Well we’ve got feature length (longer than thirty mins), short films (5 to 30 mins), short shorts (2 to five mins) but when students, namely my animation students need to hand in projects of less than two minutes – preferably a minute – what kind of structure should they be looking at.
One idea is to take the three act structure and just go for the first turning point.
You need to set up your world really clearly, then there’s an inciting incident which drives the protagonist to take an action which is the first turning point.
A pacifist shark (identifiable by his love of the other fish), smells blood in the water. As a result he/she flips out and attacks his friend the dolphin and kills him.
The end leaves us at the first act turning point – is this a fundamental change in his nature, or will he return to being a pacifist shark but now have to make excuses for the death of the dolphin.
A good example of a one minute film that follows this pattern is Graham, an award-winning film by Kahra Scott-James of Entirely Sound.
In this case – He works in an office, the computer fails him, he goes crazy. You’re left wondering if he’ll continue in the same job or if he has become surplus to requirements.
Another idea is to think of things in terms of the hero’s journey.
The world, the call, the refusal of the call followed by crossing the (first) threshold. There may be tests but it’s also possible that the crossing of the threshold is the supreme ordeal. The possession of the reward may also lead to resurrection and a transformation or a realisation that things haven’t really changed.
An example of this is provided by the following funny penguin.
So basically what you’ve got is a really clear world, something happens, there may be some doubt as to how to act (refusal of the call) and the action is taken leading to a climax and resolution. It seems that the creation of the world can take up to half the time and the rest of the action can happen quite quickly.