BIZ: How's Your Dotcom Treating You? Part 8
by Alan and Smithee
Two filmmakers, in the midst of the current dotcom frenzy, have agreed to share their email correspondences on the subject with indieWIRE in a continuing segment called "How's Your Dotcom Treating You?" To protect their privacy, the filmmakers (one with a deal at AtomFilms, the other who has finally sealed a spot at Pop.com) have decided to remain anonymous as they tread the muddy waters of the new e-business, trying to find the best place for their shorts, the most money and the widest exposure. Their conversation continues with a debate about how to get short films back into movie theaters.
I'm back in LA; everyone returns my phone calls; I'm hot shit; this'll last for a week. Then it's back to being a vertically-challenged filmmaker.
At this point, I have no regrets about signing with Pop. I have no idea what the site's going to look like. I know what their office looks like -- spacious warehouse with friendly people, lots of desks and one ping-pong table. I'm not sure what good that does me. On the plus side, they were willing to look at my promotional materials and hear my opinion about how my film's page should look. We'll see; I feel confident. It's out of my hands, which I have to say, is not such a bad feeling.
But... is this all? Is this the final end of glory? A ping-pong game at Pop.com and if I'm really lucky, a million faceless people out there, somewhere, watching my film stuttering along at 6 frames a second on their 56K modems?
There's something alienating about this web thing, isn't there?
As the dot-commies work for maximum interactivity, maybe filmmaking as we know it will truly change. Maybe idiots will vote on the endings of stories; just as you worried they would choose which films get funded. Maybe no one will care about "going to the movies" anymore.
I happen to think storytelling -- and the public consumption of those stories -- will still be something people love. I listen to dire predictions about the future of theatrical films, and think -- yeah, it's possible the multiplexes will go out of business. But if they do, they only have themselves to blame. Because the people sitting at home, flipping channels or surfing the entertainment websites, are able to have something today's moviegoers often don't: a sense of discovery.
How can a multiplex compete? How can theaters offer discovery without destroying narrative? (I mean narrative as opposed to choose-your-own-adventure.)
My answer: bring short films back into the theaters!
Theatrical release is the Holy Grail for shorts, and ironically, the Internet could get shorts there. Because the Internet is proving to Hollywood that AUDIENCES LOVE SHORT FILMS. I feel pretty strongly about this, and I think it would be beneficial to exhibitors, distributors. . . and, of course, filmmakers.
After my short played at Sundance last year, and was written up in everything from Film Threat to the New York Times, I got inspired. A few publications were writing about short films returning to theaters, and using my film as a perfect test-case. So I went, over a few seasons, to executives at Miramax, New Line, Sony, Lion's Gate, and Dreamworks. Everybody loved the idea. Nobody went for it. They all said "Exhibitors won't have it" and "It's too complicated" and "There's no money in it" and "Get my boss to say yes."
So. Now that I've signed with Pop, you think "my boss" might listen?
I'd like to write an "open letter" to Hollywood about this. Are you with me?
Dear, sweet, Smithee,
Funny you should bring this up now. I have just been discussing this very question with AtomFilms. Bringing shorts back to theaters is one of my dreams also. I have waited for the fast-growing interest in short films, at literally HUNDREDS of film festivals over the past few years, to spill out into the commercial multiplex. Now that the Internet has exponentially increased public awareness and demand for short films, it is definitely time to put shorts back where they belong: in front of a responsive theater audience.
Like you, I have also had many discussions with execs and distributors about this subject, and heard the same pathetic responses you describe. Recently, the Empire of the Shorts, AtomFilms, started uncharacteristically modest attempts in that direction. They are working on deals with a handful of art-house theaters to show shorts in front of features. As one of their filmmakers, I was asked if I would allow my films to be included -- for free.
I agreed, in the hope that supporting their initial efforts might have a positive effect in the long run, but in truth I think the push has to come from the studios, distribution companies, and major theatre chains. Art-house theatres are like film festivals: in a world of their own, with small, intellectual audiences and low profits. Atom Films would do better throwing their considerable weight around under the palm trees to get a real deal. Lord knows, with the amount of press work they have been doing, they have positioned themselves well enough in the awareness of the Hollywood decision-makers.
But maybe Hollywood-based Pop is better positioned to beat them to it?
Meanwhile, this week I have been receiving quarterly statements from Atom (for some reason, emailed in unreadably small type), showing that despite the lack of communication, they have indeed made a couple of European sales of one of my films. Interestingly, two local websites each paid more dollars (more than a grand) than the single TV sale they managed (less than a grand). It seems that for shorts, perhaps there is now indeed more money on the web than in television -- or is the web just where Atom feels more comfortable?
I'm with you on the "open letter." Let's put something together which will wake up some of the naysaying wimps.