The 30 Second Film
Since all of the action happens around the table, I believe it’s essential that we create a sense of activity and discussion. It’s totally natural for the family to joke, talk over each other, and just have fun. We can script lines for our actors, but I’d also like to try improvisation. Of course, we may find that no dialogue is better suited, but letting the actors talk will at the very least put them in a believable and cheerful mood.
So, please take the dialogue I’ve written below as a suggestion that we can work with.
- We open on a lovely little home in a charming suburb. Light snow falls on several cars parked in the driveway and street-side. Christmas lights and decorations twinkle and pulse in the evening setting, where a little bit of light above the horizon casts a smooth shade of deep blue and purple hues. It’s a beautiful sight. Already, in the background, we can hear the lively and warm voices inside the home. Upbeat music plays and puts us in the spirit.
- We then cut inside. The camera glides towards the fireplace where stuffed stockings hang on the mantle. A fire burns and embers pop. And in the background, we can hear the family talking, their spoons clanging against plates as they finish dessert. (We could also be ‘led’ into the room by the family dog. The camera tracks with the dog as it lays down next to the fire.)
- We cut closer now. The camera moves over the mantle where dozens of pictures in frames are proudly positioned. In the foreground, we see a few of them clearly: Grandpa posing with his grandson in a college marching band uniform; Grandpa in a natural moment with his granddaughter and her two kids; and Grandpa on a golf course with his grandson. It’s a quick but beautiful moment. Just a setup for what’s to come.
- Cut to the dining room. The once-distant sounds are now crystal clear as we jump right into the middle of the holiday cheer. We just caught the tail end of a joke, the laughter is dying down, and everyone is satisfied after a big meal. We can hear Grandpa speaking above the noise. Then, some of the grandchildren start shushing everyone. With a big smile on his face, he starts handing out envelopes to his grandchildren. We hear their reactions all mixed together (Ahh, you shouldn’t have, thanks grandpa, now what’s he got for us, etc.).
- We cut to one grandson opening his envelope as the others tell him to hurry up and go first (The youngest starts! “Go on Jayden!”)
- Cut to a close-up shot of the envelope as it opens it. On the card is a picture cutout of him in his golf clothes and clubs. He chuckles and opens the card, revealing the instant ticket inside. On one flap reads: “You deserve a new set of clubs, but I’ll still win.” (Showing the picture on the card could be quite charming. Plus, it streamlines the storytelling so we don’t have to cut back to the picture on the mantel. We can stay in the moment.)
- The grandson smiles at his grandpa and says, “Thanks Grandpa.”
- The chatter picks up again. We hear the granddaughter say “My turn!” and others encouraging her to hurry up and open it. She’s already got the card out of the envelope by the time we cut to her. On the front is a cutout picture of her, her kids, her husband, and Grandpa. They’re posing for the camera in the yard one summer. And the message below it reads, “I hope you can take the kids somewhere warm.”
- She smiles warmly at Grandpa and says in a sincere voice, “Thank you.”
- The activity continues as we cut to a close-up of Grandpa. He’s watching his big and happy family with a bright smile on his face. In the background, we can hear more envelopes opening and the family talking about the messages they’re getting…. And with that, we finish with the voiceover.
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The 60 Second Film (Cinema Version)
In order to make the extended version entertaining, I’d suggest developing the beginning a little bit more. We can create more physical action so that the family isn’t only sitting around the table for an entire minute. To me, it’s a perfect opportunity to amp up the holiday spirit. Everyone plays a role in this Christmas tradition, and the things they do reveals their character. We can also foreshadow the gift-giving later in the film.
Here are a few options.
- We see the family arriving at the home in the evening. We all know the feeling. Everyone is happy to see each other, hugs are exchanged, you catch up with family you haven’t seen for a long time.
- As we go deeper into the evening, we see the great-grandchildren playing with the dog, the daughter helps cook dinner, the grandchildren set the table. The granddaughter holds her kids and shows them the pictures on the mantle. They may even play a cheesy Christmas game, a family tradition. The mood is high, the conversation is alive.
- We can also further characterize the two grandchildren who receive gifts. Seeing the granddaughter with her grandkids, as described above, will certainly work for her. But for the grandson who golfs, we’d need to create a new moment.
- The grandson and grandpa could play with a toy putting set in the living room. They’d joke around and fuel a friendly rivalry between them. The grandpa could even make an amazing put, only to have the dog swoop in and grab the ball in its mouth.
When edited together, we’d simply ease into the film in the beginning and really get a sense of the characters and Christmas spirit. Then, the film would continue where the 30 began, starting with the camera tracking in on the cozy fireplace.