Kellie Ann Benz looks at the value of putting your short film online

Who’s your audience? When’s the last time you asked yourself that?

If you’re thinking about your future as a filmmaker, this should be the kind of question that keeps you up at night. Who. Is. Your. Audience?

Regardless of where your funding comes from, regardless of your finished product – if you want to progress from short films to features or TV series – you need to have a rapt audience, the analytics of which you can prove, as your career progresses.

Welcome to your new best friend: the online film festival.

Once upon a time ‘online’ was the last of the last of the last thing you did with your short film. Once you’d milked the teat of festival abundance, then navigated (usually with little reward) through distribution and/or broadcast sales, you had two choices:

1) let your little baby collect dust in a bin of airlock sealed DVDs
2) let your work go un-monitized online

Not anymore.

Filmmakers are now confronted by some big choices when it comes to a film premiere and it’s no longer as simple as ‘Should I submit to Sundance?’

Today, filmmakers are kicking down the doors to the brave new world of DIY cinema – harnessing their own power from funding to marketing – and in many cases bypassing traditional film festivals altogether in favor of online festivals that offer instant viewing and immediate audiences.

“I make films for the audience,” explains Skycorner Entertainment producer and Dotstudioz owner Selena Paskiladis. “Putting your films online is key to building and feeding the needs of your loyal fan base.”

Richard Horgan from Filmstew.com agrees, adding: “The irony of today’s internet is that it offers both the greatest level of opportunity for exposure and an ever-increasing crowded field from which to try and gain notice. There is a real art to cultivating viral buzz, beyond of course something that just goofily takes off on its own.”

Nimisha Mukerji

Above: Nimisha Mukerji

For Canadian filmmaker Nimisha Mukerji the online experience during the RBC Emerging Artists’ contest was an eye opener. “The immediate response, coupled with the ability to watch the numbers, was so rewarding. It was a very exciting way to gauge our accomplishments and extremely fulfilling to see that audiences were engaging with our work right away.”

Before you start thinking that traditional festivals are going the way of the dodo bird, think again. Some of the most important festivals for shorts filmmakers have embraced the online world using their budding online audiences to work in conjunction with the festivals.

“Having your film online on a high quality platform can increase the interest of an international audience and drive interest in a theatrical screening,” says Beth Barrett, programming manager of the Seattle International Film Festival. “It is in the filmmaker’s best interest to make the online experience as high quality as possible, since that may be the only point of contact someone has with your film.”

Barrett says that films may be available online and still be eligible for SIFF but priority is given to films that haven’t screened extensively online or been on YouTube.

Clermont-Ferrand International Film Festival – arguably, the most important short film festival in the world – also keeps an open mind about films available online.

Christian Guinot, international director of programming for Clermont-Ferrand says, “We don’t require premieres. So films screened online, on television or in other festivals are accepted. But, as we usually say, we do not plan to be last on the festivals circuit. So, when your film is ready, just send it to us!”

In fact, if one were to compare these apples to their cousin, the orange, they might discover a bigger pie available to filmmakers willing to go online.

Vimeo’s online short film festival offers a whopping $25,000 for their grand prize winner. The NSI Online Short Film Festival offers $18,000 in prize money each year which they dole out in four chunks.

If the money isn’t enough, consider the reach.

Last year, Everynone’s Symmentry won The Vimeo Festival’s grand prize of $25,000, and got 2.8 million plays plus over 29,000 likes.

By comparison, the 2012 Sundance Short film winner Cutter Hodieme who won for Fishing Without Nets, got a cheque for $5,000 and is registering 1,180 likes on Facebook.

And I’m Not the Indian You Had in Mind, one of the most popular short films in the NSI Online Short Film Festival, has been watched over 16,000 times.

In fact, it was just last year that the great ‘festival versus online premiere’ debate officially declared a winner when Short of the Week published How We Launched Our Film Online: The Thomas Beale Cipher story. In the post, filmmaker Andrew S. Allen turned droll stats into jaw-dropping facts (below).

Short of the Week graphic

So is it just anywhere online or should filmmakers be as strategic about their online screenings as they are about their traditional festival submissions?

“For the non-paying moviegoer at large on the internet, the only film festivals that truly register are called YouTube, Vimeo and (indirectly) Kickstarter/IndieGoGo,” says FilmStew’s Horgan.

And it’s not just any short film that kicks it online either so your online success does require some strategy.

“Typically the shorts that make the big numbers kind of impact are genre-focused and in the realms of action, science-fiction or fantasy. Stephan Zlotescu’s True Skin is the latest short film to catch Hollywood’s attention this fall,” Horgan reveals.

Earlier this year, filmmaker Matt Morris posted to Indiewire touting the joys of his online success with the short Pickin’ & Trimmin.’

If you’re a filmmaker with a spanking-new short to premiere, should you be ignoring traditional film festivals entirely?

“In a traditional film festival the shorts are curated and most often presented in programs where there are some common threads and the films complement each other,” notes Sandy Gow, programmer of international short films for Vancouver International Film Festival. “You just don’t have this kind of context and shared experience with online that you do collectively sharing the viewing experience in a theatre. Festivals are also a great place to meet and network with other attending filmmakers, industry representatives, critics and festival programmers.”

As always, it comes down to what YOU want out of YOUR film – without ignoring the point of making your short in the first place: building audience, reputation, cache in the marketplace.

This here filmmaker has written quite a bit about film festival strategy and thinking outside of the (Sundance) box, an attitude echoed on sites like Film Festival Secrets. But now I would give serious consideration to an online festival strategy in conjunction with a traditional festival strategy.

With the biggest film festivals in the world shrugging a collective ‘meh’ to your film being online, I say now’s the time to hit them all at once.

Before you go hog-wild with your online/festival global splat remember to figure out who your audience is.

Really. Figure it out. It’s niche or never time and your film career counts on it.

If you don’t take the time to know who you’re chasing after, you could spoil the greatest chance you have to capitalize on the very people who are looking for your kind of movies.

The NSI Online Short Film Festival is currently accepting film submissions until Monday, December 10, 2012. Find out how to submit your film.

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