Students are not known for their financial robustness, and filmmakers are a perpetually poor bunch. So, a festival dedicated solely to student filmmakers, like the International Student Film Festival, is basically Poverty Fest 2012. However, amid the events of the weekend there was one seminar, The Monetising Short Films organised by Soho Rushes, on Saturday, that may have helped some get on their way to making literally pounds off their films.
Making any money off a short film is far from easy. Traditionally a short might be included in a compilation with other shorts, this compilation would then be sold to TV channels or cinemas (niche), or packaged and put on a DVD to be sold through retail. With both of these distribution avenues there are a lot of people who want their cut, from the company that puts the compilation together, the company that physically puts them onto disc or tape and carries out the necessary corrections, and of course the cinema or stockist who want their slices too. The income from any sales is pretty small in the first place, and once all these mouths have been fed, the filmmaker is usually left with tuppence and a complimentary copy of the film. There is the possibility of earning prize money at competitions, but this is more of an unexpected bonus than a serious income stream.
Improvements in internet connection speeds, video encoding, web browsers and computer processing over the past few years have opened up the possibility of direct-to-consumer online distribution. This removes several middlemen from the distribution chain so that it’s now basically Filmmaker > Video Streaming/Download Service > Viewer. And with fewer people asking for a cut of the income, lower price points for films are now becoming profitable; selling a hard-copy film for say 99p would net the filmmaker so little that sales figures would need to be in the tens or hundreds of thousands to be worthwhile, but selling online where their cut of 99p could be 70%+, and all of a sudden the number of purchasers you need for it to be worthwhile tumbles dramatically.
In the last year or so a number of companies have sprung up to capitalize on this by providing a platform for short filmmakers to distribute and earn money off their films online. At the seminar on monetising short films there were a number of speakers representing these companies, each with different approaches to short-film distribution. From YouTube + payment services (ChargePlay & Distrify), where anyone can upload and set a pricing strategy, to more orthodox sites willing to represent filmmakers and provide a platform for their films to be distributed online (Shorts International), as well as the even more radical distribution via bittorrent approach (Vodo).
Out of the variety of services now becoming available for short-film distribution and monetization, there is no clear market leader and each seems to have its drawbacks. Putting your film behind a pay wall will naturally reduce the number of viewers when the point of most short-films is to get exposure for the talents of the cast and crew. The more high end services, which help with the promotion of films, aren’t available to less experienced filmmakers with fewer credits. And the one thing none of them seem to address is how do you attract people to watch short films in the first place?
Whether one of the companies currently catering to short-film makers goes on to make it big, or they all perish and end up in the digital dustbin of internet history, it’s still encouraging to see short-film makers embrace the advances in internet technology which so terrifies Hollywood studios. It’s possible that the experiments in short-film distribution we’re seeing now may lead the way for online distribution of bigger mainstream pictures in the future.
Represented at the Soho Rushes: Monetising Short Format Content seminar were:
David Nicholas Wilkinson – Distrify
Richard Cambridge – Charge Play
Chris Tidman – Shorts International
Jamie King – Vodo