Short Circuit: Short Film & Digital Distribution

When the online revolution began in distribution, it seemed as though short films would finally get their due. Shorts have generally had a tough go, distribution-wise, with their primary public life excluded to festivals or as TV filler. But in the reduced-attention-span context of the web or mobile, shorts should be perfect.

The transition has not been seamless for on main reason: shorts still do not command marketing dollars, for the most part, and what people seem to want to watch online has more to do with what they are familiar with in traditional contexts. YouTube has developed a huge audience for shorter content, but few projects make money exclusively from their YouTube success.

Understanding your audience and what kind of projects will play to the digital marketplace is useful, but these aren’t always the same projects that are popular with festival programmers. Shorts are fundamentally an opportunity to explore your own vision with less risk than a feature (but without the possible returns).

There are some excellent short film distribution resources. Scottish Screen has “You’ve Got It Made” a guide to short film distribution, which is U.K.-centric but quite helpful. Apply to festivals specific to your subject, major festivals that play shorts, and short film festivals like Future Shorts. Tribeca FF’s Sharon Badel has written a book called “Swimming Upstream” on traditional distribution for shorts. If you have stars and want to risk losing money, you can take it to markets like Berlin or Cannes with a sales agent. Short Film Central (Australia) and Ouat Media (Canada) are online aggregators. Various companies like Atom Films, Snag Films, Babelgum can be good non-exclusive partners for content. Be careful with contracts- there are a host of companies with bad reputations out there, so do some research before making a deal.

On the digital side, perhaps the most important thing you can do with your short is to make it work for you as a marketing tool. Make sure there is prominent mention of your website and of the title of upcoming projects at the beginning of your credits. For digital you might even want to create a front card with your production company’s name and URL. You can also create extra content available at your website and put a card before the credits to tell people about it. Conventional wisdom suggests that unless you can make a specific and lucrative exclusive deal, it’s best to get your short onto every platform possible: Vimeo, YouTube, sites with audiences interested in your subject, and draw them to your own site. Bottom line- the money you will see is small, so your audience is your biggest return.

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