5 Films to Inspire Your New Proof of Concept
So you’ve got big dreams that can only be captured in the moving and magical light of the cinema - welcome to the club, you’ll find you’re in good company. As frustrating as a career in cinema can be - because there is no surefire route to success in contrast to other careers - there is at least a road worth starting on. Many films and many filmmakers have explored the proof of concept (POC) approach. What is this exactly and how can you take advantage? Well, let’s just say the proof is in the pudding…
A proof of concept is exactly that - it’s proof that your concept can work for audiences. It’s a video that showcases your characters, your world, and the concept as a whole, but in a bite-sized moment that leaves us wanting more. To be frank, there’s no absolute formula, there’s no act structure that’s required. In the guidance of Pixar’s Andrew Stanton all you have to do is find a way to make us care - and you ought to do it quickly.
1. Alive In Joburg
Neill Blomkamp arrived on the scene with this grounded sci-fi that would eventually launch his cinematic career and translate to District 9. Notice how this is not your typical short - the structure is that of a faux documentary and we aren’t following lead characters or a typical beginning to end structure. Joburg simply introduces you to a high-concept world that is analogous to the history of our own and it creates something unique in the process. This is a world that you want to explore, and not just because of the flashy CGI, which was quite unique at the time.
2. Lights Out
Spooked? You and 3 million others. This quickie of a short throws us right into the mix without much explanation, and it works. Consider this approach. What does your concept and world look like when you’ve tossed us into the deep end? It’s something worth thinking about. You don’t have much time to explain or to pontificate. You’ve got to get us interested as quickly as possible. What actions do your characters take that define them within seconds for the audience? While Lights Out doesn’t have a memorable character per say, the short shows us the cunning nature of this dark force almost instantly. Everything is explained visually. That brings us to the cardinal rule of storytelling: Show, don’t tell. If you can do that, you’ll have us coming back for more.
3. Final Space
Speaking of which, here’s one that throws us into the depths of a quirky animated space opera. Filmmaker and comedian Olan Rogers got his start on YouTube and ended up creating this short piece, which got him a full season order with TBS and Conaco, Conan O’Brien’s production company. Final Space works on so many wonderful and hilarious levels - the production quality is superb with its skillful animation and unique images, the characters are memorable in their design and sense of humour, and we’re introduced to them in the aftermath of some tragic disaster. It has us asking questions, and it catapults its lead character into a new and daring adventure.
4. The Customer is Always Right
Yep, even well-established filmmakers have dipped their toes into the proof of concept pond. After all, the POC is generally a great way to prove to yourself and others that something is achievable. It’s also a great way to practice new techniques - which is exactly what this short was trying to showcase. Hoping to direct a comic-to-screen adaptation of the graphic novel Sin City, the rebel without a crew Robert Rodriguez shot this short to prove to the studio that he could do it. The risk paid off - he established a style that would be used throughout the scene, and the film itself opened the feature film.
5. The Flying Man
This one made waves through the internet and garnered a massive viral following. The Flying Man seemed to hop onto the coattails of the superhero trend’s cape just in time, creating a world and mythos that opened the door to a bigger and more in-depth concept. Wondering why you haven’t seen this one on the big screen yet? It was just recently purchased by Sony/Columbia pictures and is being worked on at this very moment.
If you think about it, the proof of concept is actually pretty straightforward. One of the key things you’ll need is a captivating, unique, and memorable idea. How you introduce us to that idea is up to you - get us started early, late, or totally confuse our curiosity. That said, this will take a lot of work. Not only do you have to get it off the ground, but you have to try to get it out there as well. Maybe that is a little bit daunting, much like this career or ours, but there’s also a freedom in it.
For once there’s actually an endgame and a goal. Approaching a POC gives us filmmakers comfort in an uncomfortable career. There’s a rung on the formerly rung-less ladder, but don’t get cocky, kid. Your only end goal thus far should be creating and completing the production of your POC. Try not to think about who you’ll show it to, if you’ll make money from it, or if it will be the beginning of a prolific Hollywood career. That’s just a recipe for stress, disappointment, and angst. That’s not to say that these things won’t happen for you, but it shouldn’t be your focus at this stage of the project. Don’t create what you think people want to see, don’t hop on the trends.
Create what you’d like to see. Create what ignites an unwavering passion within you.
Do that, and it will be impossible for us to look away.