Short of the Week

Orange Drive

A year in the life of a guy and his car. A funny/romantic/tragic short film.

One of the greatest difficulties in short film storytelling is the question of scale. Hitchcock once said that dramatically, feature films are a lot closer to short stories than novels. So where the hell does that put short films? Are they like micro-short stories? A single scene? How much story can you fit into a short film? How much should you?

Everyone has seen the short film with nineteen characters and seven half-finished plot arcs. “If only,” these films scream, “if only you’d let me make a feature this would all make sense!” We all know what that feels like, but still, how much story is enough?

Fortunately we contemporary human beings are not the first people to ask these questions. Aristotle, grappling with the very same question, proposed what he called the three classical unities.

  1. The unity of action: a play should have one main action that it follows, with no or few subplots.
  2. The unity of place: a play should cover a single physical space and should not attempt to compress geography, nor should the stage represent more than one place.
  3. The unity of time: the action in a play should take place over no more than 24 hours.

Now obviously there’s a lot of wiggle room in all of these, but I’ve always found them a great place to look when you’re trying to describe why certain short films work. We’ve featured all kinds of shorts that function on these principles, from Sikumi (Time/Place), to I Love You Sarah Jane (Place) and countless others. When used properly, the unities help focus things, and focus is something all short films need.

Orange Drive is a great little comedy that takes the unity of place to a wonderful extreme; the camera is quite literally attached to the hood of a car for (almost) the whole movie. The film follows a year in the life of a guy and his car.

This allows a lot of leeway in terms of story. If you look at Orange Drive’s plot, there’s a lot going on for a ten minute short: the guy falls in love, out of love, fights with his best friend, gets a job, has an affair etc.

What keeps us from going bonkers with confusion is simple the unity of place (combined of course with great directing, acting and cinematography). The film very quickly creates its own world and style through editing, lighting etc. that allows us to sit back and enjoy the highs and lows of our unnamed protagonist.

When I saw this film a few years ago at UCLA I immediately went up to the director, Mark Lester, to ask him if he’d thought about an online release. It felt like the kind of film that was made for online: a short, funny movie with a highly successful concept. It took me longer than it should have to find it again, but I’m very happy to finally present it to you.

If you look at the credits you can see that Mark wrote, directed, photographed, edited, sound designed and VFX’d this film for about as much as most graduate film students pay their caterers. Currently he’s producing and directing a variety of comedy content as part of a collective called The Wait List. I’ll be excited to see what comes next.

Jason B. Kohl is an Austrian/American filmmaker from Lansing, Michigan. His short films have played SXSW, Los Angeles, Locarno and been finalists for the Student Academy Awards. His first nonfiction book, a practical guide to film school, will be published by the Focal Press in 2015.
  • Ivan Kander

    Awesome analysis, Jason!

  • Pickles

    What is the name of the music artist who is being played in the car?

  • Anonymous

    This is fantastic!

  • Andrew S Allen

    Great film, Jason. The classical unities is a good way for filmmakers to focus. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to tell a grand story that you forget it’s the smaller moments that make it real.

  • Thiago Santos

    Great and funny short!

  • M

    I really liked the insight into what I presume is the way your average LA teenager can spend their evenings driving aimlessly, whiling away time with their friends and partners in the car. Particularly in the first half of the film. You only get glimpses of it in the movies as I guess it’s too uneventful. I’m from England and the middle class mundane is often not documented for the same reason but when you show it to a different culture it’s interesting to be put in that place for a while. Maybe it isn’t really like that in LA but if it is I’ve never seen it portrayed so well.

  • Sindhu R.

    I haven’t loved a short this much in a long time! I like what M said about how this is kind of the extension of a scene you might only get a glimpse of in a movie. I also have a question about the music, it would be awesome if they really were rappers he had met on the street.





  • McFilmster

    Fucking Genius!

  • durdinz

    One of the songs is “Space Walk” by Lemon Jelly. Great short – must find out what rig they used.

  • Alex Southey

    This was a great short. Nailed the way friends speak to one another and relationships that change as well as their perspectives based on events such as having a girlfriend, or a particular type of best friend.

  • jack

    song is straight killaz by Gudda gang

  • Nick

    I think it would’ve been cool if the car had been a stick shift, then there could’ve been a seen where he teaches Natalie how to drive, and she keeps stalling the car, and he’s like having a heart attack because she keeps stalling his car. Then cut to her driving like a total badass, doing donuts, handbrake turns, etc, then she pulls over and Danny gets out of the car and pukes. haha.