Sundance Sees a Bright Future for Short Films

January 11, 2017
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Short films are awesome. They’re affordable, artistically freeing, and your favorite director probably got their start in them. Also, short films suck. There’s too many of them and they make no money. This has been a filmmaking conundrum almost as old as movies. Luckily, the Sundance Film Festival has turned single short films into long filmmaking careers for a while now (think Anderson, Wes and PT). Even as the economics of filmmaking have changed, Sundance has seen the value in shorts. In 2017, that value may be higher than ever.  

The market for short films has always been tenuous, but filmmakers have now have more opportunities than ever to capitalize on their shorts. Traditional short distribution models still exist. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be seeing if these international distributors could help you spread your film. You can also license the rights to your short film or try getting into one of the top shorts festivals for networking and exposure. Now we have the Internet to add to our list of platforms, and even though it’s been around for a while, it still feels like a new frontier in some ways for filmmakers. That’s where Sundance comes in.

SundanceNow, Sundance’s streaming service, launched the Take 5 platform this year, where five, five-minute, shorts centered around a single topic are grouped together for one viewing experience. This new way of turning short-form content into episode-length material takes shorts, which are already internet friendly, and puts them in a context that makes them more industry marketable. Marcus Lee, SundanceNow Doc Club’s General Manager, commented on the Take 5 platform to the Huffington Post last June.

“Short-form is more digestible. Our goal is to reach as many people as we can and it’s a much easier ‘ask’ of people to watch a five-minute short film than a feature-length doc. Short form is also more portable to different platforms. You may come across one of our short films in your Facebook feed and you may end up watching it on your phone. Long-form content doesn’t reach people like that.”

Marcus’ words say a lot about the potential for shorts success in 2017. With the Internet, you can both share a short by itself and package it with others to create longer content. This allows you to optimize your content for different platforms. We’re no longer relying on features to anchor the short film viewership. Content is content, and the subscription model has made length a non-issue. Take India, for example, where the growing use of smartphones and increasing consumption of digital media has brought heavy Bollywood players to more short online content. The digital landscape is ready for shorts, it just needs a little more organization. Organization is the only barrier left.

As Richard Brody points out, “I don’t make a special effort to look for worthwhile short films, and I’m sure that I’m merely skimming the surface of the excellent works that are being made and (not) shown.” The Internet is the perfect place to solve this problem, but in order to find quality, you may have to wade through a lot of crap. Tastemakers like Short of the Week, Vimeo Staff Picks, and Film Shortage help solve this problem, but we need more. 


Until then, we can look to the Sundance Institute as a beacon for the kind of creativity that, hopefully, will become the norm for short films online. The audience is there, we just need a way to find them.

On that note, we are happy to recommend all festival goers check out these films done by ShareGrid members!

Jim Cummings (Director of The Robbery)

The Robbery is a single-take short film about a young woman getting out of her Uber to rob a liquor store. To shoot the film all in one take, Writer/Director Jim Cummings (who co-wrote with Dustin Hahn) had cinematographer Lowell Meyer follow the lead actress (Rae Gray) through the action in different ways.


Scott Ross (Director of Deer Squad)

Deer Squad is a short documentary about Kelvin Peña, a charismatic high schooler from rural Pennsylvania, who went viral in 2016 after befriending a group of wild deer and posting videos with them on his Twitter and Instagram accounts. Scott Ross, Pipus Larsen, and Kenneth Gug (who all together form the filmmaking collective Public Cinema Club) came across Kelvin’s story and realized that he wasn’t far from them.

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Brent L Zaffino

I am a filmmaker out of Atlanta, Georgia currently working as a freelance director and videographer for music videos, short films, and corporate videos.

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