The Proof of Concept in Film

You have this great idea for a feature film. Or maybe for a TV series. And you definitely want to produce it. But once again, you might find yourself struggling to overcome the enormity of tasks required to develop your idea: finding funding, time, locations, equipment, coordinating people’s (your team’s) busy life schedules…

But hey, maybe this idea of yours could be turned into a short film, so less time is required to make it, and also less money and less resources.

You might then think: “But I’ve made many shorts already”, or “But a short film isn’t long enough to develop my feature idea”. Yes, but how about making a short film as a proof of concept?

What is a Proof of Concept?

Proof of concepts are short films carried out in a way that highlights the main aspects of your film idea’s premise, showcases the potential of what you and your team are capable of, and shows where the idea could go whilst proving its feasibility.

The value of short films is often underestimated. When an idea is condensed into a short and is properly executed, that short can turn out very powerful as there is usually no place for “longueurs” or dilly-dallying with your story. Quite the contrary, the story needs to be concise and to the point. Any short that starts by ticking that box is on the right track to becoming a great proof of concept. Another aspect to consider is that the story doesn’t necessarily have to finish in a way features do, with all ends tied up neatly, and every question answered. Rather, it’s normally best to just point it in a clear direction. This will allow the idea room to develop, without any constraints.

So for now, put all limits to one side and just let your production skills and resources determine where and when you have to hold your horses.

Creating the Proof of Concept

This is especially important in terms of setting and developing the world you are creating. It’s worth trying to outline as much as possible of that world and character’s backstories without explicitly showing them, but instead hinting at them.

Obviously, this is easier said than done: developing an idea can be a daunting task. Ideas can easily get out of hand, especially when it comes to creating a feature. This is why thinking in terms of a short can help narrow down your idea and get a clear vision of what you are trying to achieve. Short films are also great for practice with the team.

Teamwork

It might be an understatement, but it is important to find the right people to work with, and if possible stick to working with them consistently. That way everyone develops a natural coordination with one another throughout different projects, which improves the team’s chemistry and ultimately constitutes an added value to the productions the team works on. This is one of the most important factors in the creation of a proof of concept, since it contains the potential to make the idea come to fruition through collaborating with a production company or studio, or even selling it.

Portfolio & Festivals

Once the short film is done, you need to be ready to show a whole portfolio of where the idea is going or what it could evolve into. This might be comprised of a treatment, which is different if it is for a feature or TV. While the treatment for a feature should focus on developing the story, the one for TV should not focus so much on story but rather outline if not the whole show, at least the first season. In addition, a synopsis, the finalised script, character developments, backstories, precise plans for the budget and production requirements, locations and even crew (the importance of having a team already gains its weight here) are some of the elements you’ll need to include.

Submitting your proof of concept to festivals is a different strategy to attract interest from people in the industry by getting some exposure. However, the film has to show a clear vision as to where the idea goes, since there would be less (if any) chances to explain whatever doesn’t come across just by watching the film.

Successful Proof of Concepts

It is inspiring to learn that some very famous, critically-acclaimed films were spawned from proofs of concept, such as: Inception, 300, Sin City, Saw, District 9 and Whiplash.

Saw: Saw’s screenwriter Leigh Whannell and director James Wan conceived the idea for Saw, but it didn’t attract interest until they made it into a 7-minute long short, which was literally just one torture scene. This was enough to showcase their ability to create an intense and gruesome story that went onto create a new genre, one that revolved around macabre torture games. They eventually got to pitch the idea to Lionsgate, one of the major production companies that showed interest in their proof of concept.

Whiplash: Although producers were reluctant at first to commit to director Damien Chazelle’s idea, he found a creative solution by making a proof of concept, comprised of a scene from his feature-length script. When his short was ready, he submitted it to festivals and eventually found support for the feature version of his idea when winning the Short Film Jury Award at Sundance 2013.

So, if you’ve got a feature up your sleeve but don’t have the resources to watch it bloom, definitely think about using the proof of concept strategy. Because who knows, with dedication and a bit of luck, maybe your film will be the next one on the list!

Juan Cruz is a well-rounded filmmaker based in London. He currently works as a camera technician, continuously learning and developing skills in advanced camera systems used in high-end TV drama and feature films.
In his own films, he likes exploring technology-related dystopias. He also loves comedy and playing drums.