It’s official, says Kellie Ann Benz, short films have arrived

There’s no denying it anymore.

Short films have arrived.

Case in point: at this year’s Cannes Film Festival – the undisputed festival champion of the world – big time Oscar®-winning Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein arrived with a collection of short films he had produced. Presenting his anthology shorts under the title Life Is Amazing, Weinstein feted the five filmmakers he’d procured as the next voices in international cinema. The production was financed and promoted by Lexus.

Yes. The manufacturer of luxury cars.

They’re not the only corporation with a brand to plug and are cleverly using short films to do the hawking for them.

Jameson – famous for their Irish whiskey – partnered with Kevin Spacey and his Trigger Street productions to find international short film talent to get behind.

Bombay Sapphire – famous for their gin – just completed a second year of their shorts competition where they invite filmmakers from all over the world to interpret a single script in their own unique way.

On the documentary side, National Geographic STILL has their first competition open but to US filmmakers only.

Also in the US, the big corporation GE put their clout behind 30 short films which tour at festivals.

Even some of the world’s most troubled regions are turning to short films to invest, inspire and educate. Green Card Capital – a US-based investment company catering to the immigration of business people into the US – just announced their Heroes of Pakistan short documentary film contest.

While the corporate world has only just begun recognizing the value that filmmakers can add to their brand for smart non-marketing marketing, there has remained a steady business of short film distribution internationally.

Those of us in North America don’t have access to the kind of short film programming found on televisions stations in Europe. We’re more likely to notice short films when they’re online since our TV networks have never made a consistent effort to program shorts.

In fact, here you have a higher chance of discovering a short film in the entertainment offerings on airlines than you do on network television.

Jason Sondhi - ShortOfTheWeek

Above: Jason Sondhi // Short of the Week

In the US, only PBS offers curated short films on their POV program and in Canada, only CBC Reflections offers a steady program while the popular competition CBC Short Film Face Off (with yours truly) just completed its fourth season.

Which would explain why online short film curators like Short of the Week have become influencers for English-language short films in recent years.

“I probably have 30 to 40 major talent managers or agents as subscribers,” explains Short of the Week editor and chief programmer, Jason Sondhi from New York.

Further proof that, in North America at least, short films are still only seen as stepping stones toward a career in commercial feature films.

In Europe, however, the short film is a mainstay of network programming and thus a thriving business.

Derry O'Brien // Network Ireland Television

Above: Derry O’Brien // Network Ireland Television

“Australia’s SBS Channels ONE and TWO buys regularly and have for 18 years. France’s Canal+ buys and pays well. Italy has three distinct channels [which] buy shorts and Japan buys international shorts for two separate channels,” says Derry O’Brien of Network Ireland Television in Dublin.

He should know. Derry’s built his career on knowing who buys what from around the world. The ability to recognize a sellable short has had to be his business because he does what all short film distributors do: he develops relationships with international buyers.

“Producers who try to go it alone – to sell their single short film without the support of a distributor – usually give up [after] the first few months,” says Fred Joubaud of Canada’s Ouat Media. “They don’t have the experience or can’t attend the key markets.”

“TV buyers are more inclined to deal with distributors,” Derry agrees. “We have done the due diligence in terms of clearances. We know what our buyers are looking for. They can buy packages from us. This saves them administration time and money.”

And it’s not just TV buyers anymore.

“In the last eight months, I’ve sold more short films to online platforms [than] in the last two years,” says Fred of Ouat’s huge catalogue. “iTunes has its own short film section now.”

Both distributors have ushered short films all the way through the gauntlet of international festivals to the promised land of an Oscar® nomination.

In recent years, Derry brought Northern Ireland’s The Shore to its best live action Oscar® in 2012 while Fred nurtured the US-made Curfew to an Academy win this year.

“The countries with funding support programs for short filmmakers in operation on an annual basis tend to deliver consistent quality in short films,” says Derry. “Ireland, the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia and Germany stand out always.”

Fred Joubaud // Ouat Media

Above: Fred Joubaud // Ouat Media

Fred agrees, adding, “Countries that offer the best support deliver the best short films but the most original short films come from Australia, Korea, the US and Canada!”

In Canada, the National Film Board is a perfect example of how ongoing support matters. Take one look at their never-ending Oscar®-nominated programs of animated short films as proof.

So what does this mean for the independent filmmaker who wants to do more than just showcase their short films at festivals?

“I’m fairly convinced that short films will never be monetized in a meaningful way on a transactional basis,” admits Short of the Week’s Jason. “You have to remember that feature films spend the equivalent of their production budget to market their film.”

Which means, even if you’re talking about a high end $40,000 short film, you STILL couldn’t get much marketing value if you spent just as much in advertising.

“What free online does give you is exposure – immediately – collaboration opportunities and discovery by industry,” says Jason.

Ultimately, how you decide to play your cards with your finished short film is up to you.

Most production funding programs in North America haven’t a clue about marketing, distribution, festival strategy or online audience building, so you’ll most likely be left to navigate that world on your own once you’ve handed in your final cost report.

Thankfully, there’s no better time than now to do your own research on understanding the value of the product you’ve got in your hot little hands – and if you’ve had good or bad experiences with distributors or platforms, tell us about it.

Take over the world, short filmmakers!


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