April 16-27, 2014

Short Films All About Passion, Not Cash

Short filmmakers face daunting hurdles to get their work seen, and rarely turn a profit from it.

By Patrick Hickey Jr.
|  Thursday, Jul 18, 2013  |  Updated 9:14 AM EDT
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Short Films All About Passion, Not Cash

There are only rare cases of short films being sold and making money.

Short films are rarely sold and almost never turn a profit. With few options for monetizing, short film directors, writers and producers aim to get their work seen at festivals. The hope is that the work leads to future opportunities on the big screen.

The Tribeca Film Festival, which runs from April 17-28, dedicates a large chunk of its attention to short films, but admits they haven't found a way to help monetize the work.

“The reality of the situation is that the majority of a short film’s life occurs at film festivals,” said Tribeca Film Festival Short Films Programmer Sharon Badal. “That’s where they receive exposure and audience interest. But as far as their life after film festivals, that has been the $64,000 question. The problem is regardless of what we know, that the public really enjoys watching these short films, they don’t necessarily want to pay for them.”

Badal did say that there is an ongoing effort to help short film curators create avenues for monetizing, but that journey has been a difficult one.

“There have been many attempts in the past to resurrect a way to have people pay to have these shorts available online,” she said. “Most of them have failed because people don’t want to pay for them. Post-festival circuit, the way to engage people is to have a sponsor offer the film to the public and for the sponsor to find a way to sponsor the ‘online theater’ so these films can be shown.”

Last week Tribeca Films, along with Maker Studios did just that. They silently launched a YouTube channel, “Picture Show’ that features original content and short films from prior festivals and new work. Without any formal launch, the page received over 45,000 views through Thursday. Badal said Tribeca and Maker are still investigating ways to make this monetarily worthwhile for short filmmakers.

The financial burdens of short film creation don’t stop young filmmakers from submitting to Tribeca. This year alone, Badal and her team received over 4,000 submissions and over the course of six months, whittled the selections down to 60. The work, Badal said, left her watching short films in her pajamas in order to give every film an honest shot at getting into the festival.

Although Tribeca awards $10,000 in cash and prizes for the winners of the best narrative short, documentary short and a student visionary award, most filmmakers don’t see the awards as the ultimate goal. Getting to the dance will more than suffice.

“It’s more about honing the craft more than anything,” said Jason Mann, director of the 2013 Tribeca short film selection “Delicacy.” “They help move towards a career and aren’t essentially used to make a career of. They seem somewhat financially irresponsible to make sometimes. The next thing I’m working on is a feature. It’s scary to think of making more short films when there’s no potential to make anything back.”

There are rare cases of short films being sold and making money. “Atlantic Avenue” director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre used the website IndieGoGo, which like Kickstarter allows creators to pitch and get funding for their projects. Originally borrowing money from her parents (who run a production company) to fund the production, de Clermont-Tonnerre was able to raise $10,000 in 10 days on the site. The film’s approximate budget was $13,000.

“It was fantastic,” she said. “ When I was ready to shoot in New York, I had no money. It didn’t have anything. It was unbelievable. In just 10 days, we got the money we needed to shoot.”

She also got the film purchased by French television station Canal+, which plans on airing it in September.

“We are very lucky,” she said. “To have it bought by a channel is the best possible option, because of course, it cannot be put in a theater. It feels like the only real way to even get a little money back.”

Some short filmmakers don’t have to worry about budgets. Doctoral student Blake Williams, an experimental film creator from Toronto, has an entry in Tribeca this year that has no budget. A compilation of creative commons videos and freeware sound, Williams’ “Depart” tells its story with public-use materials, ranging from YouTube home videos to air traffic controller radar shots. Unlike many other filmmakers at Tribeca, it’s not his intention to make money from his adventure. Instead, he hopes that film festival participation will help lead to a professorship at a university after his studies are complete.

“Hopefully, I’ll be able to teach academically,” Williams said. “It’s becoming quite popular in art schools for people to not take painting or sculpture classes and to concentrate on performance and video classes, so as that’s becoming more common, they’ll need more hands for that.”

In spite of its home run or strikeout mentality, Badal feels short films will always have a place in film festivals and pop culture.

“Watching a feature is an investment, both emotionally and time-wise,” Badal said. “Shorts are different. They fit well with our shorter attention spans and are great short form entertainment. They are particularly suitable for smaller screens like iPods and iPads and cell phones. Sometimes people need a little break. Shorts are that perfect break.”

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