July 12, 2010

The Short Film is Dead: Time for the Emerging Filmmaker to Get a New Calling Card

This is a guest post by Mike Jones, Lecturer in Screen Studies at the Australian Film Television and Radio School.

Filmmaking is full of traditions. These traditions are the "way things are done," they are what is "expected," they are "industry standard," they are "default" and "accepted." This is all fine and dandy until we recognise the innate implication of such Traditions is to imply Right and Wrong - that there is a correct way to do things and deviations are "incorrect," not "acceptable" or, worse still, not "professional."

These traditions manifest themselves in all manner of guises - creative, technical, business, logistic. I have written previously about how the tools of filmmaking (particularly software) possess internal philosophies that enforce traditions - traditions which may or may not be a good fit for your own creative processes. In a similar light, there occurs to me to be another long-standing and entrenched tradition (one that may not be serving emerging and indie filmmakers as it should) that needs to be questioned. That is the significance of the Short Film.

There are two ways of looking at how a Short Film serves the emerging and aspiring filmmaker. The first is as a Learning Exercise, the second is as a Calling Card. The short film seeks to be a learning experience by providing a paradigm for engagement in film production within viable financial and resource constrains. Simply put, the short film allows you to gain experience without the overhead. Similarly, as a calling card the short film aims to serve as a demonstration of the filmmaker's abilities. It has the express purpose of convincing financiers and funding bodies of the filmmaker’s worthiness of trust to make a longer project. The theory is that a good short film is a large flag to wave in the air saying “this is what I can do in 10 minutes of screen time and no money, just imagine what I could do with 100 minutes and a ton of cash!”

Learning Experience and Calling Card. This is what short films are for.... and at the start of the second decade of the 21st century, the short film fails pretty dismally at both.

Learning Experience

The short film fails as a Learning Exercise because making a short film only really teaches you about making short films. The relevance of short film structures, patterns and conventions to feature and long-form drama are tenuous at best. A perusal of the award winning shorts from major festivals around the world in any given recent year will prove this point. Interesting, poetic, introspective, technically accomplished they may all be, but their connection aesthetically or narratively to longer forms is decidedly absent. And this is only right and proper. A good short Should Not be simply a feature film shoved into a small space. That's a recipe for disaster. Slice-of-life, the punch-line joke and the microcosm observation are perfectly fitting structures for short films but they almost never work viably outside of the short-film format.

Whilst you personally may gain experience working with a crew, cast and technology, you wont be exercising, testing or tangibly expanding your understanding of those elements of story, character, theme, myth and metaphor that the short film - simply by its duration - does not wholly embody. Moreover, since there is no effective business model for short films - no audience and no market outside of self-indulgent short-film festivals populated almost entirely of other aspiring filmmakers - making a short film crucially doesn't teach you about Audiences. Your short won't prompt you to ask who your audience is, what they expect, what they want, how they engage, what excites and challenges them, how they will respond, what feeling-states they are seeking?

The deeper irony is that film schools the world over make short films as the fundamental learning experience and yet spend near 100% of their class time discussing and analysing Feature films. This approach seems to me much like going to culinary school, studying week after week how to make 3-course fine dining and then having to make a sandwich as a final project. A great sandwich is no doubt a work of art but it really proves nothing about competence in 3-course gastronomy.

I should point out here, for the record, that a large part of my own career is based in film schools and universities. I am, above all else, a teacher and I believe passionately in what Film School offers. If I want to build bridges I have to study bridge building. If I want to build films I have study cinema. Film School is a powerful means to do that.

BUT.... And there are two Big BUTS.... First, not all film schools are "good" and second is that to become "good" film schools need to be consistently and persistently challenged to evolve and adapt and live up to noble intention. So here I challenge the short film paradigm film school is predicated upon as a learning experience. ((If you want to read more on my thoughts on film school you may want to check out some of the articles I have written on this topic: Leading or Following - Reconsidering Film School, Holistic Thinking - Integrated Making: a manifesto, Filmschool Technology, and Film education and the culture of editors.))

There is an assumption I'm making with this argument against the viability and usefulness of the short film as a learning tool that should be pointed out. The assumption is that the intention of a short is to learn about, and prove competence in, making other longer forms of cinema (TV drama and features). It’s possible this isn't the case for everyone. There may be limited opportunity for a financial career in it but you may be very happy making short films as a primary mode of artistic expression. Or else we may look to advertising which certainly thrives on short-form narrative. But if you dared to show your 10 minute dramatic short to an advertising company they’d laugh you out of the room - tell your story in 26 seconds or forget about it, mate! So here again, even in the microcosm of advertising, making short narrative films really doesn't help you learn what you need to know.

Calling Card

This brings us to the other side of the coin; the short film as career Calling Card.

No matter how cool your short film is, it will largely fail to serve you if your intention is to make bigger, longer dramatic works. Short films fail because they do not demonstrate the crucial things that fill financiers with confidence. A short film, regardless of how "good" it is, can’t effectively demonstrate you can sustain character arcs and it doesn't show you understand narrative structure. A short film doesn't prove you know how to develop story over time or construct consistent dramatic tension and release. A short film doesn’t demonstrate you understand audiences and genre and know how to attract an audience. Without these things there is no real evidence you could effectively make an viable feature or long-form drama.

Since the birth of modern film-schools (and the self-taught DIY culture of indie filmmakers that grew up very much in parallel to them) the traditional established, accepted and entrenched process for emerging filmmakers was to make a Short as a calling card to validate your abilities to make a Feature or TV drama. It worked. For many years it worked. But its viability is wearing off. In 2010 the viable currency of the short film is dying. Either as Learning Experience or Calling Card the Short Film fails to satisfy.

Of course, this begs the question... Is there something better?

What’s an indie filmmaker to do? Lacking, as they do, time and resources to make a feature or a TV pilot? The answer is, and should be, staring us all in the face - the Web series.

Web Series

I would contest that the emerging filmmaker learning experience and calling card of the future (if not the now) is the Webisodic Drama. Where producers, financiers, funding bodies may currently ask to see your short and what festivals it’s been in, they will soon (and already are) asking “Where’s your webseries site and how much traffic do you get?”

The advantages of the web series as both Learning Tool and Calling Card for emerging filmmakers are myriad and obvious.

  1. The web series is resource-viable. It arguably takes no more money, technology or logistics to make an episodic online series than it does to make a short film.
  2. The web series can freely and easilly find a far larger international audience than a short film on the festival circuit ever could. In doing so the web series both teaches and proves audience engagement and the ability of the filmmaker to create for, gather, keep and motivate viewers.
  3. The web series can viably demonstrate the filmmmaker understands Character Arc and Story Structure. Whilst webisodes are generally short, the nature of their construct, spacing and structure connects very well to both feature film narrative turning points and long-form drama act-breaks, episodes and seasons. The web series may be small scale but the core structure is tangibly applicable and demonstrable, unlike most short films which (like a sandwich to a 3 course dinner) offer little direct overlap.
  4. The web series is innately a 360 approach where social-media and online ecologies are part and parcel of what a web series is. Where short and feature film projects the world over are being asked to add-on 360 elements (websites, trailers, games etc), the web series is integrated tightly to this model from the get-go.

Whether you are a film school student trying to work out what to make as a major project or a DIY indie looking for a project to launch yourself, the objectives are the same - to learn by experience and to build for yourself a kind of cinematic Proof of Age Card. It’s here that I feel eternally frustrated seeing talented aspiring filmmakers pouring huge amounts of effort and resources into glossy, story-less, low-stakes, short films with theatrical prints for self-indulgent film festivals that nobody watches. As with many long-entrenched elements of filmmaking, the tradition of the short film needs to be let go of and seen as the antiquated anomaly it is; a tool of a bygone era. A good short film can be great work of art but emerging and aspiring filmmakers need much more than a short work of art to build a career. The short-format, online, episodic webseries is the most dynamic, audience-driven, self-publicising, learning vehicle indie filmmakers (in film school or not) have ever had access to.

I suspect I'm preaching to the converted in this forum, or perhaps helping push forward those who were sitting the fence with niggling doubts, but my bigger objective is to change the culture of film schools. I look forward to the day when at the end of a semester major film schools across the world are pushing the go-live button on dynamic, dramatic, narrative structured, engaging, audience driven, genre inspired, socially networked, episodic cliff-hanging drama series... Rather than sending a collection of tapes and film-reels off in the mail to festivals no one will see or care about.

Time to forge a new tradition and file the old short-film one in the attic.


Mike Jones (@mikejonesnet) has diverse backgrounds in screen production, post-production and writing. Along with serving as script editor and screenwriter he has penned more than 200 essays, articles, and reviews on the screen-media industries along with three books for students of screen media. When he’s not teaching or writing about cinema he is playing computer games and is Lecturer in Screen Studies at the Australian Film TV and Radio School.

Creative Commons-licensed images from flickr users work the angles, ventana, and pinprick, respectively.


Your Comment

73 Comments

As a film student myself, I agree with your points in many ways. One additional point, short films help weed out the snowflake filmmakers that only want to make films because it somehow raises social status, not for the love of film.

July 12, 2010

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Great post!

The biggest issue facing most aspiring web series creators is probably finding on-screen talent. In the microbudget student/indie world, it's much easier to get quality actors to work for free/cheap on a stand-alone 12 minute short than for an open-ended episodic project.

July 12, 2010

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Thats a really valid point,, Alex in regard to actor commitment to long form projects. But I suspect over time just as with filmmakers, actors will start to realize the greater 'showreel' potential of a persistent role in webseries as a way to promote and 'sell' themselves. In time I can see casting and talent agents using the websieres as a calling card for actors. But, you're right that at the moment getting commitment from actors for an ongoing series is harder. It may be a consideration that influences the writing - perhaps either keeping cast focused on just 1 or 2 characters with lost of solo scenes (as this would be appealing to an actor through garnering them lots of screen time for show-reel moments) or going the other way - using a much looser cast/character structure where characters come and go and so do not have to commit for large stretches of time.

Mikej

July 12, 2010

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Great shout. I hate short films, I hate making them, I hate watching them and yet this is what I'm constantly being badgered into producing in order to prove that I'm more than just a music video director. I'm actually directing a one hour pilot for a tv show at the moment, all shot low budget, on 5Ds, with a total production budget of just over $7,000 dollars (for an hour's worth of drama!!!!!!). I'm learning so much more on this shoot than I have on any short film and it's mainly because of the reasons you outlined in the article. I didn't go to film school, but this has been another brilliant educational project for me, along with the first time I used a PD150 and learnt FCP1. Web drama is cheap to produce and you don't have moronic tv commissioners making a mess of everything. Bring it on.

July 13, 2010

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These are entirely different strategic models to compare and serve entirely different purposes in shaping ones professional career as a content creator.

A great deal of time and attention and preparation can and should be invested into both--however financing, production value and staying power are key essential ingredients to consider when producing a web series that will showcase your talents and convince potential financiers you're trustworthy with their MONEY. I've seen some great webseries with little or no production value or cinematic Artistic merit--they will not convince anyone to throw even 1/2 a million at the filmmaker to see if it sticks.

On the other hand, a short film can be made to demonstrate the ability to convey production value and cinematic excellence over the course of a weekend--especially from those lacking funds with a few tricks up their sleeves and a few favors to call in. If you're headed to Hollywood you might want to consider the short film over the web series for this very reason--unless your pockets are deep and/or you have access and means to what others must pay for.

[Miles Maker is a story author, auteur and thought leader among the new creative class whose dynamic media ventures converge mobile, social and real-time interactions @milesmaker on Twitter. He is the Group Director @IndieClubNYC, the Executive Producer @directingActors, a Raindance New York affiliate and the Producer of Marketing & Distribution @SpareChangeFilm]

July 13, 2010

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> i agree to sell the short film as a waste of time and effort in my opinion is putting the cart before the horse. I have shot 4 short films each time i write the script and increase the length. My film at this time will be approx. 20 to 25 minutes..no not a feature but a serious short. Sure i could fluff it up with a few more car crashes, a murder or two. I thought about that, but why, the story will be done in the length of time i set forth in the script. Next project 60 minutes to 80 minutes..i choose to grow by steps rather than jumping in with a series and not have any idea which direction the shore is. I respect the opinion but disagree with the idea put forth. One said they hate short films..not me, it teaches tight film making lighting audio and of course using your camera. I don't view a short as a calling card but a dues card. I hope my calling card will be a low budget feature where i learned the skills of each crew member because at one point in filming i did that job.

July 17, 2010

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james owen

Thanks Mike. I agree wholeheartedly much with your points about short films as a learning experience. Shorts are a great way to learn about the process of taking something from an idea through filming to presentation. There comes a time, however, where you are simply learning how to make better short films and not much else. It’s one thing to make shorts as a passtime but if you are truly dedicated to your craft I think you need to move on as soon as you get a grasp on how to make the whole process work.
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Our web series has so far been the most creatively and logistically demanding project I have ever attempted.
-Planning story and character arc’s
-Juggling cast and crew commitments
-Distribution scheduling
-Attempting to make it all not suck

The whole experience is nerve-wracking, time demanding and absolutely rewarding. It is a big commitment and very scary, but unless you place yourself in a position to fail, you will never learn anything. I got comfortable with the short films I was making, but this is a learning experience. Not to mention routine conversations I have with my producing partner about small things like who our audience is and how do we cater to them?

Anyway, thanks for the article. It should inspire and challenge anyone who is serious about pursuing their craft even if it passes through most hobbyists and short film aficionados.

July 13, 2010

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A very good post, Mike. I agree with a good 90% of it, and I'm specifically a short filmmaker. You're totally right, and I've heard it many times before: The short film as calling card film is a dead convention. Long live the web series! And the short film as exercise...well, of course it's an exercise, but not if you want to spend your life writing feature-length scripts (love your culinary school metaphor by the way!)

But I also think the short film has grown into something more, if the short filmmaker allows it - it's own genre. There's an art and craft to making a short film that is fundamentally different from writing a feature-length script or putting together an hour and 30 minutes of character development and plot points. Plus, if done well, short films have a massive potential to reach massive amounts of viewers and rack up the hits on Vimeo and other sites.

The rub? Short film doesn't pay (gotta love that fact.) The problem here is, like you mentioned, people are still erroneously thinking that their short film will open up the doors to make their big feature-film debut as a director and become the next big thing. Filmmakers who make short films should do so only because they have something to say that can only be said in a short span of time.

July 13, 2010

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Alex and Mike,

I couldn't disagree more with your point on finding talent. That's exactly the kind of old thinking that this article is addressing.

Since moving to the web world, I've had the pleasure of working on projects with Illeana Douglas, Milo Ventimiglia, Justine Bateman, Keanu Reeves, Shannen Doherty, Jeff Goldblum, and several notable others. Other known actors who have been involved with web series I haven't personally worked on include Rosario Dawson, Lisa Kudrow, Megan Mullally, Henry Winkler, David Wain, William Shatner, Seth Green, Robert Forster, several well known soap actors, Armin Shimmerman, Zoe Bell, Michael Ironside, Rob Corddry, Zach Galafinakis, Wil Wheaton, Michael Cera, Courteney Cox, and Teri Hatcher (among many others).

Most of these actors are simply not interested in doing low budget indie shorts. They will, however, work for scale or discounted rates on web projects because those have a much higher chance of having a real audience impact.

Additionally, there is a whole class of excellent actors making a name for themselves through web related projects. Craig Frank, Felicia Day, Taryn Southern, Tony Janning, Doug Sarine, Taryn O'Neill, and a whole list of others - most of whom I've had the pleasure to work with - not only bring talent to a project, but they bring something else: an established and dedicated online fan base. Whereas in the old model you could only count on audience draw for the "names" you managed to cast, you can now gain exposure with a very sizable audience (Felicia Day has over 1.7 million Twitter followers) using talent that mainstream audiences are largely unfamiliar with.

The web is not perfect; there are many things that still need to be resolved to make it a fluidly functioning arm of the industry. But the opportunity for independent filmmakers VASTLY outweighs the old, broken fest model. Short films are dead, this I agree with. But I'll take it a step further and include independent features as well. The 90's are over, film festivals don't care about the little guy and distribution deals are few and far between (there were only 10 at this years' Sundance, and my understanding is that 8-9 of those were actually in place before the festival). If you have a budget of less than $5M, you're simply better off making something for the web. You'll attract better talent, gain wider recognition to boost your career, and *gasp* best of all, (millions of) people will actually see your work.

Sure, you won't make any money, but your short film or micro-budget feature wasn't going to, either.

Jeff Koenig

July 13, 2010

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To clarify, my comment was basically addressed to Alex, with Mike included only to say that what you outline is already happening (actors using the web to boost their reels). I should have been more specific and differentiated better. As I said on Twitter, Mike, this is a great article.

Casting directors and agents have en masse about faced and now recommend their up and coming talent look for web projects. I've worked with Illeana Douglas, once hailed and "the queen of indie film", on three web series, one of which (Easy to Assemble) she created, writes, and produces.

The shift has already happened.

-Jeff

July 13, 2010

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The most important point I got from this article was the internet. It had been seen for decades, especially in the 90's, that the film festival was the answer to breaking into the business. This has drastically changed. A filmmaker could show his film at a local festival and get, maybe, around 100 people to see it, or they can show segments or a short or an entire feature online and get thousands of people to see it.

Now I would propose neither short or webisode as the answer. Instead I would say the answer lies in the "Visual Pitch". Then when the pitch gains a massive following you have the option of webisode, short of feature. I hope to develop, soon, my first official visual pitch soon. And concept of the visual pitch isn't what anyone thinks it is. Best definition I can come up with is to watch "Panic Attack" on youtube.

July 13, 2010

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I was at a conference 5 years ago where director Peter Greenaway stood up and declared that the feature film was dead. He believed that we'd all be watching 'interactive CD ROM movies.' Good call, Pete.

I'm all for exploring different mediums and join you in celebrating the current success of web series. What a fun way to tell a story! But why does ushering in the new always have to come along with a denouncement of the old? There's a time and a place (and a budget) for everything.

July 13, 2010

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Totally disagree! The short is becoming a more vital art form, with the need for interstitial programming, cell phone content, etc. The short film is an incredible thing, that has flourished, and when maximized, can create a beneficial revenue stream. Artists like Bill Plympton, Don Hertzfeld, etc, have continued to make money via their short films.

While, you could say, yes, they are big names, they started out as unknown, and did it in a time when filmmakers did not have this wonderful internet technology. Charging for downloads of shorts, collaborating with other short filmmakers to create independent exhibitions, are all viable options, they won't make you millions, but you'll be able to create a respectable revenue stream, until you get the chance to make a feature.

Also, there are distribs who have seen fairly successful theatrical and DVD shorts packages (Boy's Life series, Wolfe's girls shorts collections, etc, Magnolia's Oscar shorts packages, etc.)

Also, an enterprising filmmaker with the moxie to approach an indie distrib. to prefeature there short in front of a theatrical release feature, could generate some much needed press for their film, not to mention add butts to the seats of an indie feature that could use the extra opening weekend lift.

July 13, 2010

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Ryan Bruce Levey

So, wait, are we arguing format, or distribution? I don't think anywhere in the article Mike implies people will stop filming content with run times between 10 and 90 minutes.

It's the way you market and distribute the finished product that's changing. The web is simply a MUCH better distribution platform for any non-theatrical, non-broadcast release than outdated methods (film festivals, four walling, etc.). And quite frankly a much better use of your production money.

Unless you actually enjoy spending thousands of dollars and months/years of your life making something only a handful of people will see.

Don't confuse the death of a distribution model with the death of a format.

-Jeff

July 13, 2010

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And yet here we are again, everybody asking each other to 'work for free'. Years and years of this may be required OUTSIDE of paying work, as the reels of each DO NOT necessarily overlap -- my corporate clients could give a flip about the dramatic feature I shot last year, and my indy clients don't want to see my corporate reel or client list whatsoever -- they just want to look at features I've shot or edited.

But yes... this is still a great point that you cite, Mike. I have YET to get any paying work whatsoever from a short, although I did get some (largely self-referential) congratulatory statements from OTHER filmmakers -- who were not necessarily MY intended audience, either. So yeah, I learned fast... I'll still help friends with shorts, but only if I can limit my exposure... if only because everybody's still working for free on those, and "it don't pay the rent"...

I've even taken to raising the bar somewhat and reverving my time for projects which I feel have potential of a feature-length idea in the making... so that we're making more of a trailer for a feature than a short.

July 13, 2010

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Sean Irish

Question of Format: With appropriate management of resources... say, shooting your feature as if it were a series of 9 ten-minutes shorts on location... and then calling in every favor anyone has ever owed you... you CAN shoot your feature length film for about 3-5 times the cost of a decent 'shorts' budget.

That said, what is stopping any of us from doing this?

I know it's possible because I've done it several times now, and I mention it not to rub it in anyone's face but merely to encourage others to TRY their hand at long form.

Whatever you choose to do with longform, get help with your script... preferably from someone you know whose work and opinion you trust. Otherwise you're probably wasting your time AND your budget, and that doesn't get your project completed, nor will it be as good as it could be if you don't have a solid script to shoot from.

July 13, 2010

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Sean Irish

> Hi Sean, I am planning on organizing a feature-length film to be shot over the four seasons in my Canadian province and will approach and encourage crew members (who owe me big favors from my work on their short projects) that such a manner of shooting my film is very practical and less stressful. Regarding script help I am acquainted with an experienced screenwriter who has sold two scripts (unproduced) to Paramount and I trust his input in order to make my script a solid foundation.

July 14, 2010

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> I meant to explain that over the four seasons I will shoot over two weekends per season as if I am making a short film per season as totaling four short films.

July 14, 2010

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This debate is interesting from the perspective of a screenwriter, which I am. For as long as I've known, a short film script hasn't been a viable example of a screenwriter's work. Primarily film is a director's medium and so for the screenwriter, it's the fact that their short script has a chance to be made and that relationships are formed along the way that makes the short film an attractive opportunity for the screenwriter. In short, the director receives the recognition for the short film and no producer/commissioner/development executive/script editor would see a short film script as the basis for hiring a writer for a longer piece of work: TV drama and/or feature film. Obviously, there are some expections. The only one I can think of is Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) whose agent took him on after a 10 minute film (but he did direct it).

My point here is that, it seems that filmmaking world is catching up. I agree with Mike that as a storyteller it is important to be able to demonstrate one's skills in conveying a narrative and character arcs over an extended period of time. This is how screenwriters have had to prove their worth for a while now.

But I don't agree that the short film is dead. Jeff, I have to disagree with you too; I think Mike is talking about the format as much as the distribution model. After all, the short film cannot demonstrate a longer form of storytelling. The narrative is a restricted form (if you look at it in terms of breadth) and so as a dramatist, one isn't able to show off their skills as much as through a feature film/web series/television drama.

The main reason I disagree is the same reason why I agree with Jess. Just because there is a new format/distribution model out there, this doesn't mean we have to disregard the short film. After all, have short stories stopped selling and/or attracting new talent just because we have novels? At the end of the day, we have to learn how to write a sentence before we can write that tome.

I have known people whose careers have started because of a short story or a short film. The fact is that these short films have fallen in the right hands at the right time. It can be that simple.

Mike, with regards to the web series and proving that you can reach a large audience - I'm not sure if that responsibility rests largely on the filmmaker. After all, there's the screenplay and the producer's ability to bring a pool of talent together that needs to be taken into account. Yes, a web series is a great way to gain exposure on a limitless scale (that the web offers) - but fundamentally, whether it is via a short film, television drama, feature film or web series - surely the producer would simply be interested in knowing whether the flmmaker can engage an audience; create drama/tension/surprise/emotions. Fundamentally, does a filmmaker understand the importance of story?

If however, you are looking at the filmmaker as a multihyphenate, then this is a different discussion. A filmmaker must also be a savvy businessman.

To conclude, I've never really been a big fan of short films. The great ones stand out because they understand the importance of story. Not many fimmakers get that. From what I've seen over the last couple of decades, short films are about being clever or satisfying some artistic integrity. Music video directors can move into feature films (obviously) but the best ones have a great script at the heart of their projects. My favourite directors have always had some theatrical background or journalistic interest. Whilst I absolutely love Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry; you just have to look at the films they have shot with others' scripts compared to theirs.

So when the filmmaker understands the importance of the story, I don't think it matters which format one uses; an audience will flock nonetheless. People love story. They'll sit in a room and listen to one person and they'll search the web for it. With regards to distribution, the web and smart phone technology has opened the doors to entreneurial thinking. Again, this is another issue ...

July 14, 2010

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DreamsGrafter

Good article. I'm a film maker of over 14 years now, i've made many short films and was under the impression the only way to prove you can make a feature is to make a feature.

I started a feature that was too ambitious so i stopped it. I learn a lot from that alone, good experience so it wasn't a waste.
A friend of mine is about to wrap a no budget feature he's been working on for a few years, he's learnt so much from it but was determined to finish it no matter how bad it is when he finishes it. It's now over 2 hours long, so he has long nights of editing and cutting scenes ahead of him. He's hoping by making that feature with no money, he can say "Look i made a feature, i know it's not easy, give me some money and i can make a better feature".

How would a web series fair against a feature shot with no budget and free talent in terms of a calling card?

July 14, 2010

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> Steve,

That depends entirely on the webseries you make. The format and distribution have changed, but the old requirements of quality in story, performance, editing, production value - those still exist. Using the web as a distribution channel isn't a carte blanche to lower the bar on production quality.

I don't say this assuming you would make something that would suck just because it's a web series and not a film, I point it out to demonstrate that if you're trying to make a calling card that helps your career, every effort needs to be made to make the best work you can, regardless of where it will be shown.

All a web series does is give you a direct line to an audience significantly larger than even a limited release theatrical run, and certainly larger than the film fest circuit. The best web series garner between 5 and 50+ million views. For an independently produced work, this is unheard of territory.

However, the web isn't magic. Audiences don't flock to your videos just because you uploaded them. You still need to have a great project, solid marketing, and a tremendous amount of determination to succeed.

However, if you do succeed, you can bet the people whose attention your trying to grab will notice.

-Jeff

July 14, 2010

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> Thanks for the reply Jeff.

My Youtube videos are totalling nearly 7 million views now, but it's taken 4 years. I feel, like others have said it would be harder to gather the actors for a web series than it would for even a feature with little/no money at least here in the UK.

So if i made a feature with passable acting, decent story, directing & editing & uploaded it to youtube or Vimeo and began putting word out, would that be a good move or in your opinion, should i forget the feature & think web series from day one.

I ask this because ultimately, i feel i have the talent & experience to make a feature and i need to prove that to people who matter. I'm planning on a feature, but don't want to waste my time taking the wrong path.

July 14, 2010

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It's seems I get to this a bit late... well... there's never 'too late'.

This article makes me think over about my very own ideas about films and film-making. I love having my mindset put to test.

I have learnt a great deal while making my shortfilm. It is structured as an entertained film and it follows the guidelines of classic dramatic scriptwriting used in featured films. It's true that some shortfilms go different ways and don't allow the concepts of character arc, growing tension and dramatic structure, but I may say, because of my own experience and point of view, that some of them are really good ways of preparing yourself to do a feature film... Not necessarily with the resource of the *punch line joke... or let's just call it *The punch line... which is also used in some feature films that I particularly don't like and don't even consider as good (Such as Christopher Nolan's 'The Prestige', in which you found out about EVERYTHING in the end).

I'm a Hitchcock Gal'... I believe in building suspense by letting the audience know what's about... and also by getting a very deep insight of the characters.

About the calling card... Well, being honest with you, until I could film *EL CALL (That's the name of my shortfilm), I really didn't feel I did anything that portrayed my way of film-making, my own very personal way of seeing things. How do I see the world as a film-maker, as a human being, as a Latin-American female working in a callcenter?
It's my thesis and my calling card. I'm this... and this is me.

I don't think shortfilms are dead, but I do believe we should explore more posibilites while studying film-making. I love the idea of the webseries... We did a tv pilot during our studies, a documentary, and we worked during a short period of time in the scriptwriting of a feature film... But I must conclude by saying that feature films are NOT to be approached without experience or respect.

mmm... Final thought... Jim Jarmush made up his feature films of shortfilms... as many directors that followed him. Guess it's a tough 'bug' to kill.

Cheers and thanks for the article, I really enjoyed it!

July 14, 2010

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Thanks for all the great comments. Much of Mike's reasoning agrees with my experiences, and when setting out to make The West Side, we were embarking on a web series specifically because I'd had some shorts play at "self-indulgent film festivals that nobody watches." I even offered this as a reason in our profile in Filmmaker Magazine. However, that was three years ago -- I have been surprised (and disappointed) at the lack of good, independent web series since then. It seems the web series market is largely focused on branded entertainment and non-fiction, pseudo reality TV type stuff. I too look forward to the day when filmmakers "are pushing the go-live button on dynamic, dramatic, narrative structured, engaging, audience driven, genre inspired, socially networked, episodic cliff-hanging drama series…" in film schools or not!

July 15, 2010

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

not completely dead. people are still getting jobs from short films..... http://www.slashfilm.com/2010/07/16/sci-fi-short-the-raven-lands-at-univ...

I guess you just cant guarantee it. but then again, you cant really guarantee anything in this business....

July 18, 2010

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Jeff

This is so off the mark, it's ridiculous... if anything, indie features are totally dead. The reason is that festivals cater almost exclusively now to filmmakers who are somehow connected to the festival... or filmmakers who can afford a publicist. The films are hardly ever suitable for a wider audience anymore and so the distribution, sponsorship, and an audience outside of other filmmakers has totally dried up. Like I said on the blog that linked to this article, when is the last time an indie feature reached a wide audience? Primer? That was SIX YEARS AGO... this entire digital revolution later (the HVX200 was released around 2005 if I'm not mistaken) and we don't have any good NARRATIVE indie features to show for it. None on the level of the stuff shot on film prior to the digital revolution... nothing on the level of Following, Pi, Primer, Clerks... maybe Blair Witch with Paranormal Activity, but even that was rejected by most festivals. It took HOLLYWOOD to know that 'Hey, this could actually be ENTERTAINING to an audience." Festivals can't figure it out anymore unless they're told. The major issue is that if you make something as good as 'The Godfather', if you don't have the connections or a publicist, it now has a fat chance of getting into a festival. Either that or there simply aren't any good indies being made anymore, it's hard to figure it out without access to those thousands of rejected films.

MEANWHILE, you write this article at a time when NOW, MORE THAN EVER, STUDIOS... STUDIOS! are buying up short film rights to make or develop features out of them. What's crazy isn't that short films are no longer calling cards, but they're now serving the purpose of calling card AND your first script. As a matter of fact, I think the same day you put this article up, Mark Wahlberg bought up the rights to the internet phenom short film 'The Raven'. Prior to that Raimi bought up 'Panic Attack'. Del Toro is developing something from A THREE MINUTE FILM called 'Mama'. The thing they all have in common is they demonstrate that the filmmaker can achieve the look and feel of a multimillion dollar film or something you'd see at the local cinema, they're entertaining (and proven, through their online popularity). The thing I think when I watch any of these, or the shorts of Neill Blomkamp is that if I had a billion dollars, I'd give these people a few million to make a film. The fact that you can run the marathon of shooting a feature means absolutely nothing unless it's good. And the difference between a career-launching short and a career-launching feature film is that a career-launching short is now much easier to get out there... you don't even need festivals... just an internet connection. With a feature, it's ok if it's black-and-white (Following), grainy (Pi, Clerks), or shot on video (pick one) as long as there's a great story there... and 99.9% of the time (actually 100%) they should be comedy, horror, or science fiction... but with a short, not only does it need to be genre, it needs to look and feel like it was shot for about 1,000 times the budget. Hate to say it, but 'slick' is the word... this is all assuming you'd like to make a living making movies.

And to say that shorts cannot translate to features? Short films and short stories that feature some nugget of an idea or concept that warrants further exploration are often much easier to successfully translate into a feature film than is a novel or some longer form content. Again, you say this during a time when we have probably one of the greatest examples of a short becoming a feature ever - 'Alive in Jo'burg became 'District 9'. Just to cite another example, 'Coffee and Cigarettes became P.T. Anderson's 'Sydney' (aka 'Hard Eight'.)

What's funny is that this article was posted at a time when we have Variety and Hollywood Reporter articles proclaiming that Hollywood has 'shorts' fever. I hate to say it, but it points to the growing disconnect between the realities of the business versus the indie world. Of course, indie hipsters will say, "That's a good thing, we wear our rebellion on our sleeve..." B.S. That's a cop-out for not committing to learning the craft of storytelling and directing actors. "Inception" just came out... from a guy who first made a grainy, black-and-white film for $8,000 that was perfectly written, acted, and directed. Show me more of these types of films coming from the currently tech (not just the cameras, COUGH-red, but the distribution technology? who gives a crap!) and navel obsessed indie world and I'll believe making an expertly crafted genre short film is now a dead end towards getting a career.

July 19, 2010

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HenryK

This is really a perspective from someone who writes ESSAYS. It's apparent that you don't realize that film schools which teach writing for film usually incorporate ALL FORMATS. A snob can't give a real perspective until that snob has been through the wringer of film school and the projects that have to be done in order to hone craft. I agree with the guy above me, this is bullsh*t. If you don't walk the walk.....

July 20, 2010

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Jim

Those who actually do things, also work in the field, one which you don't clearly understand. I see this is just another blog.

July 20, 2010

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Jim

I hope people can see Mike's post as a deliberately provocative attempt to get people thinking about alternatives to short films, instead of as an absolute statement that no one should ever make a short film ever again.

Henry, great point about shorts frequently being adapted into features these days. But when you bring up "assuming you’d like to make a living making movies," that got me thinking. The short film has never really had a business model other than to get made into a feature. Certain auteurs like Don Hertzfeldt have made a living doing it, yes, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with hoping to make a short into a feature, but that's kind of like launching a dot-com startup with the hopes of one day getting acquired by Google or Microsoft. Does it happen? Yes. Do a lot of people fail because their business model relies on eventual acquisition/funding by someone else? Definitely.

A web series to me (or at least the promise of the web series -- whether or not it's actually been happening to date is another matter) should offer more self-sustainable options than a short film, wherein building an audience online could help you "make a living making movies," as it were. It could be ad-supported, it could be brand-integrated, it could be a paid subscription, it could be "freemium"... many of these options weren't very mature when we released our web series in 2007, but I think what Mike is getting at is there are a lot of possibilities for web series that aren't being fully exploited by filmmakers.

July 20, 2010

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

> You don't knock people for doing one thing to support something else. There's room for it all. His style of writing is meant to sound like his word is the only word worth listening to. Instead of being against something, try being FOR whatever it is you like to do. I thought it was only Americans that lacked tact, Australians do too.

July 21, 2010

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Donna

Australia has angry film wannabees who can't take the fact that others are doing actual movies. Now we know what happens to those who fail at actually making films, they become essayists! Keep your Kangaroos, Cap'n. The only thing that's dead is your blog, if you can even call this that being substandard viewpoint from an embittered, failed film person. There is no value in what he is saying as it is like demanding you should be able to drive without ever having driven a car. Film studies people are such bitter wanks. lol. He critiques as if he knows what he's saying and yet it all boils down to HE HAS NOT DONE ANYTHING to enable him to speak as an erudite on the subject. Essays? roflmbao

July 21, 2010

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Errol

http://www.slashfilm.com/2010/07/16/sci-fi-short-the-raven-lands-at-univ...

One example of how this guy is just off. This blogger seems to not know much about films. Couch potatoes say no to film schools? Funny. Actually, no..... irrelevant.

July 21, 2010

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Donna

Australians are rude and nasty types who don't know anything about the industry maybe cause they are too busy being drunk and fucking. Film Studies majors are usually the BITCHY and BITTER kids who just TALK. You can always tell production types because they are the ones who actually DO it. Loser article from a loser guy with loser career. If Rex Reed had donated sperm, this blogger would have emerged........

July 21, 2010

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Salvatore

I gotta say Im stunned at how the first page of comments on this article are wonderfully thoughtful, considered, articulate and idea-laden posts both for and against the premise.... and then you get the second page of comments and everything slides into a strange diatribe of vitriol. Im not sure what happened between page 1 and page 2...?

For the record ive been a professional editor and filmmaker for 15 years (in both the US and Australia). I'd like to think my thoughts are little more grounded than the 'wannabe film studies major' I seem to have been taken for on Comment Page 2.

But, that said, the internet is what the internet is and its anonymity brings out the worst of of our comment-trolling nature.

I hope that most readers take the post in the spirit it is intended - a debate kick-starter that questions the established pattern, asks if there might be something better, and puts forward a case as to why the webseries might be both a better calling-card and learning tool. Agree or disagree, argue your case but dont waste keystrokes on troll-behaviour and flaming. Its just a waste of everyone's oxygen.

Mike

July 21, 2010

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Aussies are racist and loud like Mel Gibson. All they seem to do is bitch and moan and make themselves look all puffy chested. There is nothing thoughtful about people who trash others for their own gain, but you seem to think you are brilliant here. I'm amused that a short led to a major studio pick up, can't see how your brilliant mind missed that. If you had to speak about your ideas, keep it about your ideas and not about slanting an industry. This is not even healthy debate. It's stepping on others who bothered to pick up the camera and do the things you seem scared to do yourself. Speaking on film, yet you are nothing but words. This article is not thought out well. The whole website, well, blog, is slanted by virtue of it's name and angle of approach, typical of Aussies who bitch about everything cause they swear they are the coolest when there's nothing really there. You're down under alright.

July 24, 2010

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Kelly

Alright guys,

There are plenty of ways you can disagree with Mike's post without getting into personal attacks, flaming, trolling, or whatever you want to call it. Insulting someone with "Australians are ____" generalizations doesn't exactly lend your own opinion much credence. Especially when you're attacking someone anonymously, without leaving your own last name or web site...

Furthermore, this is not Mike's web site. I'm running it from New York, not Australia. Sorry if you failed to realize that.

July 24, 2010

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Nice post, Koo. Happy to see you've got in on the site- thoughtful, provocative.

Thanks also for stepping in and adding some light to eh growing dark setting in on the commentary.
Egad.
-M

October 19, 2011

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BTW, Thanks for posting this as a guest post- great idea, and I for one am looking for more. Cheers, M.

October 19, 2011

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I think short films do have a place creatively... a one-off production will always be a way to show sides of a character that just don't fit within a movie or a series.

But effort vs payoff I would agree that the short film is dead.

Most of the time a short film can't be expanded into a good film, once the short is done it's enough to whet appetites but not enough to satisfy, and all the work that goes into promoting it would go further if there were a bunch of related shorts.

You could still make one of a series of web shorts more cinematic and visually intensive and submit it to festivals and then it would satisfy that itch and also promote the web series.

July 24, 2010

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Nope. I can't imagine a web series competing with a well made short film. Yes, those name actors are coming onboard, but they want to be seen and work is scarce. They aren't in it for the vision that a director has about a cable quality indie episodic on YouTube. Wrapping up an idea, getting to the climax, all in 10 to 40 minutes is still moviemaking. And you can blow your technical wad on one project, rather than linger through several "episodes", meaning the best of your auteuristic chops in one story. If webisodes are being seen, it's the internet itself, not the webisode. Frankly, I've seen alot of crap webisodes, meaning it's cheap, easy and anyone with a vidcam can pick up and start casting their friends for some great idea they had while they were stoned. Now, that happens in shorts, too, but there are short filmakers out there that pull it off with film, which no webisode can compete against. Webisodes = poor man's TV.

July 24, 2010

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Jay

agree with Mike almost 100%, as a working filmmaker/lecturer with an award winning feature and career as a writer, that the majority of shorts made by student filmmakers (I've watched thousands as a festival programmer) are down right awful calling cards. Yes there are exceptions like the few that get OPTIONED for a studio film and even fewer that get made (District 9 again). The European film financing model does encourage shorts to features from students of Euro and developing countries often very successfully.... but really guys how much easier and more fun to crash bang into a low to micro budget feature that should take you 12 days to shoot.... half the time I know of students of mine who have shot a 10 minutes film then sit in what would be development hell years after said short has been made?

August 9, 2010

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dan

> Partially agree, but I also think it was a bit too 'this is the word' type of writing. Also, it just drives me crazy that so much of the discussion on blogs like this and especially on fest, tech, and indie blogs completely ignores the great work that's actually doing its job getting people careers. It's like a dirty secret... ignore those amazing shorts, you can never make something like that. Uhhh, no, those are actually providing a road map to success. When a door opens (and shorts have always been a way in, my closest friend wrote and starred in a short that launched the director's career and was the main event in that book Short Films 101), the smart ones notice and try to get their foot in by rising to the occasion.

As far as web series, I did go do a web series and it's also a highly viable option but the production quality has to be very high. Mine was science fiction, I only got two episodes done and then I pitched it around as a feature length screenplay and the series itself was optioned and is in development for t.v. So heck yeah, I agree about web series, but they're not the only way in... it's features that, to me anyway, are nearly dead because either nobody is making great genre indies (comedy, sci-fi, horror), or the festivals are just ignoring them in favor of the usual 'twee' indie cinema.

August 4, 2010

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HenryK

>Seeing as how my post kicks off page 2 of the comments, I'd like to see a rebuttal of anything that I bring up. I feel that I made my arguments in a clear and concise way. And honestly, it's disingenuous of you to expect anything less than some agitation when you throw down the gauntlet at a time when short films are doing better than ever. The tone of the article incited this type of rebuttal... and I think it speaks to a growing frustration among those who feel they're being lied to within the indie, festival, and tech community. It feels like a 'cool' kids hipster filmmaker club where the quality of the filmmaking doesn't even matter. There's a great deal of cognitive dissonance that's become nauseating.

Besides this, I'm probably one of the very, very few people who made a web series for less than $500 that actually is going somewhere. And guess what... I shopped around FINISHED WEBISODES WITH THOUSANDS OF HITS to every company funding web series ventures and was rejected by every single one, including koldcast... KOLDCAST.tv! I did my web series with no marketing, no publicity, no write-ups, I just poured everything into making it entertaining and made it work for the youtube medium, leveraging the daily searches of ghosts, ufos, aliens, etc. so that if it was good enough, it'd eventually rise to the top in those searches. Getting back to those web series production companies and studios, they exhibit the same total inability to recognize what's entertaining and well made as festivals do. As soon as I said screw the small potatoes with no vision, wrote a script around the same character, and pitched it around, it wasn't one week before it got picked up to develop as a television show. So I know from whence I speak... but I'm still doing a short because I need to show what I can do, take it to the next level and, hopefully, gain some leverage in the web series deal.

I don't know what else to say except the one thing that should be encouraged is to TAKE YOUR TIME WITH YOUR SCRIPT AND YOUR ACTORS... ask yourself what's interesting or entertaining about every single moment in your project. Don't fall for your own pretty images, your own witticisms, or your own shortcomings... and make sure you gauge who you're taking advice from... many times, they don't really know any better and have never demonstrated otherwise. Challenge yourself to rise to the level of your heros and if you succeed, you WILL be noticed.

August 4, 2010

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HenryK

Well said HenryK. Where can I see your web series?

I agree with the backlash. When AFM, Cannes, MIPCOM, and the like, have a web series market, then you might have some credibility. I can shoot a short in 2 to 3 days. A web series takes considerably longer. They are not a fair comparison. A short, music video, or similar are still viable. I can show 2 minutes of this type of work and I have credibility. A web series does not have that clout yet.

And audience viewership metrics mean nothing, Rebecca Black's Friday video has 161 million views.

June 9, 2011

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i have panic attacks and my doctor reccomends relaxation exercise";~

October 5, 2010

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I found this post interesting because regardless if the short film is dead, or no longer useful or whatever, I believe quite strongly that the "mini-feature" is a new format that will in-fact become "very" popular in the coming years. This would be a feature length story told in roughly 60 minutes -or- told in two 60s minutes chunks. The reason I believe in this stems from the the rapidly changing way people will consume movies and video content. When a good chunk of the audience begins watching on say, tablets (iPad) for example, the min-feature just makes perfect sense. All it needs is some good marketing behind it. I think it's inevitable, actually and has real potential as an attractive new format. Additionally, you want to talk about how Short Films are outdated... Film Schools in general on a mass scale are failing to keep their students up to date on the real trends taking place in what is now becoming and will soon be a very volatile and changing industry. 10 years from now the motion picture landscape will not look as it does now. All kinds of new businesses will and already are emerging that have "coped a clue" on what's really going on out there and many of these new motion picture businesses will have nothing to do with the Big 6 Studios in Hollywood. I wonder how many film schools are telling this to their students?

November 17, 2010

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Mike,

Don't listen to these folks slamming you. Your post inspired me. I'm sure everyone has opposing stories to backup their views, but film - like many creative fields - lacks one single best way to "make it" to use a phrase from music.

I have been coming to the same conclusions as you as I watch what is happening out there, and there is a big difference between getting a short optioned and launching a sustainable career as a filmmaker.

The web series will appeal to those who:

1) Don't want to play the studio games and wouldn't know where to start.

2) Want to run and control their own business.

3) Don't have quite enough money or fame to pull off $25,000 indie films (Ed Burns)

4) Want to have regular, direct relationships with their audience.

5) Do not see the odds of being the next District 9 in their favor.

With the Internet converging soon with TV, popularly voted web series will show up right next to LOST and 24 level shows. Staying power and audience power will count more than that movie a few years back that did OK.

November 17, 2010

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I think the short film has a definite place. I am of the opinion that the short film is a showcase of potential capabilities, not so much of expanding on the short film into a full feature movie or tv series. I'm working on a short film that will be only that, a short film. It will hopefully show my capabilities of telling a story by means of finding base with the character, feeling the story, seeing growth, and finally, carrying a message to the audience. As artists we should...IMO...tell stories that either ask questions about our current situation (be it political, social, those little things that are actually just funny but we take it way to serious, or just some life wisdom) with the use of stories. Just a thought, my opinion for what it is worth. Thanks Mike, I did not know about the web-series option. Might investigate it at a later stage.

December 29, 2010

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Frants Combrink

Oh and the short film is a great way of saying things in a different way. Highlighting aspects of life in a different way. Like another said here, some things just can't be said any better in 180minutes as in 5 to 10 minutes.

Short films..yes another thing I just thought about...short films is a way of true artistic expression. It allows those who love story telling a means to tell those stories...as oppose to those who want to be Spielberg or Blomkamp.

December 29, 2010

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Frants Combrink

mike jones you know what they say, those who do, do. those who can't, teach - and in your case, write waffle like this. as for 'personal attacks', it's jones who excels at thinly veiled ranting about his own students, i'm sure if they actually read this stuff they would find his assertions quite negative and hypocritical. if you position yourself as intentionally provocative, you should wear the consequences. the day you make a film worth more than 10 seconds of my time, you can start criticising

January 13, 2011

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