From Flash Text To Flash Film
Flash fiction is on the move. It refuses to remain in text form and is now spreading through the world of film and video. Flash fiction has made its way from the page to the screen and these short-shorts are getting more and more attention as new films are created and presented. With new technology available, not only can flash fiction be read in stand-alone stories, in collections, in anthologies, and in magazines, but can now also be a seen and heard experience as it travels beyond its original form and assumes a different shape when adapted to film or video.
Quality Runs the Gamut
Thanks to the Internet and to the availability of the necessary technology, almost anyone can make short-short films. There are now thousands from all over the world—some authorized and some not. Because almost anyone can make films now, the quality of such films runs the gamut. At one end of the quality spectrum are simple amateur efforts done for fun or to fulfill high school or college course requirements. At the other end are clearly professional and highly artistic productions, many of which are award winners. Films at either end are evidence of the strong interest in these tiny treasures and are an indication of their adaptability and versatility.
Variety in Presentations
Some of these short-short adaptations take on a modern film appearance through the use of color and through the addition of sound and music. Others mimic black and white films of yesteryear and some even include subtitles. Some mini-films are animated and make use of both familiar animation techniques and of highly uncommon and unusual strategies. They also exhibit various interpretations of the originating texts. The one constant is that these modern-day mini films are usually accomplished shape-shifters. Part of their charm is the way they assume different forms, genres, and appearances and through this constant and exuberant adaptation and experimentation these mini films are helping to shape the future of storytelling.
Short-Shorts Adapted To Stand-Alone Short Films In general, mini-films range from straightforward narratives to highly experimental methods for presenting a brief story or idea. Some adaptations closely follow the original text pieces while others are looser in their use of the texts that came before. Following is a sampling, listed by author, of flash fiction and short-short pieces that have been adapted to film or video (including some adapted to feature-length film). The selected films show various skill levels—from amateur to professional, from traditional to highly experimental. Brief as they are, many manage to cast some memorable spells.
Sherwood Anderson’s “The Dumb Man”
This adaptation was nominated for two awards: Best Independent and Best Visual Design. The film makes use of the machinima technique, which creates cinematic productions through the use of real-time computer graphics engines. The story is read by Alex Wilson from Telltale Weekly and the Spoken Alexandria Project.
Donald Barthelme’s “The School”:
This adaptation was directed by Jonathan Hayes, edited by Jason Deschamps, and produced by Jane Motz Hays. This humorous but disturbing modern fable makes a fascinating short-short film.
Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek”:
Riley Solter adapted this story to film. See Solter’s adaptation here. Another, longer version can be viewed here. The longer adaptation, produced by Marcel Ichac and Paul de Roubaix, and adapted by Robert Enrico, first aired on CBS February 28, 1964.
Stace Budzko’s “How To Set A House On Fire”:
This flash fiction piece was first published by the Southeast Review and then re-published in Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories. The screen adaptation is directed by Henry Zaballos. The film has gathered several awards in various film festivals.
Charles Bukowski’s “Nirvana”:
This adaptation makes a memorable and surreal film. It is presented by Lights Down Low, narrated by Tom Waits, and directed by Patrick Biesemans. For the film Biesemans wanted “a playful mix of practical effects and miniature elements (mainly using model railroad train elements.”
Dino Buzatti’s “The Falling Girl”:
This adaptation is a collaboration between interactive media artist Scott Snibbe and choreographer/ filmmaker Annie Loui. A trailer for the film can be viewed here. A behind-the-scenes adaptation explanation can be viewed here. This short-short film has won several awards.
Italo Calvino’s “The Man Who Shouted Theresa”:
This adaptation is directed by Zack Jones and uses English subtitles.
Raymond Carver’s Many Flash Fiction Film Adaptations
This selection shows many quality levels (from beginner to professional).
Lawrence C. Connolly’s “Echoes”:
In its text form, this short-short was featured in over a dozen publications worldwide. Then it began its other lives as two flash fiction film adaptations. The first adaptation, a film festival production, was filmed in Hollywood by Steve Muscarella. The second adaptation was directed by Rodney Altman and it won Best Achievement in Cinematography at the Fusion Film Festival in New York City in March 2004.
Geoffrey Forsyth’s “Mud”:
Geoffrey Forsyth was the winner of the second annual chapbook contest at Rose Metal Press. His short-short, “Mud,” was published in Shapard/ Thomas’s New Sudden Fiction (2007) and also published in Other Voices. The film adaptation is re-titled “Mired” and was written and directed by Tony Glazer and produced by Knife Edge Productions and Choice Films Ink. View a teaser and see some of the many awards the film has received here.
Eduardo Galeano’s “Los Nadies” (translated “The Nobodies”):
The author and journalists from Uruguay’s classification defying short short “Los Nadies” (translated “The Nobodies”) is from his collection, El libro de los abrazos (The Book of Embraces).
One adaptation is by Spanish director Carlos Salgado for the NGO Africa Directo. It makes use of 2D animation. Another adaptation was done by German animator Laura Saenger. Both adaptations can be seen here. A third adaptation was done by Caleb González with music by Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucia and can be viewed here.
Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”:
Here are four different film adaptations.
One adaptation is directed by Yuriy Mikitchenko and Sean Brown.
A second adaptation is directed by Steve Brabson and the film was done as a project for the LA Film School. (Brabson used an abandoned train station and painted the brick walls by hand.) Part I can be viewed here , and Part II, here.
A third adaptation is directed by Jack Politz and adapted by Conor Keelan.
A fourth is produced by Ben Hunter and directed by Alexandra Daniels.
Franz Kafka’s “The Guardian”:
An animated short film directed by Alessandro Novelli (2015). The film is an interpretation of Kafka’s “Before The Law” parable from his book The Trial. The film is animated, illustrated, and directed by Alessandro Novelli and is produced by N9ve.
Franz Kafka’s “Up In The Gallery”:
The animated film adaptation is by Tore Bahnson and uses a style of digital stop motion where the animation of the characters is done by hand and done frame by frame. See the film here. Also see the interesting sketches and test renders for the film here.
Etgar Keret’s Many Individual Flash Films
This film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013 and did a festival circuit run in the United States and Europe.
“What About Me?”
In collaboration with Shira Geffen, from Stories on Human Rights, 2008.
A four-minute adaptation by Tatia Rosenthal and which uses animated puppets.
“A Buck’s Worth”
Adapted by Tatia Rosenthal.
“What Do We Have In Our Pockets?”
Made its debut at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
“Monkey Say, Monkey Do”
Adapted and directed by Nava Berenshtin.
“A Good Looking Couple”
Adapted to film by Danna Feintuch.
Peter Markus’s “Good, Brother”:
This story comes from Markus’s collection of the same name. The film adaptation is produced and directed by Greg Fadell and Matt Zacharias and edited by Patrick Shaughnessy. The film adaptation was completed at the end of 2001 and then premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2002. The final version of “Good, Brother” is viewable here.
Tara L. Masih’s “Haunt of Memory”:
This flash fiction piece is a collaboration between Masih and Michael Dickes (who wrote and produced the video adaptation). The story was adapted to video by Awkword Paper Cut and the adaptation “explores the visual and psychological impact of dreams and memory and pays tribute to the oral tradition of southern Gothic tales.”
Saki’s (H. H. Munro’s) “The Open Window”:
This short-short story has been adapted to film several times. One adaptation, written, directed, and edited by Mathew Coleman and produced by Penny Thoughts Productions, can be seen here. Another adaptation, written and directed by James Rogan and titled “The Open Doors,” can be viewed here.
Wayne Scheer’s “Zen and the Art of House Painting”:
This flash fiction piece was first published in an anthology titled Awkward Two and the editor of the anthology, Jeffrey Dinsmore, decided to arrange for films to be done on some of the anthology stories. Joel Maguen wrote the screenplay for the adaptation of Wayne Scheer’s story and Maguen served as director as part of Awkward Press’s instant film adaptation project.
Lynda Sexson’s “Turning”:
For an anthology titled Birthday Stories, Haruku Murakami translated Lynda Sexson’s story into Japanese. Then later the anthology was translated into English. The film team of Karni and Saul adapted the story to film and the producers are Kat Amour-Brown and Alison Sterling. The film was nominated for a BAFTA award and was also part of the BBC Film Network’s BBC Drama Shorts 2009 commission, in conjunction with Lighthouse Arts & Training Development Partner—BBC Writersroom.
Fernando Sorrentino’s “There’s A Man In The Habit Of Hitting Me In The Head With An Umbrella”:
This flash fiction piece has been adapted to film or video several times. One well-done adaptation is by XXM (Xiaoming Xue) and Linus Rost.
Paul Toth’s “Knotted” and “The Happiest Man in the World”:
“Knotted” is adapted by Mad Dog Films and is directed by Tom Shell.
“The Happiest Man In The World,” a highly amusing mixed-media film, can be viewed at
Katharine Weber’s “Sleeping”:
Weber’s story was originally published in Vestal Review and later republished in James Thomas and Robert Shapard’s Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories. The winner of many awards is directed by Doug Conant and the screenplay is by George Dean IV and Doug Conant. Executive producers are Frank Metayer and Christina Nayve. See the trailer here.
William Carlos Williams “The Use of Force”:
The film adaptation is directed and produced by Ben Claman.
Flash Fiction Films Creating Longer Films.
Italo Calvino brought together several short short pieces to create his novel Invisible Cities. Alan Lightman did likewise in his novel Einstein’s Dream. In a similar vein, filmmakers are also going beyond the adaptation of single flash fiction pieces. Some filmmakers combine several short-short pieces to create longer or even feature-length films. Following are several such interesting films.
Short Cuts: Raymond Carver’s Stories
The award-winning 1993 film, Short Cuts, directed by Robert Altman, combines several of Carver’s short pieces, and even includes one of his poems. Some of the stars in the feature-length film are Anne Archer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Robbins, Lily Tomlin, Jack Lemmon, Robert Downey, Jr., Julianne Moore, Chris Penn, and Andie MacDowell. Not all of the stories included are flash fiction length but they are close enough. One of the stories included in the film that does qualify in length is Carver’s “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” The trailer for the film itself can be viewed here, and the mini-film “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” can be viewed here.
The Sadness of Sex : Barry Yourgrau Stories
Barry Yourgrau’s collection titled The Sadness of Sex was made into a feature film of the same title. The 1995 postmodern comedy-romance montage stars Yourgrau himself and the film depicts many hilarious phases and types of love. To distinguish between the stories, the filmmakers used different types of music and interesting camera work. See a trailer here. Then click links below to view some of the individual mini films.
Exquisite Corpse : Michael Arnzen’s Stories
In 2006 several international and independent film directors, animators, and multimedia artists collaborated on turning Michal Arnzen’s award-winning flash fiction collection, 100 Jolts: Shockingly Short Stories, into a highly experimental “Frankenstein” montage film titled Exquisite Corpse. The 17-minute film was produced by Jim Minton.See the trailer here. Not all of the stories that compose the entire film are available online but below are links to some individual segments of the film.
$9.99 Etgar Keret’s Stories
As shown earlier, many of Etgar Keret’s short-shorts have been adapted to film or video. In 2008, Keret and Tatia Rosenthal collaborated on the feature-length film, $9.99. Rosenthal directed the film and it included several of Keret’s short-short stories, woven together. Some of the many awards the film has gathered include a nomination for Best Animated Feature and Best Directing in an Animated Feature Production in the Annie Awards and a nomination for the Bronze Horse at the Stockholm Film Festival. The film also won the Audience Award in the Granada Film Festival Cines del Sur and Audience Award and won Best Female Director in the Mexico City International Contemporary Film Festival. See a trailer for the film here.
Flash fiction is most certainly playing an important part in the future of literature, in the future of storytelling, and in the future of film making too. For today’s readers, many of whom do not have as much time available for reading as they once had, flash fiction and flash films still allow them to experience interesting and thought provoking literature and film without the major time investment that novels or feature-length films require. To borrow words from sixteenth century writer John Heywood, the best short-short stories and the best short-short films provide “muche rychnesse in lytell space.”
About the writer:
Pamelyn Casto, a Pushcart Prize nominee, has published feature-length articles on flash fiction in Writer’s Digest (and in their other publications), in Fiction Southeast, in Abstract Magazine, and in OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters. Her essay on flash fiction and myth appears in Rose Metal Press’s Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips From Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field and her 8,000-word essay on flash fiction is included in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading (4 volumes). She also has a 5,000-word article on flash fiction as the lead article in the new collection titled Critical Insights: Flash Fiction (2017).
Image: “Stirring” by TANJA BABIĆ. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 27″ x 34,” 2018. Babić is from Belgrade, Serbia, and studied at the University of Belgrade, where she was awarded an MA in Fine Art in 2006. Since 2004 she has been an active member of the association of fine artists of Serbia/ULUS/. Babić exhibits at solo and group exhibitions and art festivals in Serbia and worldwide. @tanjaabstractart