With the rise of the internet and all the new ways of sharing, short films are arguably more popular than they have ever been. That means there are more ways than ever before to show off your work, but it also means there is the most competition and without the clear cut path, things might be harder than they ever were before as well.
Fortunately, much light has been shed on the matter by the likes of Oscar-nominated documentarian Morgan Spurlock (“Super-Size Me”), Op-Docs producer and curator Jason Spingarn-Koff, ESPN Films’ Director of Development Dan Silver (“30 for 30″) and actress Gillian Jacobs (“Community,” “Life Partners”), all of whom sat down for a panel discussion moderated by General Manager of Audience Networks at Vimeo Greg Clayman at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.
“Bigger is not always better. Morgan Spurlock asserted his claim that “there are stories that are made to be feature length movies, and there are stories that should be television projects — 45-60 minutes — and sometimes people try to stretch those into features and they shouldn’t. And then there are stories that are perfect or fantastic in a 3-5 minute segment, that’s where they should live. And one of the things that we try to do and one of the things that I believe in is that you need to explore that creative process. You shouldn’t stretch things longer than they should be.”
Think about distribution from the get-go. Spurlock explained that “from the minute we have an idea, we’re thinking about ‘where could this go?’ Because I think especially as a content creator and especially working in today’s business world, you have to have an understanding of how the business works, and you can’t just come up with an idea and say ‘great, we’re gonna make it and then take it out.’ I feel like that world shifted. The days of ‘I’m gonna make a feature-length film and go to Sundance,’ you know there’s still those movies you can do that with but I think you have to have a vision of where you want this to live and ultimately where it can live financially, physically, reality. I think you have to be thinking about that moving in.”
Networks won’t interfere. Gillian mentioned another benefit of working on Helms’ project, the fact that “it’s really fun. There were no notes [on Helms' project], there were no studio representatives on set saying ‘Please don’t do that’ or ‘Say that.'” Spurlock also pointed out the fact that “there’s not as much pressure as a network where you have to get a certain number every single week or they’re gonna cancel the show. Things are done at a certain price point, they have a little more fun and basically the networks, be it AOL or Yahoo! or Hulu, want to give that creative flexibility. That’s what enticing about it.”
Short form content is good for documentary filmmakers. Dan Silver elaborated this point by explaining “to start, documentary filmmaking is really hard. And it’s time-consuming. For us to do a ’30 for 30′ and the ’30 for 30s’ that work really well are the ones that are passion-driven. A director, a storyteller has a story and they’re dying to tell it. That’s where you get a specific point of view. But it’s a commitment. And not everybody, not every filmmaker, not every person who does a 30 for 30 has almost a year of their life to give up. And you deal on the passion. And what we started seeing is this balance. If you bring over the quality that we spend and the attention that we spend, how seriously we take it from the 30 for 30 perspective, and apply that to short form content, short films, then there’s something interesting here. And then we start getting into the fun stuff, which is the distribution.”
Content is king.
In response to a question about net neutrality’s impact on independent artists, Spurlock reassured the audience that “I think what will happen is content creators will always be able to load a piece of their content. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who the bandwidth is, content is king. You are the content creator and it doesn’t matter. You are the brains behind the idea or whatever it is. JJ Abrams is always gonna be able to load a piece of JJ Abrams content, because he’s JJ Abrams. I feel like there are certain content creators that you’re always gonna be able to make those deals.”
However, he also brought up the issue that “it’s gonna be harder for people when you come up, as it is for anyone. The question is can you drive people to smaller channels to watch things? It’s still gonna come down to marketing, it’s gonna be coming down to advertising, to co-promotion. Right now, we live in a world where there’s so much on the internet that 99% of stuff online is invisible. There’s just no way to market it because there’s just too much, and you’re gonna start seeing some people get behind the promotion of certain content.”
It is always appreciated to have those experiencing success share
their knowledge and experience to those looking to pursue a career such as theirs, becoming competition. Irony.