Making movies has never been easier (theoretically.) The quality of your camera on your phone beats that of most $1,000 cameras 20 years ago. You've heard this all before, yada yada yada. Though it is true! Never mind the access of high quality footage: the real amazing thing is the ease of learning. You can learn how to make a full-scale film, from start to finish all without leaving YouTube. It's amazing, right? Well with all good things come some bad. This accessibility to the world of filmmaking has created a lot of saturation in the market. The amount of independent film being made right now is outstanding and horrifying, as a fellow filmmaker. The problem right now, in my opinion, is the lack of potential for a short film. You put months and months of blood, sweat and tears into a project, and for what? Well, let's get into it.
You can look at YouTube or Vimeo and see plenty of short films out there, sure. But compared to the amount of short films being made that result in a net of less than 50 views, it's nothing. There's plenty of reasons why this could be, but let's focus on the potential here. Short films need somewhere they can grow!
Vimeo exists and is a great hub for portfolios, but does anyone scroll Vimeo for entertainment? Then the case with short films on YouTube is pretty much the opposite. People are there purely for entertainment, but the masses aren't looking to Youtube for Narrative storytelling, they're looking for personas being themselves, teaching them value, or playing video games. Obviously there's nothing wrong with that, it just means that filmmakers have to keep looking.
The Current Path To Success
Right now, the traditional "path of success" a short film follows is as follows:
Filmmaker creates the film
Filmmaker edits and finishes the film
Filmmaker submits the film to film festivals, starting with hopeful, larger international film festivals, then progressively getting smaller in scale, until the film has run it's festival cycle.
Eventually, the film is release on the filmmaker's incredibly inactive YouTube channel or meaningless Vimeo page.
The film will go onto get a few organic views early on, with maybe a few hundred additional views depending on how many Facebook and Instagram friends the filmmaker has.
The film will sit in entertainment limbo for the rest of days
Alternatively: On the rare occasion, a short film will get some sort of small-scale distribution where it will be displayed across airplanes and foreign cinemas, where they appreciate short films a bit more. But like I said, this is pretty rare in the short film world.
So What's The Solution?
The problem is, there's not much of a market for short films. I mean, when you sit down with the family to watch a feature film or show, it's an activity. What type of activity only lasts 5-10 minutes? So as of right now, I don't think many people find themselves looking for short films to watch. It just isn't in the world of popular entertainment. BUT, it seems entertainment has been getting a bit more risky in this realm in the recent years. Yes, you heard me right. I think, secretly, short films do exist in main stream media, it just isn't so simply stated. Let's look at Black Mirror for a second:
Black Mirror episodes are usually about 45 minutes long, and are technically a television show. Though, are they really? Every episode has a completely new story, new characters, new situation and oftentimes completely new world around it. How is that a show? What makes it a show, and not a collection of longer-length short films bundled together under one title? My other obvious example of this would be Netflix's Love, Death & Robots. This "show" is literally just a collection of short films, spanning various genres of sci-fi, fantasy, horror and comedy. Each episode is even different in length and produced by different animation studios!
Besides the fact that those two examples have the anthology/short film-esque structure to them, the other commonality is how successful they both have been thus far. It proves the concept: people are willing to watch and enjoy short films on a consistent basis, if it's presented in a way similar to how they're used to watching media: in the long-form.
The Time is Now
The proof is in the pudding, and there lies the pudding. The problem is, there's no open homes for this theory. It's not like these shows are open for submissions, trying to bring on independent short filmmakers from across the globe. Though I think we should learn from this, and start our path to short film success now. The answer isn't to start a new streaming platform, or pump more money into marketing our short films on YouTube. The answer is to band together, and present our short films differently. We have to find filmmakers in our genre, telling stories similar to ours, writing characters like ours, or perhaps just shooting things in the same, distinct styles. We can be creative about what it is that ties our films together, but we need to CONVINCE the audience that they are together as one whole, not a bunch of scattered short films.
I personally love horror and comedy (not necessarily at the same time) - So for me, I would find either other horror storytellers, or comedy storytellers, band together, and come up with a project that builds our short films together. That allows us to create a larger, long-length project without actually conforming to creating a feature film, or a traditional series. Maybe it splits off into completely different scattered stories to make up the greater whole, maybe we're all in the same world, telling different character's journeys, or maybe we're all in the same genre, telling similar but different short stories across a feature's-span.
Whatever creative means you decide to apply to this, I believe this is the way that short films will make their way into the modern world. Entertainment has never been better. Especially with that state of the world right now. Let's show the world how great short films can be, and bring them to the entertainment masses. We just won't tell them directly that it's short films they're watching.