Historically, short films haven’t exactly proved lucrative, but that could be changing, said industry insiders who judged the IMAX Industry prize at TheWrap’s fifth annual ShortList Film Festival award ceremony.
The YouTube Space in Playa Vista was an appropriate venue for a panel on the state of short filmmaking at Wednesday’s event, since filmmakers working in short formats may find the most opportunities on newer digital platforms.
“Proper cinematic shorts is not much of a living,” Bec Smith, an agent at United Talent Agency told panel moderator and TheWrap CEO Sharon Waxman. “I wouldn’t necessarily encourage my clients to do that because there’s not a lot of money — but there’s been so much disruption. Digital distribution. Statistics showing in so many countries an explosion of smartphones. It could become the case that people make a living from short form content.”
Jennifer Levine, the president of production and literary management at Untitled Entertainment, said she has a client who was producing 10 shorts of 10 minutes each for a digital platform.
“There’s appetite for experimentation,” Levine said. She also mentioned a distributor asking about stories in “smaller increments” — as little as one minute each — “which is a new one for me.”
Catherine Hardwicke, the director of “Twilight,” also directed the music video for Lady Gaga‘s “Til It Happens To You,” which she described as a “multifaceted story” that had to be compressed into a song’s length of time — and still managed to make a massive impact online.
“It was very exciting and challenging to fit it into that length of time,” she said. “We got 30 million hits very quickly. The message we were trying to get out there got out in a short form. People wouldn’t have watched a one-and-a-half-hour documentary.”
However, the panelists said they were not convinced that purely digital content a la Snapchat is going to be a major influence on the future of short films.
“People seeing shorts today is a different audience than Snapchat,” Smith said. “That’s my gut sense.”
“There are lot of sophisticated storytellers — I don’t think there’s a lot of sophistication in Snapchat,” said Kevin Iwashina, the founder and CEO of Preferred Content. (A fifth jury member, Millennium Films head Mark Gill, was unable to participate in the panel.)
But that doesn’t mean sophistication can’t play well — and make money — in a mobile-oriented world seeking video content.
Waxman used a journalism analogy that it is often harder to write short than write long. As short-form content is likely to find itself in more demand through new forms of distribution — thanks to the no-TV generation — talented short filmmakers who know how to get the most out of five minutes could be poised to profit.
Waxman mentioned YouTube push into producing original series, which didn’t exist a few years ago.
“There’s a lot more places for short filmmakers to thrive,” Waxman said.