It’s night. The city lights twinkle. A man and woman stand in the middle of an empty road. They’re awkward, but adorably so. He’s about to kiss her until—
“CUT! I don’t like this.” A man explodes out of his stomach—the kisser is revealed to be a puppet, controlled by someone else, who isn’t happy about how the first-kiss scene is proceeding. Another “puppeteer” erupts out of the woman’s body and retorts, “Get back in your people puppet; this is amazing!”
“It’s clichéd, I’ve seen it before!” says the first man, unimpressed.
The two exasperated puppeteers discard their human-sized dolls and begin to fight with fists; in a whirlwind, a sword, a cat, and a jar full of coins materialize as weapons. “This movie could have been awesome!” one exclaims before landing a punch—until it’s revealed that the puppeteers are also puppets themselves. With an irreverent spirit and a pointed twist on the repetitive conventions movies often rely on, the film Puppets, created by the directing team Daniels, manages to set up and invert the viewers’ expectations—all in less than three minutes.
Puppets is one example of how some of the most creative and engaging stories today are being told through short films, even as the genre remains marginalized in the cultural mainstream. Defined by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences as any film under 40 minutes, the medium has never quite established a model for profitability, and only a few shorts attain the hundreds of thousands of views that most Buzzfeed videos gather within a matter of hours. But more recently, the Internet has allowed people outside the studio system to create and distribute their own work, and has helped filmmakers reach viewers around the world with unprecedented ease. As a result, short film is again becoming a vibrant and original medium in a blockbuster-driven, reboot-riddled industry.