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

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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)
"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.


This program aired on July 26, 2010.

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Andrea Shea Correspondent, Arts & Culture
Andrea Shea is a correspondent for WBUR's arts & culture reporter.



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