I’m sorry, do you know the truth. Short films were profitable in the pre-internet era, yet in 2010 – the equivalent of ten years – the average length of a short film is nearly three minutes when it’s shown on cinema screens – an indication of the saturation of the form’s audience and its importance. In fact the number of short films released annually dropped from 21 in 2007 to just 11 in 2014, which suggests that the majority of people who saw them actually enjoyed them.
The short film seems to provide a way for artists to reach an emerging audience who are interested in the arts for reasons other than seeing new films. So why hasn’t it been more successful?
In short, it hasn’t. Short films have become the default view for audiences across the British Isles, yet they were initially viewed by the mass of people and artists before they began to be disseminated via the internet.
The lack of a ‘form’ which is easy for mainstream cinema audiences to consume
For example, the number of UK subscribers to Netflix, the world’s most popular online streaming service for movies and TV shows was 1.4m in 2011. By comparison US subscriptions were more than 20m, and the number of Germans who subscribed to Netflix is still higher than Germany’s own annual film quota.
The reason why shorter-form media is not more successful is that it makes movies more expensive, not less. The way short films are currently being broadcast is not unlike the way movies are currently being broadcast via TV. Whereas when someone was watching a full-length film, they could say “I’m going to watch just that little scene,” with Netflix there they have a limited window of time in which they can catch a piece of the story from start to finish.
The lack of a ‘form’ which is easier for mass audiences than blockbuster movies is what has meant that short films are not yet being found and sold by the big Hollywood studios.
While the films of today are undoubtedly more expensive to produce, there are a finite number of people who can afford to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on films or thousands of dollars to film them in the first place, and this needs to be matched with a viable platform – short films need to be broadcast or streaming on Netflix directly. In the past the way this was done was to use film festivals to distribute the films and this is perhaps partly why the film studios have become so aggressive in trying to get these smaller, independent films made in their name. These