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In the United States, a "short film" usually means a movie between 20 and 40 minutes, while anything shorter than 20 minutes is supposedly called "short subject". The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, though, and either can get shortened to just "shorts". The universal maximum length is 40 minutes; anything longer is a "feature film". Minimum lengths vary by region and organization.

Live-action shorts were very common in the days when cinemas ran all day and people came and left pretty much at will at any point. Newsreels, for instance, were important and influential live-action shorts. The Three Stooges and Laurel and Hardy survived mainly on shorts; Walt Disney's primary output until Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs was shorts. In certain DVD editions of Errol Flynn's greatest films, Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, you can watch a bonus feature collection of film shorts that are assembled like a typical theatrical short film line up of the 1930s.

Unfortunately, shorts were paid with a set fee regardless of the audience response and were of course overshadowed by the feature films, which got the advertising. That's why Walt Disney took a chance with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as a feature, which could allow him to see real profits as well as to pay for the high production standards he strove for. With the rise of the double feature gradually squeezed out the shorts, leaving only the cartoons and newsreels until TV killed them off

Short films nowadays tend to be student, independent projects or public institutions like the National Film Board of Canada, often short in time and budget. It's a challenging medium in which to work, given the constraints, but like all media, it has its perks. Short films are great training projects for beginners since they are easier to make than a feature film, and can be very personally rewarding, considering the filmmakers can go wild with crazy ideas that they don't have to sustain for a feature film or a series. Major studios like Walt Disney Pictures in the past with their Silly Symphonies and Pixar now also use them as a good way to try out new film techniques before using them in features. Most Web Original projects could easily be called short films; so could some entries in Le Film Artistique.

However, the short film has had a bit of a semi-revival as mainstream fare, such as the aforementioned Web Original films on sites like YouTube. In addition, Pixar, Dreamworks Animation and Warner Brothers have regularly produced animated shorts for both theatrical release, as TV special material and as DVD Bonus Content. In Canada, there is Moviola, a Cable TV Channel that features only film shorts.

The term comes from the number of reels it took to play the film on a projector. Shorts were typically two reels (hence 20-40 minutes), and features were usually four to six reels (when these terms were coined, features were usually 60-90 minutes).

See also Short Anime Movie.

Examples of Short Film include:

Animated Shorts

Live Action Shorts

Shorts that were later made into feature films

  • Nine was a short before it was a feature.
  • So was Battle for Terra.
  • District 9
  • Kids
  • The Saw series began as a short film, with the Reverse Bear Trap that was later incorporated into the first Saw feature.
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