Our attention spans seem to be diminishing one internet meme at a time, but a movie shot — and viewed — in 15-second increments seems a bit much. However, "Shield 5," which was released on Instagram (all videos there are limited to 15 seconds in length) is a gripping mini-thriller, and the format helps the compendious scenes-within-the-story add to the fun. The "Shield 5" episodes add up to a 7-minute short film, but each small dose is more addictive and satisfying than viewing the group all at once.
The quickie project was shot over four days and 12 locations, most of them in the streets of London, by professional filmmakers, actors and writers. It was created by director Anthony Wilcox, who was looking for a way to have some fun and do something experimental while he was finishing a longer feature film. "We wanted to surprise people with what we could do," Wilcox told Fast Company.
The story is simple: A man, John Swift, is falsely accused of a crime, and he's on the run from the bad guys who want to frame him. He suffers much of the punishing physical abuse an action star typically does, and there's plenty of running through streets and action scenes, along with quieter, more character-building moments.
"Shield 5" isn't just a series of videos: photos, which include clues and information about the characters in the story are interspersed between the scenes. We see email screenshots, documents, news articles and photos of police evidence, which include additional, important information, and keep the story moving even when the camera isn't rolling.
In this respect, it's more like reading a book; your mind helps construct the story and questions pop up. "We were looking for as many ways as possible of expanding the story and giving people more to get their teeth into," said Wilcox. "But also the platform we were working on was Instagram, which is photos and videos, so we wanted to tell a story using those tools."
And of course, since it's Instagram, there are comments too — which in two different cases tipped me off to clues in earlier scenes I hadn't noticed. It was easy to go back and see what commenters had noticed that I hadn't, and this added to the fun, almost as if you were watching a mystery movie with friends. And unlike a typical movie, it was easy to click back and rewatch scenes. I'm sure it would have been a whole other kind of fun to watch the film over the four weeks it was originally released, but it's also enjoyable now that it's available online all at once. (Bite-sized binge-watching seems healthier, doesn't it?)
Outside the social aspects and format flexibility, the advantages of going short in film are similar to other creative genres; the filmmaker is forced to be extremely economical and select only the most relevant details while still creating mystery and demonstrating the human relationships that are embedded in any story. (Yes, "Shield 5" includes a love subplot.) This isn't only technically challenging, it flies in the face of (and is perhaps a comment on) the fact that most feature films are longer than ever. (The new "Batman v. Superman" movie, for example, is 153 minutes long.)
Artists aren't the only ones experimenting with concision: The Bernie Sanders' campaign released some effective 5-second videos that tell the same story as the 30-second videos. Still, 5 seconds is about as short as you can get while still delivering a compelling message — but then again GIFs are often only 2-3 seconds, and they are increasingly popular too.
But before we start thinking about how the brave new world of technology is enabling new forms of storytelling, let's not forget that short stories (and in some cases extremely short stories) have always existed. The short short story, which Hemingway called his best, is just six words:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
It makes a 15-second video seem downright lavish, doesn't it?