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Why Snapchat Is The New Frontier For Independent Filmmaking

Why Snapchat Is The New Frontier For Independent Filmmaking

Anyone who attended the Tribeca Film Festival this year can tell you that diverse storytelling platforms were all the range. From the virtual reality stations hosted in the festival’s Virtual Arcade to immersive visual experiences like “the bomb,” Tribeca took major steps this year to spotlight the boundary-pushing future of filmmaking and exhibition. Nowhere was this theme more surprising than in the inaugural Tribeca Snapchat Stories competition. For many, Snapchat is a fun photo-sharing platform best known for its wacky filters and geotags, but for a growing population of filmmakers and artists, the social media app is the new frontier for indie moviemaking and distribution. Television networks like Comedy Central have already begun using the platform to release shorts on their Discover pages, but Tribeca proved the app is a place ripe with cinematic potential. 

READ MORE: The 2016 Tribeca Film Festival Bible

In early February, Tribeca announced it was partnering with Samsung Electronics America to allow Snapchat filmmakers the chance to screen their movies at the festival. The only rules were that each film could not exceed 200 seconds and had to be shot exclusively on the app. Most Snapchat users already know the limitations the app might pose for a visual storyteller – chief among them a 10-second shot restriction and the inability to go back and edit shots and sequences – but the resulting 10 winners of the competition showed that a constrictive environment like Snapchat can yield imaginative rewards.

The winning stories varied from a tale of two brothers who move to New York City and become Broadway stars to the tragic story of the rise and fall of a one hit wonder. One filmmaker even dared to capture an evolving friendship over 60 years, all in 200 seconds. 

“The constraints inherent to Snapchat forced me to think outside the box, cut out the fat and focus on the fundamental aspects of good storytelling,” Esha Gupta told Indiewire about the experience shooting in-house on the app. The filmmaker’s “Past Perfect” was perhaps the most ambitious of the 10 winners, telling the story of a woman whose Snapchats from the future begin to alter her past. “The time limit per clip means that you have to move the plot along quickly. The vertical video means that the story will thrive less because of cinematic shooting and more because of strong characters. The fact that you can’t change the order of shots once you’ve published them means that your writing has to be strong and well thought-out before shooting begins.”

Gupta’s last point is arguably the biggest challenge of shooting on Snapchat. Not only can you not change the order of your shots once you’ve published them, but you also can’t go back in and make edits to the visuals or audio (either on Snapchat or through a third-party editing software), nor can you delete a certain sequence and hope to re-film it and put it in the exact same spot. This means that all Snapchat movies have to be shot exclusively in chronological order and that each shot has to be perfect before moving on to the next. But such limitations only put a larger emphasis  on the pre-production and planning process, which is vital to almost any indie production where budgets are low and time is short.

“Although it was difficult to adjust to this medium, the limitations of the story feature made me thoroughly plan and think about how I need to organize my time and scenes in order to get the desired effects,” said Kat Vlasova, director of “Pencils.” “By working on this project, I learned how to build a storyboard and how to cut out excess time or dialogue that did not add to the momentum of the story.”

Vlasova is hinting at how beneficial Snapchat moviemaking might be in film school settings or in programs that teach the fundamentals of filmmaking. The restrictions inherent within the app force creators to carefully storyboard, and in some ways the platform could be a rookie testing ground before a filmmaker moves on to more expensive and complicated cameras and softwares. Added Vlasova, “It is a good filmmaking foundation for people like myself who are not yet familiar with using software like Final Cut Pro or Premiere because it can be very overwhelming to learn, which can discourage many storytellers from creating. Snapchat is a very good tool for teaching filmmakers the fundamentals of quality storytelling, because much like photographing with a film camera rather than a DSLR, using Snapchat to make films requires careful planning and skill.”

But the perks to shooting on Snapchat extend way beyond the production phase. As nearly all of the winning filmmakers could tell you, the films that were created using the app all had a level of intimacy that was as personal as cinema will allow. In a joint statement, Michael Vlamis and Andrew Morreale, co-directors of “MemE! True Hollywood Story,” told Indiewire, “We were giving people a personal look into our lives, while also pioneering how Snapchat can be used to create original content. You can’t readily infuse such intimacy in film on any other platform, which makes Snapchat so unique. The best part is, there’s still so much to be explored.”

READ MORE: Memo to Distributors: Buy These 2016 Tribeca Film Festival Movies

“People want to feel visceral emotions while watching stories,” concluded Gupta. “They want to feel like they are there with the characters, experiencing intimate moments with them. Snapchat is about immediacy and voyeurism; it’s about capturing reality. That’s the stuff great stories are made of.”

The future of Snapchat cinema may be somewhat ambiguous, but the success stories already created prove that it’s a medium that deserves more experimentation for filmmakers of all levels of experience. The Tribeca competition may have been limited to 200 seconds, but there’s really no limit to how long a Snapchat film could run, which means we could very well be seeing a full-length feature in the future. Whatever does happen, the success of the Tribeca competition proves that Snapchat has serious cinematic value.

This year’s Tribeca Snapchat Stories winners were:

“Brother Broadway,” Luke Versaw (Brooklyn)
“Girl Meets Toy,” Luke Ramsay (Austin)
“Hot Dogs Forever,” Tessa Greenberg (Brooklyn)
“Lost It: A Snap Story,” Colin Garland (Brooklyn)
“The Magic Pot,” John Crilo (Brooklyn)
“MemE! True Hollywood Story,” Andrew Morreale (Los Angeles)
“Past Perfect,” Esha Gupta (Oakland)
“Pencils,” Kat Vlasova (Reston)
“The Secret Stash,” Mariann Isola (Sacremento)
“SO FLY! The journey of RICO STAR,” Robert (Tito) Rogers (North Hollywood)

Watch the trailer for Sean Baker’s iPhone-shot “Tangerine” below…

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