Film Method with Cindy Freeman – January 29, 2011 – We continue our month of episodes about distribution and celebrate the season of Sundance that is upon us as we speak to former Sundance short film programmer Roberta Munroe. As a festival programmer Roberta viewed tens of thousands of short films and has seen the best of the best and the worst of the worst. It is important as a filmmaker to know how to make a good film and to know your audience. It is equally as important to know what not to do! Join us for a candid talk about what festival programmers are looking for in a film.

Oscars' Short Films Take Small Spotlight

February 13, 2011
The Academy Awards are still a couple of weeks away, but starting this weekend, audiences around the country have a chance to watch the films nominated in one category that doesn’t get much attention: Short Films. Guest host Audie Cornish speaks with short film expert Roberta Marie Munroe, author of How Not To Make A Short Film: Secrets From A Sundance Programmer.


Returning stateside, the Academy Awards are still a couple of weeks away, but starting this weekend audiences around the country have a chance to watch the films nominated in one category that doesn’t get much attention: short films. The production company Shorts International is screening the nominated films at select theaters. Moviegoers will have the chance to watch the nominees for the best short films in the animation, live action and documentary categories.

Roberta Marie Munroe has spent more than 15 years programming the short film lineups at international film festivals. She’s at NPR West in Culver City, California. Good morning, Roberta.

Ms. ROBERTA MARIE MUNROE (Filmmaker, Author, “How Not to Make a Short Film: Secrets from a Sundance Programmer”): Good morning, Audie.

CORNISH: So, set us up here with the definition of a short film. How short is short?

Ms. MUNROE: Most of the short films that are nominated for the Academy Awards are around 15 minutes for the live action, like, the narrative ones, and about 40 minutes for the documentaries.

CORNISH: Do you have any sense about how they choose the short film nominees?

Ms. MUNROE: Well, you know, you have to qualify for an Academy Award nomination, and part of that is you can win best short film at a qualifying film festival, like Sundance, or ShortFest in Palm Springs. You can have a theatrical release, because remember the Academy Awards are solely for films that have had a theatrical release or won some prestigious award.

CORNISH: So, let’s get right to the films. And this is from the live action category, and it’s a film called “The Confession,” about a young boy preparing for his first Catholic confession.

(Soundbite of movie, “The Confession”)

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (as character) Do you know what you’re about to confess?

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (as character) I don’t know. You?

Unidentified Man #1: I don’t know.

Unidentified Man #2: You mean you haven’t got anything.

Unidentified Man #1: To confess.

Unidentified Man # 2: You’ll do good sometimes.

Unidentified Man # 1: We’ll think of something.

CORNISH: Roberta, what did you think about this film? Tell us about it.

Ms. MUNROE: Well, you know, I loved this film. And it’s, you know, it’s 25 minutes long and when I watched it I thought, when we were about 12 minutes in, there’s a really great moment then I thought, bam, that’s the end of this film. But it does go on for another 13 minutes. And I think that’s the great thing about short films, is that they tell short stories that you can, you know, extrapolate on.

CORNISH: And the other films in this category also featured children, which I found really interesting. Is that unusual?

Ms. MUNROE: It’s not. I mean, if you take a look at the Academy Award nominations in the short film category over the last several years, you’ll notice that there are a number of children and are elderly people.

CORNISH: There’s also animation category, which…

Ms. MUNROE: Which is my favorite.

CORNISH: Really?

Ms. MUNROE: Absolutely.

CORNISH: How come?

Ms. MUNROE: I think animation is a very difficult medium to work in. And I’m always super impressed because animators often work by themselves. My favorite one, “The Lost Thing,” by Shaun Tan. He worked with a lot of people and it’s a very beautiful animated film.

CORNISH: What is that movie about?

Ms. MUNROE: You know, it’s about a young man who still lives at home who finds a lost thing. And it’s sort of, you know, this creature with legs and arms and no real, you know, human face but that he wants to find its home for it.

(Soundbite of movie, “The Lost Thing”)

Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (as character) At the end, they just shrugged. They didn’t think the lost thing came from anywhere. It didn’t belong anywhere either. Some things are like that these days. They’re just plain lost.

Ms. MUNROE: And it’s so beautifully done. It’s the most, you know, creative and inventive short that I watched in all of the Oscar shorts. And eventually he does find a home for the lost thing.

CORNISH: What kind of things do you think are necessary to make a short film great?

Ms. MUNROE: Wow. I think to make a short film great, you have to have a great script. So, that’s the platform, that’s your foundation, and a fresh story in that script. And I always tell filmmakers that it’s always better to spend more time on your script than on all of the fancy cameras and equipment that you could get to make this film to look beautiful. If there’s no story, there’s no short.

CORNISH: Roberta Marie Munroe is an award-winning filmmaker and author of the book “How Not to Make a Short Film: Secrets from a Sundance Programmer.” She joined me from NPR West. Roberta, thanks so much.

Ms. MUNROE: Thank you so much, Audie.

(Soundbite of music)

CORNISH: You’re listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.