The Decisive Moment

Little did I know it was going to turn into one

I struggled for days to come up with an idea for a 1-minute film, without success. What story could I possibly tell in one minute? Especially when the lockdown meant shooting from home. Everything I thought of either seemed impossible, or unoriginal, or both. Eventually, I realised I had my story: a would-be filmmaker trying to come up with an idea for a 1-minute film …

I’d become a huge fan of the format, for a number of reasons.

First, the viewer-friendly nature of it. There’s an endless number of amateur-made short films out there, with the varying quality you’d expect. It’s asking a lot of someone to expect them to devote 20 minutes of their time to an unknown filmmaker. Indeed, there’s so much material out there, even six or seven minutes is an ask. But one minute? We’ve all got time to give that a go.

Second, it’s as non-daunting a challenge as a beginner filmmaker could ask for. Conceivably, a one-minute film could be a single shot. Mine wasn’t – it was 34 of them – but planning, shooting and editing one still felt like a manageable task.

Third, it’s a great discipline. Having only sixty seconds to tell a story means that, quite literally, every second counts. You have to think about what contributes to the story, and what is dispensable. You have to think about the most efficient way possible to communicate something.

For example, I don’t need to show the character feeling exhausted, brushing her teeth, collapsing into bed and setting an alarm for an ungodly hour. A few shots in quick succession, lasting just a few seconds in total, communicate everything we need.

My first rough cut came out at 1m 52s, and I had literally no idea how I was going to get it down to one minute. It seemed impossible.

A second pass trimmed off fractions of a second here and there, and those started to add up. I realised one scene wasn’t needed. And then it was a question of reducing each shot to its essence. What had started out as an exasperated look followed by her head hitting the desk, raising up and hitting it again, became a single head-thump. It was enough. Applying that same degree of ruthlessness to every scene reduced it to 1m 6.12s.

After that, it was a question of switching into the precision editor and finding the exact minimum number of frames needed for each shot. 1m 03.06s. More precision editing. 1m 01.15s. A little more. 1m 00.23s. Hitting that final target – exactly 1m 0s, and not a single frame more – was tremendously satisfying.

I learned a massive amount from the process, and it was enormous fun! You can see from the outtakes below that we had great fun shooting it, but I enjoyed every aspect of it – from creating my own template for the shot planning through to the final edit. I was, as I wrote earlier, completely and utterly hooked. I can’t wait to create the next one!

Published by Ben Lovejoy

EU Editor of 9to5Mac. Sometime novelist. Likes words, tech, photographs, bicycles, drones, places that are London, places that aren't London.

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