Docs

Short and sweet

With different regions following varying tv broadcast clocks, program schedules are like jigsaw puzzles. It's up to broadcasters to fill the missing pieces with commercials and interstitials. When you take into account the legal restrictions many regions face in regards to the amount of commercials they are permitted to air, the puzzle becomes a lot more challenging to complete.
August 1, 2005

With different regions following varying TV broadcast clocks, program schedules are like jigsaw puzzles. It’s up to broadcasters to fill the missing pieces with commercials and interstitials. When you take into account the legal restrictions many regions face in regards to the amount of commercials they are permitted to air, the puzzle becomes a lot more challenging to complete.

Janet H. Vissering, senior VP of strategic development and co-finance at National Geographic Channels International, is familiar with this scheduling predicament. With NGCI’s wide reach and related scope of broadcast hours, Vissering says interstitials cut from footage from ngci programs are used to complete the schedule. But the cablecaster prefers not to keep airing the same spots. ‘We have to find creative [fillers] that still entertain viewers, so we’re looking at footage outside of our own library to put in those spare moments.’

Vissering says NGCI has taken a fresh interest in short filler segments since April’s MIPDOC. And she’s not the only one – the demand for shorts is unquestionably growing. Just ask Fabien Riggall, the founder of London-based Future Shorts, a label that distributes, exhibits and programs short films from about 300 directors around the world. Launched in 2003, the company originally screened its monthly program of shorts at only one venue; it now partners with cinemas in roughly 30 locations, including Lisbon, Paris and Brussels. Riggall plans to increase that number with the addition of cities like New York, Amsterdam and Dublin.

He’s also keen to boost the percentage of docs on the Future Shorts label from the current 10% to as much as 25%. To facilitate this, Riggall aims to have a full-time programmer devoted to finding docs hired by September.

He admits that although shorts ‘have a reputation as the ugly duckling in the film industry,’ the market has blossomed with the audience’s ability to download video files quickly and watch them online. Video-enabled cell phones, pdas and soon iPods will also serve as platforms to view shorts, which clock in anywhere between 30 seconds and 30 minutes.

The influx of film festivals dedicated to this genre is bolstering its popularity as well. But rather than conform to the traditional go-to-the-theater-sit-down-shut-up-and-watch-the-film drill, Riggall creates a much more social experience for those attending Future Shorts screenings. ‘We want something where people can network and discuss and debate the films,’ he says.

‘Storytelling’ is a major buzzword in today’s documentary film industry, and both ces and audiences looking for something fresh would be wise to check out shorts, as the format naturally lends itself to experimentation. As Claude Sénéchal, who co-directed the short doc DesSert – which screened at this year’s Worldwide Short Film Festival – sees it, shorts could be the antidote to boring, bloated productions. He is fed up that ‘the media announces the new best film of the year every two weeks,’ adding that the praise is mostly unwarranted. Sénéchal believes shorts ‘must be the future of the cinema industry.’

At roughly 14 minutes, DesSert took four days to shoot and 10 days to edit. It’s the tale of a 19-year-old girl who lives near the Gobi Desert and sells ice cream – a formidable endeavor considering the climate. While the film’s €8,000 (US$9,700) budget was funded independently, Sénéchal says he is devoting a lot of his time to securing outside financing for his next short. If the swell of interest in the genre is any indication, shorts like his are no longer just a calling card for feature work.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.

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