Now in it’s 3rd year, The Online New England Film Festival offers a slate of short films, all with a connection to the region. The festival begins streaming the 20 short films online, for free, today. Four of the selected filmmakers share their thoughts on the difficulty of producing short films and, in particular, the changing landscape of the shorts market and the challenges of finding an audience for the form.
The Online New England Film Festival begins today, but for many of the filmmakers involved, the process of marketing their films and submitting them to festivals began long ago. Daniel Persitz was invited to the festival after his short, Alex’s Halloween (starring Jane Lynch), played at the Rhode Island International Film Festival and 13 other fests across the country. For other filmmakers, this festival is just the beginning, but all agree that its format is unique.
“I see it as a good model for a festival of the future,” says Alfred Thomas Catalfo, director of Bighorn. Persitz echoes the sentiment. “Modern audiences have become so computer savvy and watch so much content online, so I think it’s a great idea to have a festival that caters to that kind of viewing experience,” he says. “I’m really excited to be involved with a festival that’s trying something new and addressing the huge technological change that’s happening out there.” For two-time festival invitee Shawn Harmon, director of Rootbound, however, “it lacks that audience feel. There is something so satisfying about hearing 30 plus people laugh right when you wanted them to.” Still, Harmon recognizes the advantages of curating a film festival online. “A lot of people who might not take the time to get out of the house and drive 30 minutes or more to a theater-based festival could be more easily inclined to make a few clicks to get to this online festival,” he says. “I think it’s great for shorts.”
As Harmon and the other filmmakers in the festival know, finding an audience for short films can be a very tough proposition, but the Online New England Film Festival seems to be pointing in the right direction. “I think all the digital distribution that’s out there can only help the short form grow,” Persitz says. “We’re living in an age in which it’s more possible to distribute and watch shorts than ever before. Alex’s Halloween is up for sale on iTunes, and because of that, we’ve been able to reach a much wider audience than we could have, say, even 10 years ago.” Catalfo agrees that the Internet opens short films to a wider audience, but sees a potential problem. “Since anyone can put anything online, there’s a lot of noise out there and it can be difficult to cut through.”
For Harmon, making your film stand out in the crowd all comes down to marketing. Marketing independent films, be they feature-length or shorts, however, can be a very tricky process, and increasingly independent filmmakers have had to jump into the ring themselves and generate buzz around their own projects. “I think it’s absolutely necessary for filmmakers to learn how to promote and market their works,” Persitz explains. “Marketing can also be a helpful part of the creative process, as long as it’s constructive and additive. I really enjoyed promoting the film because at the end of the day, I wanted to get the film seen by as many people as possible.” Other filmmakers, however, find that the process can be daunting. “It is a wholly different animal, it seems,” says Harmon. “Those who do well with it have great networking and are website savvy. I didn’t start a Facebook account until about 4 months ago so I’m a little behind the curve.”
Still, before the Facebook accounts and festival submission forms must come the story, and, though creating their shorts came with great difficulty, all the filmmakers are driven by the urge to tell a story the best they can. For Jake Haehnel, director of An Occurrence on the Pier, juggling creative endeavors with day jobs and other responsibilities can be tough, but rewarding. “If you think about, a lot of the other things that life puts in the way can work their way into scripts and other film ideas,” he explains. “I enjoy new experiences because I can use them as inspiration.” To maintain balance, Harmon found the support he needed in his family, while Catalfo allowed his career as a personal injury lawyer to inform his storytelling. “I find that my day job helps my writing because it gives me insight into how conflicts developed and are resolved,” he says. “Trying a case in the courtroom and making a film are both about storytelling: you’re asking an audience to go on a journey with you and promising them that you’ll be authentic and that the experience will be worth their time and attention.”