A collection of great short film and video from around the web.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Portable Film Festival/Building an Audience

My students and I are always debating - Send your short film to festivals, where you pay a fee, and maybe they pick you, and maybe a couple hundred people show up to the screening...or release on a platform like Vimeo or YouTube and maybe thousands of people can see your film. The first way has the advantage of built-in marketing and promotion, and the opportunity for you to meet other filmmakers, distributors, pitch your scripts, make friends, etc. It also offers you the very distinct pleasure of seeing your film in a dark room with people who have paid to be there - always nerve-wracking, but still exciting. "Mom, I made a REAL MOVIE." Plus those Official Selection laurels look really nice on the DVD, right?

The second way has the potential for unlimited audiences, and it's also extremely convenient - You can email a link or post it on TwitBookSpace and theoretically everyone can watch it in the way that's most convenient for them.

In both circumstances, it's on you to build an audience for your film. Festivals are curated, so audiences know going in that these are the cream of some crop. Online distribution is not necessarily curated - you have to wade through a lot of crap to find the really good stuff. Entities like the YouTube Screening Room help narrow it down, but you'll still have to promote the film to get people to see it.

What I'm seeing some filmmakers do is start on the Festival circuit, try to get some good buzz, and then distribute online. Sean Jourdan's excellent dramatic short, The Beekeeper, screened at Cannes and built some audiences through MTV's Best Filmmaker on Campus contest and found a distributor in Shorts International and will be available for download on iTunes. Jeremy Kipp Walker & J. Anderson Mitchell struck big with their film, Super Powers, at Tribeca and then posted the film on YouTube, where it has almost 900,000 views. Not bad for a six minute film.

Combined Festival/Traditionl/Online distribution is going to be the future of what we do. Those face-to-face contacts and in-person screenings found at festivals will not go away or lose their magic for industry people and true film lovers, but most audiences are going to see your short films online. Having a strategy for building your online audience is a necessary part of marketing your film.

This is good news for people who make shorts. Everyone is still learning how to make money from online distribution, but I know I can watch 2-3 short films on my GPhone on my morning commute, vs. getting invested in a feature film. What if we could start programming groups of shorts specifically for cellphone media? "Three films to watch if you are stuck in an airport." "Short films to watch while waiting for your blind date to show up at the Starbucks." "Short films to watch when winter has gone on about three weeks too long." "Pretty music videos by pretty people." "Short films about bank tellers and the Registry of Motor Vehicles." Use the iTunes model, charge $1 or $2 per program, and let people buy their way into entertainment for a little while.

Recently, I read about the Portable Film Festival, via the excellent Women & Hollywood blog. The festival is curated (which means you get Official Selection laurels, woo!), and allows viewers to watch online or on their mobile devices and leave audience feedback. I'll be clicking around in there all day, but for right now I'll show you The Market, a stop-motion/time lapse documentary about a Farmer's Market in Zagreb, by Ana Husman.

The Portable Film Festival is now accepting submissions.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Four Kinds of Imagination

A friend's small child says that there are four kinds of imagination:

1. Observations
2. Ideas
3. Dreams
4. Pretend

I'm trying to think of another kind, something that wouldn't fit into any of those categories, and I'm stumped. What kinds of imagination do you think there are? Maybe I'll add "survival" after watching Miss Gladys lay it down for us.

P.S. I think there should be a Wii game called "Soul Hero", where you use a DDR pad and the Wii controller to execute moves like the Pips. Any developers out there?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What happens to imaginary friends when we outgrow them?

I love the mix of home movie footage and animation. Discovered via the YouTube Screening Room. Directed, edited, and voiced by Steve Baker. The V.O. performance can be a bit uneven (what accent is that?), but the editing and visuals convey comedy and real emotion and the timing is outstanding.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Raftman's Razor

One of my favorite shorts is The Raftman's Razor, directed by Keith Bearden and written by Bearden and Joel Haskard. It breaks almost all the rules of short filmmaking that I was taught in school - Who is the protagonist? Why are we relying so much on voice-over? Where is the plot? - and it is "useless, but completely delightful" like the Raftman comic featured within. The narration by John L. Bader is wonderfully performed.

I don't think Bearden and Haskard's latest film, Train Town, has distribution yet since it's still playing at festivals. A buttoned-up conservative and a freewheeling hippie conduct a culture war using the model train set and village at the store where they both work. Trailer here:

See it if you get the chance!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

New Favorite Holiday

Holi is the Hindu Festival of Color. It was celebrated March 11, so happy belated Holi, everyone.

Here's one Holi Song.

I wish the video quality for "Let's Play Holi" were better, but the colors, dancing, and song couldn't be better.

It makes me wonder what it would be like to live in a culture where everyone knows how to dance.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mike Leigh's 5 Minute Films

In 1975, Mike Leigh made five 5-minute films grouped together under the heading The Permissive Society. I watched them all in Paul Hettel's excellent Short Forms class at Columbia College, and I've never forgotten them, especially my favorite, The Birth of the 2001 FA Cup Final Goalie. The films deal with a variety of characters and situations in working and middle class Britain, but a common thread is that one character in each film is quiet and the other character is a talker with all his or her needs on display. And great news! Some nice person put them all on YouTube.

Classical dramatic structure starts with a protagonist who needs or wants something, pursues that need, is brought into conflict with an antagonist who has contrasting needs, they battle it out, the story is resolved when you can show that either a) the character got what she wanted b) the character didn't get what she wanted or c) the character got what she wanted but it turned out to be not what she *really* wanted.

Character-driven filmmaking is always about wrangling with time - how do you compress it so that you can get the most information about the characters across in the most economical way? Think of your screen character as a real being with a real life that stretches from birth to death, and then try to choose the moments that will tell you the most about who they are. These will tend to be the moments where they are pursuing their needs the hardest, and when they are brought into the most conflict with others and the world. It's something that Darren Arronofsky and writer Robert Siegel did so beautifully in The Wrestler - they selected the moments when Randy the Ram was most himself, most in pursuit of professional success, acceptance, and love. But how would you choose the right span of time for a five minute film?

Most short narrative films show one scene or one day - You might show the one day in a life of a character that would tell you what all that person's days are like. Far from the 16th, in the excellent Paris Je T'aime, is a great example of this. You might show the one day or moment in someone's life where everything changed forever, where they learned something new. Lynne Ramsay's short films, like Small Deaths or Gasman are good examples of these.

Mike Leigh solves the problem of time in a different way, using repetition. You can show months or even years of a character's life if his need is the same in every scene. See how he does it in the Birth of the 2001 FA Cup Final Goalie:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rabbit - Run Wrake

This is a moral tale about greed and exploitation made out of a book of children's stickers. The sound design is excellent. Um, don't watch it while trying to eat.

Wrake's website has many more illustrations & animations, including commercials and music videos. Content is embedded so I can't link directly to it, but if you are stuck in a cubicle all day on a cold March Thursday, you should find plenty to amuse you.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Death is My Co-Pilot

Sometimes Death is a real pain in the ass.

I also enjoy their other work, Chad Vader, Day Shift Manager. Premise: Darth Vader's younger brother, Chad, manages a grocery store. Poorly.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Madeleine Peyroux - Between The Bars

This music video was shot with a Canon Elph. In the race for more resolution/more pixels/making video look like film, we sometimes forget how well-chosen video images have their own beauty. The key is to use video for what it captures best - low light situations, motion, non-literal images, extreme long shots that take advantage of the depth of field. And when you have beautiful video images like this, don't clean them up to try to make them look like film - degrade them further, allow them to vignette and pixelate.

Alvin Ailey Dance + Stevie Wonder

It's Monday. It's Daylight Savings Time, so we're all a little sleep-deprived. The economy is sliding into the shitter.

You need dance. You need Stevie Wonder. You need beautiful joyful people dancing to Stevie Wonder. I wish the whole thing were online, but it's not, so content yourselves with these snippets:

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Dony Permedi's master's thesis from the School of Visual Arts. I think the sound design really makes this one - the footsteps and climbing sounds are great, as is the original music by Tim Cassell.

Choir of Ex-Girlfriends

Michel Gondry + Flight of the Conchords = Awesome. I love the homemade feeling of rear projection. Via Pamie.com


Today I'm looking at nifty animation pieces:
  • Check out Xavier Chassaing's Scintillation, an experimental film made out of 35,000 photographs and a mix of stop motion and live action.
  • Start Running Pico is a 3-D animation created by Christopher Northley.
  • Blu's famous Muto film - animated on a Buenos Aires wall - prompted me to create a new tag.
  • The now-classic Tony vs. Paul. And, since it's Saturday morning, howabout some Pancakes For Your Face?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Things You Can Do With Your Body

I have asthma, and I'm having one of those weeks where climbing a flight of stairs or running to catch the CTA is a challenge. Maybe that's why I'm so riveted by videos of parkour, freerunning, gymnastics, and stunts - I like to see joyful people flying through space with nothing but their own bodies and fearlessness to catch them.

Warning: There is a high correlation between parkour and loud Eurotrash techno. Maybe there should be a combination of parkour and that other French craze, tektonik.

Monday, March 2, 2009

More Music-Themed Recs from EthanZ

My good friend Ethan Z. encouraged me to start this site, and he recommended two music videos that he loves:
  • Johnny Cash's cover of Hurt, which makes me think about the beauty of old people who come by it honestly and made me cry the first few times I saw it years ago. I love the way it mixes archival footage of young Cash with current footage. His voice has never been more direct and honest.
  • Dennis Wheatley's Lost In A Moment is one of those "simple solutions can be the most beautiful" films. See life from the point of view of a piece of sushi traveling on a conveyor belt.

Now I will destroy all credibility

A high school friend and I reconnected recently, and we're both filmmakers now. We were lamenting the fact that we didn't have video cameras to document our small, weird New England town when we were teenagers - imagine the films we could have made about the guy who keeps a Revolutionary War cannon on his front lawn and puts small woodland creatures in Trick-or-Treat bags!

But we were connected to and by videos - it was the 80s, and we were riveted to this crazy new art form that put images to song lyrics. I didn't have cable, so I had to glean what I could from Friday Night Videos or stolen glimpses of MTV at sleepovers. And when I was twelve, this was the cutting edge. I still think some of the images are beautiful, like the silhouetted people who look like a Rorshach inkblot test, but I start laughing every time he sings "I drive off in my car" and then...drives off. In his car.

Thank you, Peter Gabriel, for crawling inside my imagination when I was a kid and for prompting me to stencil the word "Biko" on every piece of denim I owned. And for making extremely literal music videos with candy hearts that drop from the sky when you say the word "love."

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Death to the Tinman

A student recommended Ray Tintori's Death to the Tinman to me, and it's become one of my favorite films. The filmmakers found creative and low-cost ways to make beautiful, haunting images. The original music is outstanding, and available for download. The story is creepy, romantic, sad, and funny and fits right into my love of dark and messed-up fairy tales. A++

Muppets Over Time

Friend Tasha R. recommends Muppets Over Time, dir. by Oury Atlan, Thibaut Berland, Damien Ferrie. It's eerie and beautiful and I don't want it to ever happen to me.

Welcome to Short and Beautiful

I spend a lot of time making short films and teaching students to make short films. This blog is a place for me to organize my thoughts about making shorts and for collecting beautiful, inspiring, and entertaining short film and video work from around the Web. I will be looking for music videos, comedy, dramatic pieces, animation, cause-oriented work, documentaries, experimental films - the only criteria are:
  1. Do I like it?
  2. Is it short?
  3. Can it be watched online?
There is so much content being made and posted every day, but it is hard to weed through it all for the things I want to watch over and over again. If this works like I want it to, it will be like curating an ongoing film festival...in my brain.

Something I'm loving today: The video for Oren LaVie's Her Morning Elegance. A beautiful, simple, well-executed idea using stop motion in a creative way. It's a pretty song, too.