The 20 Minute Barrier


Staff Member
Every time I edit a shorter run time on my movie - at the end of the day I put on my VR headset and watch it in a giant cinema on the silver screen
It's such a great tool because you have to watch movies differently on a screen that size. Your eyes can't look at everything at once. Your focus has to shift.

Anyway I make it a public cinema each time in case anyone wants to join me

No one was ever interested

Creating Virtual Reality Cinema: "25 Minute Crime Thriller" no one joins to watch
Creating Virtual Reality Cinema: "20 Minute Crime Thriller" no one joins to watch

Now that it's shorter...

Creating Virtual Reality Cinema: "17 Minute Crime Thriller" people joined to watch

Obviously everyone knows shorter run time is easier to digest - but exactly how short do people want?
Well it appears if youre at 20 minutes then it's too long for a lot of people. They just aren't interested.

Anecdotal. Your mileage may vary.
So that's something to think about if you're going to make a short film.

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Runtime can be a barrier for me.

I enjoyed Avengers: Endgame but waited to watch it at home because I didn’t want to have to commit to the three hours + trailers and commercials at the cinema.

I caught a 1:30pm session of Bohemian Rhapsody when it came out (with no knowledge of its runtime) and I actually think my enjoyment of it was diminished ever so slightly by the fact that by the time the last scenes rolled around I had checked my watch and knew I’d have to drive home in peak hour traffic...
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I agree with mlesemann. 5 to 7 minutes seems to be about the sweet spot. Not sure whether you could maybe break your story down into smaller pieces but I think you would definitely get more views that way.

If they like the first part, people will keep watching. It's like Netflix and the binge watching trend. People wont sit down and watch a film anything much over 2 hours long, but are quite happy to watch 5 hours of 1 hour episodes back to back knowing they still wont have a conclusion to the story.
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I'd aim for about 5 minutes or less.
You don't have to kill off your piece - just break it down into multiple parts.
And include a brief, attention-grabbing description.

5 minutes is nice for the audience but if your purpose is to learn and prepare before making a feature length film... 5 minutes doesn’t give you quite enough experience that a more fleshed out story would provide imo. I learned significantly more with my longer film
My point is to make your full movie as you want it, then find the spots to split it up into pieces for audience consumption.

That shouldn't impact what you make, just how people watch it.

well I think we can both agree that 20 minutes is too long. My first film was 3 minutes and totally worth making something that small to begin with.
Hi Sfoster, just getting my bearings here on the forum so I thought I'd speak up. It's interesting that you pose the question in terms of "how long" the movie is. I understand the context here and why you stated it as such, but maybe the answer lies in posing the question in a different way:

How long does it take to tell THIS STORY.

If you make every film tell its story in the tightest possible sequence, then the length becomes secondary. The film we be good whether it's 60 seconds or two hours. Of course, it's a different ballgame if you're talking about fitting a story to a certain distribution model. Then you better get good at telling a 22 minute story, 46, 90 or whatever your distributor demands.

I'm thinking out loud here. Which comes first, the story and the length required to tell it, or the distribution channel and the length required to fill it.