Short Films in 2019: What Does The Future Hold?
We Predict What The Short Film Trends Of Today Mean For The Future
Since the last time we did a heat-check on on the short film world (and VR filmmaking) one buzzword has completely taken over the film and tech lexicon: streaming. Industry pundits have been saying, time and time again, how this is the most important year for streaming yet, with companies like Disney and Apple joining the race and vying for dominance in a booming market.
Yet, over in that otherwise unassuming corner, you can find the short film market…showing surprising strength?? With the Oscars one week away (arguably the time in which the general public is most aware of short films), we thought it a very appropriate time to assess why exactly short films are having a bigger presence in Hollywood than ever before. The reasons may surprise you…
Big Animation Studios Are Bullish About Short Film
In our Oscar coverage of the fascinating animated short film race this year, we noticed a new player in the mix: Dreamworks Shorts. Sure, we know Dreamworks Animation as the studio behind the Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon franchises. But with their brand-new shorts division, they’re testing out new technologies and giving new voices to animators and artists from within their studios…all without having to sink feature-length budgets into each project.
Now Pixar is doing the same thing with their newly-launched SparkShorts division. They’ve already released 8 animated shorts, with the same caliber of story and level of professionalism on display. The company has emphasized that this initiative will allow them to experiment more with form and technology than they would with the shorts that precede the features.
Purl, the scrappy Pixar SparkShort released last week, is the first Pixar film to actually have a swear word and a genuinely dirty joke. But its 5.3 million views (and counting), shows that even a Pixar short with edge doesn’t have to alienate their gigantically huge appeal.
Questions We Have
If two of the world’s biggest animation companies think a short films division to be a long-term asset, what could that say about what the rest of the industry might do?
Could a Warner Bros. or Paramount follow suit and start producing their own Live-Action and Documentary Shorts in-house?
VR Short Films Are Still Very Much The Future
Though we’ve been skeptical about virtual reality’s ability to translate into good storytelling, everyone knows the potential is there (even if the hardware isn’t quite yet). While many companies and investors have cooled off on VR, Disney remains all in. And if Disney’s all-in, can anyone else really afford to stay out?
We’ve known since last summer about Disney’s first ever VR short film Cycles. While the studio has produced plenty of tie-in VR expriences with their theatrical releases, Cycles was the first example of an original concept. For the execs at least, the move paid off, because they’re already greenlighting a second VR project, with Jeff Gipson, director of Cycles, attached once again.
While most of the world hasn’t had a chance to see Cycles yet, the signs look good that they may have made the short that finally puts VR original storytelling on the map.
Questions We Have
Now that Disney seems very positive about VR storytelling, what other studios (or streaming services) will be willing to join the party?
What sort of distribution models could we see for VR films? Will they be exclusively available at tech shows, museums and festivals? Or will we soon see VR originals in an app store near you?
Short Film Acquisitions Are Getting Buzzy
You’ve surely read the following type of headline before: Studio (or Company) ‘X’ buys a feature for several million dollars and then everyone speculates whether it will be a huge breakout hit, a middling success or a major misfire. But how often do you ever hear about a short film acquisition from one of the big names?
Hardly ever, until the last few months. The prestige film label Fox Searchlight has been making news for acquiring several short films straight out of festival. It started at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, when they bought Feathers and Birdie, then gave them both Oscar-qualifying theatrical runs in the process.
The rather unconventional move (for a major studio) was followed up later by the announcement that they’d picked up the Oscar-nominated short Skin as well. Then again at this year’s Sundance, they bought the rights to Lavender, a film that premiered at the Shorts program.
What are their plans for these shorts? All we really know for now is that Skin will be distributed on Fox Searchlight’s YouTube channel, similar to how Dreamworks and Pixar release their new shorts. It could be suggested that the overall cooling of the film festival acquisition market due to the proliferation of in-house original programming has opened the door for studios to make these kind of unprecedented moves.
Questions We Have
Will Fox Searchlight’s push for diverse short film programming on their social sites cause a revolution in short film distribution?
Our best guess at an answer lies in the numbers. If the short films exceed expectations in terms of views and cultural commentary, then we can surely expect to see more of this. We can only hope that this trend continues, further empowering short filmmakers to see a real financial light at the end of the tunnel.
Box Office, Oscars and Short Films: A Holy Trinity?
Most box office news these days isn’t too encouraging. However, the annual nationwide rollout of Oscar-nominated Shorts continues to shatter the mold. Its grosses grow year after year, with 2019 being no exception. In fact this year’s crop of nominated shorts led the specialty theater market on its first weekend, grossing just under $1 million. Just for some perspective, that’s nearly $300,000 more than last year’s opening weekend.
It is true that Oscar-nominated short films are unquestionably the highest-profile collection of shorts each year. But the fact that each year’s box office return for this event gets stronger and stronger, along with the Fox Searchlight acquisitions, makes us wonder if something radical couldn’t start happening to the American movie exhibition scene.
Questions To Consider
We’ve seen premium event programming (opera, concerts, sports) come to theaters nationwide the last several years, so why not shorts?
If studios could acquire short films, package them for a theatrical release and actually make a profit, who wouldn’t jump on the opportunity?
Even in 2019, with so many people staying home and watching films (short or long) in their living rooms, there’s something to be said for the theatrical experience. If more short films could be screened this way, it would be a real win for the filmmakers and for short film lovers everywhere.