William Garwood starred in numerous short films, many of which were only 20 minutes in length
Longer and shorter films coexisted with similar popularity throughout the early days of film. However, comedy short films were produced in large numbers compared to lengthy features such as D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. By the 1920s, a ticket purchased a varied program including a feature and several supporting works from categories such as second feature, short comedy, 5–10 minute cartoon, travelogue and newsreel.
Short comedies were especially popular, and typically came in a serial or series (such as the Our Gang movies, or the many outings of Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character). Even though there was often no set release schedule, these series could be considered somewhat like a modern TV sitcom – lower in status than feature films but nevertheless very popular (comedians such as Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton all ‘graduated’ from shorts to features).
Animated cartoons came principally as short subjects. Virtually all major film production companies had units assigned to develop and produce shorts, and many companies, especially in the silent and very early sound era, produced mostly or only short subjects.
In the 1930s, the distribution system changed in many countries owing to the Great Depression. Instead of the cinema owner assembling a program of their own choice, the studios sold a package centered on a main and supporting feature, a cartoon and little else. With the rise of the double feature, two reel shorts went into decline as a commercial category. Hal Roach, for example, moved Laurel and Hardy full-time into feature films after 1935, and halved his popular Our Gangfilms to one reel. By the 1940s, he’d moved out of short films altogether (though MGM continued the Our Gang shorts until 1944)
Later shorts include George O’Hanlon’s Joe McDoakes movies, and the animated work of studios such as Walt Disney Productions, Leon Schlesinger Productions/Warner Bros. Cartoons. By the mid-1950s, with the rise of television, the commercial live-action short was virtually dead, The Three Stooges being the last major series of 2-reelers, ending in 1959. Short films had become a medium for student, independent and specialty work.
Cartoon shorts had a longer life, due in part to the implementation of lower-cost limited animation techniques, but also declined in this period. Warner Bros., one of the most prolific of the golden era, shut down its studio permanently in 1969. The Pink Panther was the last regular theatrical cartoon short series, having begun in 1964 (and thus having spent its entire existence in the limited animation era) and ended in 1980. By the 1960s, the market for animated shorts had largely shifted to television, with existing theatrical shorts being syndicated to television.
A few animated shorts continue within mainstream commercial distribution. For instance, Pixar has screened a short along with each of its feature films during its initial theatrical run since 1995 (producing shorts permanently since 2001). Since Disney acquired Pixar in 2005, Disney has also produced animated shorts since 2007 with the Goofy short How to Hook Up Your Home Theaterand produced a series of live action ones featuring The Muppets for viewing on YouTube as viral videos to promote the 2011 movie of the same name.
DreamWorks Animation often produces a short sequel to include in the special edition video releases of major features, and are typically of a sufficient length to be broadcast as a TV special, a few films from the studio have added theatrical shorts as well. Warner Brothers often includes old animated shorts from its considerable library, connected only thematically, on the DVD releases of classic WB movies. In 2010 and 2012 Warners also released new Looney Tunes cartoons before family films.
Shorts International and Magnolia Pictures organize an annual release of Academy Award nominated short films in theatres across the US, UK, Canada and Mexico throughout February and March.
Shorts are occasionally broadcast as filler when a feature film or other work doesn’t fit the standard broadcast schedule. ShortsTV was the first television channel dedicated to short films.
However, short films generally rely on festival exhibition to reach an audience. Such movies can also be distributed via the Internet. Certain websites which encourage the submission of user-created short films, such as YouTube, Snoovies and Vimeo have attracted large communities of artists and viewers. Sites like FILMSshort and Vimeo and apps such as Snoovies focus on showcasing curated shorts.
Short films are a typical first stage for new filmmakers, but professional actors and crews still choose to create short films as an alternative form of expression. Short filmmaking is growing in popularity as equipment becomes cheaper. “Prosumer” or semi-professional cameras now cost under US$3,000, and free or low-cost software is widely available that is capable of video editing, post-production work and DVD authoring.
The lower production costs of short films often mean that short films can cover alternative subject matter as compared to higher budget feature films. Similarly unconventional filmmaking techniques such as Pixilation or narratives that are told without dialogue, are more often seen in short films than features.
Tropfest claims to be the world’s largest short film festival. Tropfests now take place in Australia (its birthplace), Arabia, the US and elsewhere. Originating in 1993, Tropfest is often credited as being at least partially responsible for the recent popularity of short films internationally.
Short short films are sometimes considered to be a category of their own. The International Festival of Very Shorts is a festival based in Paris, which shows only movies less than three minutes long. Filminute, the international one-minute film festival, has presented and promoted a collection of one-minute films across multiple media since September 2006. FILMSshort.com also categorizes films under five minutes. They are known for their conciseness and entertainment value.
In popular culture
Canada has a “television magazine program that features short films from across the country”, entitled the “Short Film Face Off”. Indonesia has an organization focusing on short films dissemination, holding a monthly regular screening and also annual programs and special events for public, while building networks in Bali, Indonesia, Regional (South East Asia) and furthermore Internationally, named “Minikino”.