A renaissance for the shorts, courtesy ShortsTV

There’s nothing like the satisfaction and lasting afterthought invoked by a well-crafted short film, be it Chutney by Tisca Chopra, Feast by Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed or Eleven O’Clock by Derin Seale and Josh Lawson.

The buzz at the ShortsTV launch event in Hyderabad on November 28 wasn’t based just on the anticipation for more hours on the couch watching television, but more around the affecting narratives which mainstream films often shy away from. The ShortsTV team have already been to Mumbai, the first leg of their tour, and are to finish the final leg in Delhi.

Shorts International Chief Executive and Member of the Academy Carter Pilcher moderating a panel comprising Academy Award-winning producer Kristina Reed, Governor of the Short Film Branch of the Academy Jon Bloom, and ShortsTV Acquisitions Consultant and filmmaker Chintan Sarda

Shorts International Chief Executive and Member of the Academy Carter Pilcher moderating a panel comprising Academy Award-winning producer Kristina Reed, Governor of the Short Film Branch of the Academy Jon Bloom, and ShortsTV Acquisitions Consultant and filmmaker Chintan Sarda  

Having launched in the United Kingdom in 2008, the channel now available in India is dedicated to screening Academy Award-nominees and winners in the short film categories, animated, documentary and live-action.

Breaking into an Indian market is no small feat, so naturally, the link-up with Tata Sky is strategically subscription-based with the first five days being free followed by a monthly charge of ₹75. By the calendar year-end of 2017, Tata Sky’s subscribers count crossed 16 million — 24% of the country’s DTH subscriber count.

Additionally, in the Netherlands, last year, ShortsTV launched a mobile app as well — and with Indian demographics’ love for mobile, there’s room for that here too.

A focus on animation and tech

Producer and Academy Award-winner for Animated Short Feast (2014) Kristina Reed is excited for the future of the animated short and in Hyderabad, there’s no scarcity of talent. “What drives me about the business of animation is that it’s a labour of love — it takes a lot of people to work on an animated film and I love working in teams. Animation, in particular, draws in a lot of design talent, technical talent and great storytellers.”

Still from 2016’s ‘Garden Party’

Still from 2016’s ‘Garden Party’  

There’s a symbiotic relationship between animation and shorts and Kristina, who’s been on board for feature films such as Frozen, Kung Fu Panda and Big Hero 6, elaborates, “The main reason Disney and Pixar do short films is to, two-fold, test new technology and help grow talent and leadership roles on projects which have lower stakes than a feature film. Paperman and Feast — which used Hyperion, the rendering system built for Big Hero 6 — were both born out of exploring the visual look that was possible to put on-screen and emotion and not have them look like anything else. The short film space is the perfect space in which to practise to learn and hone concepts and technologies you don’t know yet.”

Still from 2017’s ‘Death Of A Father’

Still from 2017’s ‘Death Of A Father’  

Plus, in a world of lessening attention spans and ‘try-hard or die-hard’ habitual binge-watching, short films are experiencing quite the revolution over the extended film. Jon Bloom, Governor of the Short Film Branch of the Academy and known for his Academy Award-nominated 1984 live-action short Overnight Sensation, chuckles as he contemplates this notion, “The expectations of audiences are going in the opposite direction, rather, with the advent of Netflix and other streaming services really challenging the feature film. While these platforms offer series available to watch in one go, there is a renaissance happening in short films as well, where they’re finding a new place in that mix of media. There was a time in the theatres, long ago, where shorts were shown as part of the whole evening — now we want trailers and ads.”

What the world doesn’t see

  • Jon Bloom chats about the nominee-selection to which process not everyone is privy, “We begin with eligible films and those films become eligible in one of two ways: winning a category in a film festival we recognise such as Cannes or Sundance, or by having a one-week theatrical release in Los Angeles and that’s something for which, generally, the filmmaker will pay. This year, as an example, Sundance had around 12,000 shorts. At the Oscars we had 140 live-action and 80 animated shorts which were eligible, out of which the process begins to create a shortlist which is a top ten curation which becomes the five nominees everyone sees.”

Carter agrees laughingly, “One can promise themselves they’ll watch just one, but there’s a chance they’ll end up watching a dozen and not even realise it. Audiences who are younger tend to not watch things that are longer than 15 minutes, if you’re looking at things from a YouTube or web-series perspective.”

A spotlight on India and on women

Recognition for Indian shorts on a global stage is lacking, as Carter points out, and it’s something he and Jon are actively trying to change through collaborations with film festivals in India. They’ve already teamed up with Bangalore Film Festival to hone in on local talent and to urge Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image (MAMI) to engage in more accreditation with the Academy in the United States.

Chintan Sarda, an acquistions consultant for ShortsTV, shares an insight about having been to Hollywood and bearing witness the shorts buzz created around his Jackie Shroff-live-action-starrer Shunyata which won at Best of India Short Film Festival last year. “As an Indian filmmaker, I feel the pinnacle of where someone can go with their film is the Oscars. Most of us believe it’s not really possible, but with short films it is — it’s such a democratic space where you can make a short and go to festivals and you have the freedom to experiment with the medium and your voice.” With the evening’s focus on animation, Chintan hopes for more discourse into the unseen hard work which goes into the final product millions end up seeing.

Still from 2017’s ‘Shunyata’

Still from 2017’s ‘Shunyata’  

With her favourite short films being about and around women, Kristina describes how the democratisation and diversification of short films at the Academy has opened up a long-sealed chasm for female filmmakers. This year’s Bao by Domee Shi is a favourite of Kristina’s for its mythological richness and moving references to family dynamics. “We love new voices and new stories. In any way, if we can help women be heard more, it makes for leaps and bounds in the right direction. We are already struggling with gender equality and its global. In the United States, we are consumed by what’s in our bubble trying to change the halls of power over there and seeing the #MeToo movement in India culminate is encouraging.”

Still from 2017’s ‘The Silent Child’

Still from 2017’s ‘The Silent Child’  

Down the line, perhaps channels and platforms such as ShortsTV will affect how we watch the upcoming Academy Awards seasons. While many of us watch the red carpet and scroll through to the end to see who’s bagged Best Director, Best Feature Film and Best Actor and Best Actress, more audiences will wait with bated breath who’s won the three categories for the shorts too.

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