.  Consider what your TOP links on Google are -- are they representative?  If not, can you try to push up some content that is, by updating it or refreshing it?  Are your social media presences well managed -- do you have outdated or inaccurate information in some old profile setting you forgot about?

3.  Be lovable.  Love is a greater motivator than fear, and ultimately this process is about falling in love -- you with the school, and hopefully, them with you.  So don't post a lot of negative, flaming comments (especially if they're true), and don't get a rep as a can't-do person or a naysayer.  Project your best self -- an image that is active, engaged, thoughtful and caring.

4.  Friend means friend.  The last thing you want is to content with ridiculous wall posts or junk Zynga game invites all over your profile because you friended someone who doesn't get tha interwebz.  Keep your friends close and unfriend your enemies.

Don't wait until you apply -- start taking action NOW.  Some of this stuff may take time to filter out of internet search caches and the like.

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Don't be shy! Schedule a consultation to find out how we can help you.


How do you write the perfect personal essay for film school?  Admissions experts at Forster-Thomas have the answers.

By Justin Marshall

USC film school calls it a Personal Statement.  So does NYU Tisch.  To UCLA, FSU, and the University of Texas, it’s a Statement of Purpose.  It’s a Narrative statement at AFI, an Artist’s Statement at CalArts, and an Autobiographical Essay at Columbia University.  Whatever the name and regardless of length (anywhere from 500 words to six pages), the personal essay is one of the most common application documents MFA film programs request for admissions.  

What few realize is that it’s also the single most important item you’ll submit. Richard Walter, professor and co-chairman of UCLA’s MFA Screenwriting program, told me: “The single best way to get into our program is to give us a great statement of purpose—one that’s personal and well written.”

Surprised? Sure, filmmaking experience is an important element.  So are good grades in college. And if you have a strong reel, that absolutely increases your chances of getting in.  But the personal essay is king for three key reasons:

  1. It sheds light on how you think. OK, you have a good GPA and a killer music video under your belt. But do you have the life experience, maturity, and unique voice necessary to tell a career’s worth of amazing visual stories? Are you capable of working in a fundamentally collaborative process? Do you have the tenacity of spirit to survive the film industry? These are all crucial qualities, and the personal essay is the only opportunity you have to showcase them.
  2. It puts your reel into perspective. In the personal essay, you can explain the influences behind the films on your reel, what you were trying to say, and what you learned through the creative process. If we understand what you were going for, we will appreciate your films more.
  3. It tells the school if you’re the right fit for their program. USC wants Hollywood players. CalArts wants artists. NYU wants something in between. The personal essay allows you to explain which one you are—and why.

If you want a cheesy analogy, think of the personal statement like an online dating profile or a personals ad (don’t act like you’ve never read them). If you’re looking for true love, a couple of cute photos and a matching Zodiac sign aren’t going to cut it. You want to know that you’re compatible at the core, from musical tastes to hobbies/interests to political views. The personal essay does just that: it shows the school the person behind the images.  It allows you to communicate who you are and how you think.  It’s where sparks fly and true compatibility emerges. And at the end of the day, as good as your reel might be, the schools aren’t admitting a film to a program; they’re admitting a person to their program.  So use the personal essay to showcase who you are—the real you.

Now that you understand what the personal statement is and why it’s so important, read Part 2 of this blog, where I provide three do’s and don’ts for writing the personal essay.

Read more on our MFA Film School consulting process or request a free candidacy assessment.

--Justin Marshall