WBUR

For One Little Film, The Internet’s The Big Screen

BOSTON — Short films have long been a staple at film festivals like the Woods Hole Film Festival, which kicks off this weekend.

But the people behind “Celebrities in Disgrace,” one of the shorts that will premiere there, are hoping their film can break some new ground. They want to use the Internet to turn their little film big — and want their effort to serve as a model for distributing and monetizing short films online.

“Celebrities in Disgrace,” a dark tale inspired by Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding’s notorious 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan, is no stranger to making itself bigger. It began as a novella, penned by writer Elizabeth Searle. Then it became a rock opera performed on both coasts.

"Celebrities In Disgrace" movie poster (Courtesy Sierra Bravo Sierra Motion Pictures)

But Searle says that all along, it was her dream to see the satire turn into a film.

“Like all writers, I’m crazy about movies and just crazy about the idea of my work in any way being on the big screen,” she explained. And now, after Searle partnered with fledgling production company Bravo Sierra Motion Pictures, it will be.

For Searle, her director and her producer, the buck doesn’t stop with the film’s Woods Hole premiere. They are hoping their film can pave a new way for indie writers and filmmakers to make money via the small screen. Their plan? To produce high-quality short films, then deliver them directly to audiences online. They’re launching their site in the fall.

“There seems to be an appetite for it,” Searle said. “The younger generation, of course, thinks that way, thinks visually, so I just feel there’s a lot of energy and a lot of potential and possibility.”

Matthew Quinn Martin, who directed “Celebrities in Disgrace,” does too. He believes the demand for micro-content is exploding as more of us have computers, iPhones and tight schedules.

“There’s an outlet for enjoying short work when you’ve only got a short amount of time,” Quinn Martin said.

Quinn Martin said the dramatic shorts they will offer will rise above the fray of amateur videos on YouTube. “Micro-budget, major attitude” is Bravo Sierra’s slogan. The sales model is pay-per-download, like iTunes.

The team created a “Celebrities in Disgrace” blog to market the effort long before the short was even filmed. They hope to capitalize on Searle’s “brand” — meaning her novella and rock opera — but also the public’s enduring fascination with Harding, Kerrigan and fame in general.

The big question, of course, is whether the pay-per-short model can make money.

Producer Mark McNutt is quite literally banking on it.

“There’s an outlet for enjoying short work when you’ve only got a short amount of time.”
– Matthew Quinn Martin
Director, 'Celebrities in Disgrace'

“When you can reach that many people, if you get just the smallest percent to even pay attention to you and be willing to spend, I don’t know, anywhere between $1.50 to $5, you’re going to make money,” McNutt said. “As long as you don’t spend millions and millions of dollars producing it.”

That’s why McNutt invested about $3,000 on “Celebrities in Disgrace.”

Still, not everyone’s convinced. Judy Laster is the Woods Hole Film Festival executive director. She sees hundreds of shorts each year.

“I don’t know if you can replicate what iTunes did with music for short films,” she mused. Why, she asked, would people pay for shorts when there’s a bonanza of free content on the Internet already?

That said, Laster acknowledged that the independent film community is in a lather over the industry’s future, and said many other companies are experimenting with alternative forms of distribution.

“There are lots and lots of people thinking about this right now — and what is entertainment going to look like, how is it going to be provided to people, what are the formats, what are the structures, what’s the payment model?” Laster said.

She might not know exactly what it looks like, but Laster thinks there is some kind of bright future for little shorts like “Celebrities in Disgrace.” Filmmaking is within everyone’s grasp these days, and so many of us have stories to tell.

More:

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on wbur.org.
  • litotes

    The short film sounds intriguing. I can’t wait to see it at Woods Hole next week.

    I also like the idea of short quality content for short free timespans. “Quality” is a niche that youtube hasn’t quite filled. Good as well that the tech world has stumbled on short artforms. There was this thing called poetry once, and it had this form called haiku, but it was never able to monetize…

  • http://www.hollywoodreporter.com Shorewriter

    I’m very excited about this groundbreaking film. The movie industry is due to be turned upside down the way music has been. The big movie studios and distributors weild a lot of power and don’t want to lose money, but perhaps to the detriment of the modern movie fan and legions of young talent trying to break in. This daring little film could make history.

  • barb

    As usual your interviews on NPR are the best. Viewing habits have changed so profoundly recently, perhaps there is a place on line for short films–however, it can’t be as good as seeing even a short on the big screen. I can remember when they thought VCR’s would replace attendance at movie theaters, but it never has and the small screen will never replace the movie experience.

  • Kate

    Great film title (Celebrities in Disgrace). And I do think that people willing to pay for content would be willing to pay for short films!

    Micro budget, major attitude–go!

  • Bridget

    I think the market is out there for short films like this. People will pay to see quality content, especially if it’s above the level of the average fare on YouTube. Short films need this kind of attention. Oftentimes they have more creativity and story in them than feature length films, and we pay $8 to see those in the theater.

  • http://www.shortsonthetube.com Dani the Short Film Buff

    I agree there is a market for short films but like Judy Laster says in the article, why would anyone pay for shorts when there’s so many free ones on the Internet already. I, for one, host a free short film site where the trailer for “Celebrities in Disgrace” is currently playing. I think a better venue for short films is television. I recently read an online article in “The Hindu” about the growing short film market in India. In the article, the director of L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy talks about the possibility of packaging shorts and selling them on DVD’s like feature films but he also mentioned how television channels are starting to look for alternative content such as short films and docu-dramas. He goes on to say that once these shorts gain popularity, viewers will watch on a regular basis. I feel the same can and will probably happen here in America when we’ve had our fill of reality TV. Thanks for the article, I’ve bookmarked it for others to enjoy.

  • http://www.simonrosenesq.com Simon Rosen

    You never know definitively if something will work unless you try it. I know that in China, for example, the Chinese (who have been physically and intellectually isolated from the west for so long) are gobbling up western entertainment content- television, film, etc. Even bad content. I think there is definitely a market for PPV short films- especially if the films are decent quality. Certain genres may fare better than others- such as animated, or novelty films. So Bravo to Bravo Sierra for giving it a go!!

  • http://www.bravosierrapictures.com Mark

    I think Simon hits on our very thinking. We in the U.S. tend to forget that we’re not the only Internet users. To Simon’s point, Asia is by far the largest consumer of Internet content. We at Bravo Sierra Pictures see ourselves sorta as the Sam Adams of movie making. I’m sure Jim Koch was told he would never be able to compete with Miller, Coors and Anheuser-Busch. The reality was he didn’t have too. The beer market was large enough that if he focused on quality and eliminated overhead he would need to capture only a fraction of the market to be successful. Much is the same with the Bravo Sierra model. When you’re dealing with more than a billion Internet users at any given time, you need only attract the tiniest fraction to make a few bucks. It comes down to marketing and brand positioning; and without doubt, that’s a challenge. In regard to the competing with free content online: truly that is a challenge. But there is one industry that has bested the skeptics, yet has the largest percentage of free viewable content…and is still a multi-billion dollar online industry — porn.

Most Popular