Monday, February 13, 2012
oscar short animated film: fantastic flying books
It's nearly impossible to see Oscar-nominated short films if:
1) You don't live near an indie theater
2) You didn't attend any film festivals this year
3) You don't work in film
With outlets like Vimeo providing a home for many of the world's outstanding short films, inaccessibility is diminishing. This is, of course, making the viewer the priority in this situation; it's never been easy for short filmmakers to earn profits through exhibition. One of the only ways is to screen at a festival and get picked up by a distributor (a prominent festival where distributors are even looking to snag short films on THIS LIST).
I solicited films for the First Night Short Film Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston this year, which exposed this traditional pattern to me. I browsed listings from international film festivals, seeing if any titles or summaries piqued my interest, and then contacted either the festival or production company. Most of the time, it was the filmmaker himself who was eager to send me H.264, unwatermarked files almost immediately, without waiting my official acceptance of the film into the festival, for free. Other films were purchased by distributors (one French distributor was asking for $400 for two 3-minute films).
One option for the festival was the film I've embedded above: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Not only is this film an iPad app, but it also shows an awareness of its potential as a franchise and business. It touches on themes close to pop culture's heart: Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, pretty much any Disney fairy tale. Think of the potential here: a film about the magic of reading. Jackpot, if you think of all the educational games and school supplies you could design after it.
In Lessmore, I find that despite gorgeously rendered animation (the zoetrope-esque montage of our hero saving an injured books is delightful), there is a lack of solid plot structure. I don't find myself attached to the character (this has nothing to do with the length), nor do I even care about the books. I think this is due in part to a need for more editing; the story just plods along, desperate for a clearer chapter structure that would strengthen the homage to Keaton, which feels tired after about 5 minutes. I like my short films as succinct and tidy as possible.
I can see where this film caught the eye of the Academy, though: it fits in with all of these nostalgic films that are at the forefront of the features race, touching on some kind of simultaneous yearning for the past (Books! Remember how great THOSE were?) and desperation for the present and future (Did you know you can watch a short film about books on an iPad? And interact with it? And look at those awesome extras!). I'm left pondering this crux in media formats; how do filmmakers take advantage of technology's accessibility while honoring the traditions of the craft? What is the endgame: make money, or get seen? You might think you can have both, but for many short filmmakers, it's one or the other for a long time (most of the time, always).
Either way, I'll soak in as much as Vimeo and my local theaters will give me for short films. If only all films were preceded by shorts instead of advertising for new NBC shows...
Oh, and I'll keep you updated on when I post my next short onto my Vimeo account. Yeah. Cool. Causeway Road Productions, y'all.