What Can We Learn from the 2023 Oscar-Nominated Shorts?

Find out what these Oscar-nominated short films can teach you about great storytelling.
by Shanee Edwards on February 21, 2023

When done right, short films can clearly express your voice as a filmmaker and make a big emotional impact in a minimal amount of time. Short films are also a great way to showcase your abilities without investing a large budget and tease a larger, feature-length film. Short films often get short shrift, and it’s really too bad because there are many gems out there the public would love to see if only they knew where to watch them! Luckily, ShortVerse has several shorts ready to view, with others becoming available in the next few weeks.

Let’s take a look at the basics of short film structure and then at some of the best 2023 Oscar-nominated shorts and discuss what we can learn from them.

Short Film Structure

A short film is very much like a short story ­­– there is usually only one storyline with one central protagonist, and the action takes place all in one day (usually just a few minutes). Like a feature film, a short will have three acts with a set-up, inciting incident, big conflict or problem, and some type of resolution, often told visually or without dialogue. 

Short films may be based in reality but are more likely to have some element of magic in them — particularly animated ones. A short film is a place to explore the landscape of the human mind, both real and fantastical.

Read More: 12 Best Short Stories To Read for Screenwriting Inspiration

Twist Ending

A short film, like an amuse-bouche at the beginning of a fine meal, should leave the audience surprised and wanting more. That element of surprise usually comes in the form of a twist ending. Because a short doesn’t have to have an ending that will satisfy the masses (like a wedding at the end of a rom-com), there’s a lot of room to take the road less traveled and have your protagonist end up in a place – physically or emotionally ­– that feels unexpected or bewildering.

Life often puts us in unexpected circumstances, and a short film that reflects those uncomfortable moments can be really fulfilling in a way commercial movies and TV shows are not. 

 Read More: 10 Great Short Films You Can Watch Online Right Now

More Than Just Art

Short films can also function as more than just an expression of your creativity. They can be a “proof of concept” for a feature film idea or full-length script you might have. If people are interested and moved by the short version of your story, they may be more willing to invest in a feature version. A short film, particularly if it gets into film festivals, can also act as a calling card and garner interest from agents and managers.

Short films are also a place to hone your craft – even if you went to film school; there are lessons a filmmaker can only learn by getting a camera and shooting their script. 

Read More: 3 Things Your Short Scripts Should Have in Order to Sell

Now let’s look at some of the Oscar-nominated shorts available to watch online right now (with others on the website coming soon).   

The Flying Sailor 

By Amanda Forbis & Wendy Tilby

The Flying Sailor was inspired by the incredible true-life story of a man blown high into the sky by the 1917 Halifax Explosion, this animated film attempts to show the inner workings of a seaman’s mind during a near-death experience. 

This film has no dialogue and is told entirely through visuals. When the sailor’s life flashes before his eyes, we see a mix of harsh, drunken memories typical of a sailer,  like a fistfight, mixed in with more tender memories from when he was a small boy. The lesson here is about visually showing a three-dimensional character and not settling with a stereotype.  

My Year of Dicks 

By Sara Gunnarsdottir

My Year of Dicks has one of the best titles I’ve ever seen! This is about the mythic quest of a teen girl trying to lose her virginity with all the childish fantasy, hormonal awkwardness, and bad decision-making imaginable. 

At 26 minutes, the story is told in five “chapters,” its episodic nature makes the viewer see how this story could easily be told as a feature film or even a Netflix TV show. The protagonist feels fresh, relatable, vulnerable, and someone we’d like to spend more time with. 

Night Ride (Nattrikken)

By Eirik Tweiten

Within Night Ride, it’s a cold, snowy night in Winter as Ebba waits for a tram to take her home from a party. When the tram driver takes a break, Ebba is left alone in the tram and, on a whim, begins to drive it herself. When an incident happens on the tram with one rider harassing another, Ebba must find the courage to diffuse a potentially violent situation. 

This is a great example of a full-character arc happening in just 16 minutes. From the start, we get the feeling that Ebba isn’t used to being in control or taking charge of dangerous situations. But something is bubbling in her when she gets the nerve to start driving the tram. When faced with the story's central conflict, she first reacts in fear and denial. Then, using her clever nature, she finally decides to take action on behalf of a stranger. It’s an inspirational character study with a surprise twist.   

Ice Merchants 

By João Gonzalez

In Ice Merchants, the storyline focuses on a father and son who jumps from their cliff house with a parachute to the village below to sell their ice. The father seems to know how to care for his young son in the icy environment, but what will happen when the weather warms up?   

This beautifully animated film uses a limited color palette to show the harshness of the cold climate where the film takes place, implying a parallel to the father and son relationship in the story. The parachute jump becomes a metaphor for their tricky relationship, where it becomes clear things between them are changing as the boy grows older. This story is also told without any dialogue. It is a great example of a universal story of a father and son navigating their complex relationship that is strained by the absence of the mother.

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