The Keys To Great Short Film Content

MusicBed’s 2022 Filmmaking Challenge

Every year MusicBed holds a filmmaking challenge in which they invite their audience to submit films created using songs available on their platform.

We at La Paz love watching short films and getting together to discuss them when we can. For this post, we’re going to go through some of our favourites from the challenge this year, and discuss what the recipes are for creating incredible short video content.

We also reached out to the creators and asked them how they approached their process.

Documentary: The Workshop by Jesse Ray Diamond (5 min 40s)

This was our first year reviewing entries for the challenge, and we were really taken aback by the talent and creativity of the entries. The documentary that first popped out was The Workshop by Jesse Ray Diamond, about the artist and designer Julian Abdul. Taking an engaging subject, Diamond uses a variety of forms to tell the story, mixing 35mm film, slick camera movements, inventive angles, and a nice touch of Visual Effects. The interviewing style is interesting too. In lieu of having the film’s director interview the participant, or having them narrate, Diamond has Abdul’s assistant ask him questions, as if they were having a heart-to-heart pause at work. The use of music complements the intrigue and connection needed to gain access to Abdul’s mind, and the man himself is an absorbing character.

Jesse’s Statement: The VFX scissors represents his self doubt, the noise of critics, the creative struggle of being confident in an idea when others say it’s not good, the concept of your very own internal struggles turning on you forgetting that you have complete control of what and how things effect you. Julian is one of the rare breeds that can create through all that noise and create timeless looks for people.


Spec Ad: Move by Max Larruy

This spec by Max Larruy stood out immediately in its use of (seemingly) professional dancers to advertise Barcelona’s transport connections. The camera joins them in their girations, and the costumes, diversity of cast and understanding of how to frame the different locations elevates the piece. The music chosen – a loud, brassy sax piece – definitely works.

Max’s Statement: I had been wanting to film a dance film for a long time, and I was interested in doing it in the middle of the city, in places I know and go to regularly. I brought together several friends who are dancers and live in Barcelona, and for two days we were dancing and recording on the Barcelona metro, bus and tram. We were a small team and the intention was to move the camera as much as the dancers move. We wanted the viewer to feel that he is dancing with them. That’s why we also chose angular lenses. To edit the film, I paid particular attention to the movements of the dancers, as if their movements were pushing the montage. To do this, I needed very very rhythmic music. It’s one of the films I’ve had the most fun working on.


Documentary: The Fade by Thomas Elliot

The brashness and audacity of this people within this doc by Thomas Elliot immediately grabs you. Driven by a high-tempo jazz track, it follows the unique and rambunctious owners of an African barbershop. The conversations, the fun, the skill. The energy and honesty present in the film make it like the very best pieces of online content: unstoppable, unpauseable; The characters are so vivid, in under 8 minutes you’re desperate to visit their shop.

Thomas’s Statement: I think there’s something cool about taking something that seems everyday and a little mundane and when you scratch the surface and find cool stories anywhere. Especially with this barbershop in particular there’s a sense of community and there’s something unique about it.


Spec Ad: Astro Armis by Guille Morón

In my mind the best technically executed ad of the whole competition. I was floored upon learning it was created solely for this competition. Morón, another Barcelona-based director, clearly has a real grasp on VFX and how to intertwine it with live-action. The world created feels unique and specific, and each shot follows on from this overall vision. The Art Direction of costume and set is incredibly impressive, and the storyline, of a man trapped in monotony (which has been done to death in various forms of fiction storytelling), feels freshened when paired with the mixed media camera/animation styles and upbeat track chosen by the filmmakers.

Guille’s Statement: To develop the idea I just looked to the resources that we had and from there I planned everything. I work in a studio with some people so we could shot some of the interior scenes here.
What we are selling in the add is a lifestyle, could be an aftershave, a beer or whatever… The product didn’t matter at the end, I just needed to think of something that we could replicate physically, so a can would be quite easy.
From there I just look through references and came up with the idea, creating a video mood already with the shots in place with the music. This way I already knew what we needed to make it look cool. For the VFX we scanned the main character with an iPhone and had a 3D artist on board as well.


Spec Ad: Street Grandma by Tian Xu

I loved the documentary-style approach taken by Tian Xu in this ad for Street Grandma. Using VHS and a gratitude-infused voicemail to begin the piece, we are immediately emotionally invested in the lead up to the founding of the company. Using intimate, gorgeous camera-work, clever use of motion-graphics, and quickly mixed scenes alongside a swiftly told sales pitch, the film works to tell us who Street Grandma are, and why we should care about them. Marketing 101.

Tian’s Statement: We picked Street Grandma because it was a fast growing fashion brand that was visually unique and it was founded by two girls who wanted to bring diversity into the LA fashion scene. Their friendship is the core of their business. So, through our commercial, we wanted to bring a personal angle, and humanize their products.


Documentary: Running is a Gift by Tim Kang

The use of pacing in this documentary by Tim Kang really stood out for me. The way in which it can, like a good trail run, increase and decrease its energy at will, all the while maintaining its quality of sound design, picture quality, and intrigue, is an under-appreciated skill. Kang has completely nailed it. The documentary does something brilliant too, keeping us interested by hitting us with an unexpected reveal just before the half way point. We delve into the mind of a man attempting what many of us are trying: maintaining his health, keeping his edge, not stopping.

Tim’s Statement: I’ve always wanted to use film to give a voice to the voiceless, for the unseen to be seen. But after years of doing film for work-related things only, that desire got pushed to the side. “Running Is A Gift” was a film I challenged myself to make to bring back that passion. My heart in creating this film was to show the life of my father-in-law, John Byon. John is a man of integrity who loves his family deeply and I wanted to bring others into his life, not so much for the viewer to be inspired to run but to do whatever it takes to love those closest to them. In regards to shooting & editing the film, I wanted to use the power of anticipation to draw in the audience and to keep the story on edge. Like running, we created various types of pacing to fit the story–a huge shout out to the editor, David Rho, for making that editing vision a reality.


Narrative: The Spoon by Victor Velasco

The only narrative I’ve selected might be due to a couple of factors: Narratives are harder to get right; Narrative shorts are more expensive. This short by Victor Velasco popped out at me as an interesting device for telling a father-son story. Without revealing the twist near the end, the spoon, physically manifested using visual effects as a towering colossus of emotional symbolism, provides a beautiful piece of imagery to do what short storytelling can do best: connect us to our humanity just that little bit deeper.

Victor’s Statement: I did a project in a public retirement home back in my country, Venezuela. In there I witnessed many residents who suffered from mental illnesses. I saw how they were going back and forward between different realities. What really moved me was that sense of vulnerability they had when they realized they were on a different place but came back to reality. That’s what I wanted to capture in the film. I also drew inspiration from my personal relationship with my father. He was absent for many years but then came back. Having to deal with these feelings is what I wanted the son character to experience. To make the VFX spoon look realistic, we thought of making it in 3D but it wasn’t looking good at all. Then Ginaris came up with the idea of: “Why don’t we shoot a real spoon?”. And it worked. We went back to the original locations to have real reflections and shoot the spoon in slow motion with an iPhone7. This showed me that the best solutions are not necessarily the most complex ones.


Spec Ad: Fresh White Kicks by Zev York

Zev York’s ad just has a cool energy. Between the song, the main character, the happy-go-lucky voice over, and the consistent timing of shots and summer-vibes evoked by the camera work and sound design. It includes what modern ads are doing really well right now: combining a real scenario with absurdist trickery, often involving practical or subtly done VFX. This one shows a real promise for York’s advertising chops.

Zev’s Statement: Growing up in rural Vermont, I didn’t know that people could have multiple pairs of shoes for fashion. Once I moved to LA I fell in love with sneakers and sneaker culture. I’ve always loved having bright white shoes so wanted to create something around that feeling you get from wearing ‘fresh white kicks’. I developed the shots with my creative collaborator Colin and once we had an idea of how busy we wanted everything to be, we decided shooting on film would be a fun touch. We brought on the homie Tre to shoot it and the rest is history.


Documentary: Shared Plant by Jiakai Lou

After watching this one, I watched some of Jiakai Lou’s other doc shorts. He proves himself to be a master at delving into a subject and taking his time to draw out what makes them special, and why you should care. His imagery contains a poetry and beauty which really transcends the word “cinematography”. It seems to communicate past a visual barrier, and the music he chose for this film also compliments this. This documentary, about a woman in China who uses plant dyes to create textiles, ponders how we can be more in communion with nature, as well as the importance of art, family, and tradition. It is, in my mind, a perfect short doc watching experience. I implore you to dive in to it.

Jiakai’s Statement: The subject of this film, Shamoshuang Lou, is my sister’s college friend, and we come from the same town. The first time I met her was the first day my sister went to her college, and that was 12 years ago. Actually that was also the last time I saw her before I started filming. Then 12 years later, I moved back to China from Montana, U.S. I heard from my sis that her friend Shamoshuang has opened a beautiful natural dye workshop in a village, so I went to check the place out of curiosity. Soon I fell in love with her space and the atmosphere. I chatted with her and got surprised by how she sees her lifestyle as a way to connect with the land and her family. I decided to make a short film. (A little anecdote here. This film wouldn’t exist if I wasn’t trapped in my home city due to Covid lockdowns. I was supposed to work on a couple of projects in Shanghai and Beijing from late March to June, but all those projects got either canceled or suspended due to Omicron outbreaks. I wasn’t feeling motivated, but at the same time I wanted to keep productive. I’m glad I found my subject during that time.) About how I approached the shooting and editing, this film was entirely shot handheld. I always love the organic feeling of the story added by proper use of handheld shots. I was hugely inspired from a Canadian filmmaker I love called RJ Bruni and his film Shared Earth. When I first started filming my subject Shamoshuang, her vibe and her story made me soon realize that I want to make a ‘sister film’ of “Shared Earth” but in a different country. I thought it would be very cool. So here I want to thank RJ Bruni for bringing such inspirations.



Good Short Film Content is….

  • Personal – All of these films had something that connected the filmmaker to some essence of what they wanted to create. There are plenty of compromises within the filmmaking process, don’t let the reason you’re making something be one.
  • Exciting – Each one of these films has something that thrills you. Whether it is a specific technique, a fascinating story, or a style that’s impossible to ignore, your job is to grab the audience with your work have them hold on to you as you move through your story.
  • Collaborative – Most of the filmmakers above mention somebody in particular who was a key collaborator, and all of them relied on teams and friends in order to get their work to completion. No man is an island, and it is vital to remember to work with others during the creative process to achieve extraordinary results.
  • Short in Length – Short doesn’t necessarily mean tiny, it just means that it’s as short as it can possibly be in order to tell the story with the flare it requires. There’s a reason most of the shorts picked above are under 5 minutes: unless it’s a curated festival programme, or displayed on a streamer like in the case of Netflix’s Love, Death, Robots, it’s hard to motivate yourself to watch a short film unless the deal between filmmaker and audience is “I have worked on this so it has maximum bang for your buck; maximum enjoyment for the time you’re giving me by watching my film.”
  • Not short – It might sound counterintuitive, but short filmmaking takes time just as longer form filmmaking does. This can be in mulling over an idea instead of picking the first one that comes to mind, or in post-production, going through edit after edit in order to refine the film to the best and tightest version of itself. You’re doing this always in service of your audience. It’s the ultimate responsibility of the filmmaker.


We hope you enjoyed this article on the Musicbed 2022 Challenge’s best films (according to us), and key tips for short filmmakers. Check out the challenge page and see if you’d like to apply for next year’s competition! We’ll certainly be preparing some concepts in anticipation of some more incredible work in 2023.

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