Rick Stevenson Shares Why He Believes “Shorts are the Films of the Future”  

Director of Displaced, Rick Stevenson

I think I must have the distinction of being the only filmmaker to have made eleven features before making my first short. Does this mean my career is going backwards? Will I be offering myself up for birthday parties and weddings next? I better have some cards printed.

Actually, I’ve always loved shorts as an actual art form, not just an audition piece.  Now as I’m heading off to The Heartland Film Festival with my short, Displaced, I’m actually more excited than I was when I first came to Heartland with my feature, Expiration Date, four years ago. Expiration Date, a black comedy about a man living under an unfortunate family curse involving milk trucks, went on to play 101 film festivals on six continents and win 33 awards. So why the excitement over a short? Because I think shorts are the films of the future and are all a part of a greater movement. Let me explain.

The system is deeply broken and no more so than in the realm of indie features. Despite the good work being done, there is simply no economic model in existence to support such ventures. This year, 99 out of 100 Indie filmmakers will scarcely make a penny back for their investors. Now, before we all head for the cliffs like Lemmings (something I would argue we’ve been doing for years), let me say that I’m optimistic because it’s the Wild West out there and anything is possible. Eventually some order will come to this lawless land.

In the arena of shorts, however, something exciting is already happening. As people’s attention spans shrink, ‘the short’ has gained new currency. Rather than committing to 100 minutes watching a feature, people seem increasingly interested in watching YouTube or searching the internet for other small dishes of entertainment to consume. As the 30-second commercial loses it efficacy in the age of TIVO, companies are increasingly turning to short branded entertainment as a means to get their message out. Does this mean that you can make a living making shorts? Not yet. Not in the traditional sense. However, as the film business continues to implode, one thing is clear: There will always be a need for good storytellers and there will likely be some money in it. Witness the origins of Displaced.

Several months ago I was approached by the City of Seattle Water Department as one of five artists to make a film around the role of water in our lives. I was offered a fee of $5,000 and a budget of $10,000 to write, direct and produce a short film over a weekend. I thought it sounded fun and Displaced, a story about 11 year old foster child, Daniel, who is given one last chance to find a family, was born. It’s far from a masterpiece but it’s a wonderful story that fulfilled ‘a client’s needs’ as well as my own (my wife and I adopted a foster daughter to join our three other children).

CUT TO:  Four years ago when I was privileged to see so many wonderful films on the film festival circuit. In response, I started an organization called OFFICIAL BEST OF FEST which is basically a posse of 100 curators at top film festivals around the world empowered with the job of trying to bring all of these underappreciated films to light—whether they be features or shorts. We financed the organization by boxing up many of these award-winning films into gift sets and selling them to stores that never sell media—like Nordstrom (see www.OfficialBestofFest.com) thereby exposing a whole new audience to the mountain top of indie film.

More significantly, just this week, we are premiering its first 30-part television series called OFFICIAL BEST OF FEST Presents “The Best Films You’ve Never Seen” (shows October 16th on PBS in Seattle and goes national in April). It features award-winning shorts wrapped up in a fun, unpretentious if not downright goofy intro. Here’s a link to the pilot.

While shows featuring shorts are still an absolute rarity and don’t offer a lot in terms of a license fee, when offered in concert with the GIFT SETS, the filmmakers get to reap the artistic and economic benefits of exposure through royalties on the backend. And while getting into the OFFICIAL BEST OF FEST show is highly competitive since the best shorts from around the world are considered, the show has a prejudice towards clean and accessible entertainment along the lines of Heartland since it is going out over the airwaves. Other organizations like the wonderful DOORPOST PROJECT are also supporting shorts as a worthy means of pumping a bit of light into a sometimes dark world. If this does not constitute a movement, I don’t know what does.

Anyway, I’m headed to two other film festivals this weekend before I end up at Heartland on Sunday morning but I cannot wait to meet my fellow soldiers in this campaign to bring uplifting stories to the public. And everyone knows that the best come to Heartland! (By the way, if any Heartland Filmmaker wants to submit for OBOF please use “Heartland” and we’ll grant a fee waiver—go to OfficialBestofFest.com and click on TV CONTEST). But I have to go shoot a Bar Mitzvah first :) .

Rick Stevenson