This blog originally appeared over on, a site aggregating some of the best in freely available video online. Here I take a look at some great short films and dissect how they were able to engage an audience under all of the constraints that come with the web.

For years screenwriters and filmmakers have understood what it takes to tell compelling stories for the big screen or television. There is a generally accepted timeframe for stories, and the pacing has been drilled into us over the years. We all know of the certain milestones stories have to reach on their way to their ultimate conclusion near the two hour mark. These traditional formats have lent artists a lot of luxury in terms of telling stories because they have forced audiences into participating. At the theater we go out for the specific purpose of seeing a movie. On television we settle on one channel at a time. All of these methods also include a specific destination – a unique time and place of viewing – be it your seat at the movie theater, or your sofa in your living room at 9 o’clock. Film and television has always been something of a means of relaxation. But what of the web?

The web is ever evolving. When I first experienced the internet back in the 90’s it was more akin to a text based radio, except you had to sit at your desk to participate – and you couldn’t talk on the phone at the same time. People communicated over likeminded subjects in a format that seemed not all too different from talk radio call in shows. But today the internet is so much more. It is permeating our lives in every way. The web is not just in our computers, it is in our phones, in our televisions, in the air. It is accessible virtually anywhere at any time. In effect the web has removed all limitations previously imposed on television and film – but those constraints did serve a purpose. Today’s storytellers have the monumental challenge of capturing the attention of an audience that may never be seated comfortably in a sofa, who have 18 windows opened, or who believe they have the rest of their lives to get around to watching your video.

So why am I going to talk about ‘Emotionally Affecting Shorts?’ Well, if there is one thing the new media audience can all probably agree upon it is the need for content to be distributed in bite sized pieces. With so many options and so many avenues for social discovery videos need to be created without barriers to entry. This is an insane challenge for storytellers because it defies all of the rules for great storytelling in older mediums – yet people make it work. I found all of these shorts to strike some sort of chord with me emotionally, which I believe to be at the core of successful storytelling. So let me tell you how they did it.

More by Mark Osborne

No dialogue, no actors, and little in the way of color – ‘More’ is a testament to the power of simplicity and a singular focus. That singular focus is an idea and that idea is at the core of all of us – our clay protagonist included. The story is bland visually for the purpose of making the really important stuff stand out. I can’t think of a better example of telling such an effective story in such a short period of time and the key to this one was communicating a universal theme through visual symbols that we are familiar with culturally. The use of color to show happiness, the search for happiness through creation, and the use of light to visually represent the soul or the heart.

Validaton by Kurt Kuenne

‘Validation’ makes me laugh, lifts my confidence and above all else it makes me smile 🙂 This short does owe some of its success to its 16 minute length and use of a three act structure BUT the reason it has been viewed over six million times on youtube is because ‘Validation’ is all about making people happy. I find myself constantly sharing this with people because I know it will make them happy too. It is a simple idea, executed perfectly, which evokes real emotion from its audience.

BlinkyTM by Ruairi Robinson

Traditional storytelling can still work on the web, and Blinky is a solid example of that. The story is simple for sure, but the production values are high and the acting is quite good. Of course the budget for this short is not particularly sustainable financially – at least not with the current state of the web. Still Blinky goes to show that sometimes all you have to do to tell a good story, is tell a good story and not worry too much about perceived limitations.

Netherland Dwarf by Aquarius Films

This story is probably not for everyone but I find that it is a solid attempt at picking out a target audience and delivering the goods. This short is designed for those who identify with growing up with divorce and how small things can keep us going – such as a pet, or even the idea of a pet. Here we have a short that is using the emotions prebuilt in its audience to create something for which the story alone does not have time.

A story For Tomorrow by Gnarly Bay Productions

This is probably the most ‘web ready’ short on the list because it forgoes the attempt at telling a story with characters and simply focuses on a deeply human theme. The video is a about living life to its fullest and there is just something about nature that makes the viewer reflect inward, searching for something meaning full and real. The visual style and color is full of life – I now need to get off my ass and go on a trip to some beautiful place.

After going through this list I think all of these films share something in common, and that is an emphasis on theme. I have written before about the importance of focusing first on theme and developing the story from there, but then I was speaking more about writing in general. The more a story is impacted by restrictions the more important it becomes to simplify and return to those core human traits and emotions. I believe that in the long run the truly successful web storytellers will be the ones who focus on just that.