New era, new goals
The Short Film industry is probably one of the most dynamically changing segments of the film business. Promotion is essential for emerging filmmakers, so while some directors’ are travelling around the world having their films shown on  classic festival circuits, others keep experimenting with new, mainly Internet-based, technologies. In both cases, the aim is definitely to be in the spotlight, to have as many viewers as possible, to gain interest and, finally, to have the chance to develop a well-exposed network. Using the Internet and social media is a key to build a fan-base, which seems to be one of the necessary elements  for successful future projects. Money is not so important any more, at least not on the level of classic distribution. Whilst TV stations, VOD services, or Cinema Networks offer financial rewards for short films, these amounts hardly cover the expenses of a future work. So even if selling a film is usually the end of the ‘classic career’ of a short film, it doesn’t necessarily meet the original goals of filmmakers. Promoting the filmmaker himself, creating the image of an artist and raising industry awareness are more important, because all these mean the possibility of successful future works.

According to some experiences, whether they distribute a short film on festivals or online, directors face the problem of different results. Using the story of the online promotion of the short film The Thomas Beale Cipher as a case study, we can trace the possible outcomes of festival circuit promotion and online presence of a film.  Whilst festival-based distribution/promotion (classic) means prestige, new contacts and financial benefits (by selling the rights to the film), a successful online launch of the film (online) means reaching a much wider audience, a social media fan base and industry interest, the last of which being maybe the most valuable for aspiring  filmmakers. In other words, it seems that the online promotion of their film opens new horizons for directors. This makes life a bit more difficult for film festivals and classic promotional forms regarding rights and financial conditions. Of course,  money is the most crucial part of this argument, since it is this upon which the industry is based.

A money driven industry

Discussing short films during the Berlinale Talent Campus, a festival director said that the Internet is a problem for the short film industry. We at think that it’s rather a phenomenon, or a chance, which changes everything. One should definitely differentiate between online services and Internet based VOD platforms. VOD can be a very useful tool for industry players, helping them by transferring broadcast quality, paid-for copies of a work. Also, if you think about general audience access, VOD has some new channels in the pipeline. Smart Phones and Smart TVs are relatively new tools to distribute films on, but it gets very hard when you talk about short film distribution. For VOD platforms, the question of money is still unsolved. Even if a VOD company has a quality catalogue of short films, because of Youtube, Vimeo, or other video sharing giants they can hardly ask money for viewing. Even if the film is legal, it’s still not attractive enough to make viewers pay for it. On the contrary, online services have something else in mind. Money comes from somewhere else, mainly by selling their user database or making advertising revenue. Short film has a different role online and that is a fact we need to face when the classic side of promotion (Festivals, TVs) requests exclusivity. Short films on the Internet are not competing with short films at festivals or on TV. They have a different reason to be there. Of course, many people will see them, maybe more than on TV, but shorts online are more like a marketing tool for the filmmaker, than a source of prestige and direct money.

The personal touch

As Maike Mia Höhne, the curator of the Berlinale Shorts competition says in an interview: “We want to see what we haven’t seen before.” This is especially true when we are watching a short film online. Audiences hardly even realize that they are watching a short film. They’re rather watching something audiovisual, which captures their attention. That’s the most important thing for a filmmaker: to be in the spotlight for a second, and keep it forever. There’s no doubt that the Internet is changing viewing habits, and film festivals are often ignoring this. Many film festivals are still looking for a classic, socially sensitive cinema experience, while a wider, more general audience is desperate for something special. This difference makes the gap bigger between the classic and online promotion of a film.  Film festivals usually represent their own view of cinema, meaning a certain level of quality. A short film online represents itself. When you are thinking of making a film, it’s always worth thinking about these possible outputs. But there is no need for concern, as special films have a place within the festival circuit as well. Also, a festival film can be successful online. Such platforms as the Short Film Corner make it possible to meet producers and buyers: it’s a bit like a non-virtual version of the Internet; once you get the audience’s attention, your film can have a great career. With its breakfasts, meetings and workshops, Short Film Corner is the best place to build a network and to expose such a difficult product as a short film. For Short Film Corner, the Internet is not a problem. As Alice Kharoubi, the project manager of the event says, they usually encourage filmmakers to use the web for having dynamic copies of their works available, which are limited only for buyers and programmers. This idea suits the industry‘s aims, because it tries to emphasize that short films have value, and ordinary viewers should pay for experiencing them. Even if this is true and even if industry players agree, most short films can be watched for free online (sometimes without the control of the filmmakers) and this fact affects both filmmakers and the industry. One thing is certain: the player who figures out first how to make shorts legally available and how to raise money out of them will fill the gap between classic and online promotion and consequently transform the playing field completely. We think this change is on the way…

Zoltán Áprily – founder