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