Posted December 6th, 2010 by Ben

Or at least this is the wonderfully provocative headline to an email I’ve just had from the London Short Film Festival’s Phil Ilson.

Phil’s email continues…

“In a time of major arts cuts and a period of recession, short films are not high on the agenda in the general scheme of things. Because of this, the traditional career paths in the film industry are no longer sustainable. It’s year zero, but it’s also a creative time for UK film; a time where the possibilities are endless and the rule-book can be re-written.

Coming in January: The 8th London Short Film Festival is the place where we can see the future in some of the people who are forging ahead in spite of adversity. With more entries than ever before, this year’s Festival showcases a cross-section of UK-made work in 20 programmes of ‘new shorts’ totaling over 250 films. The Festival continues its tradition of retrospectives with four major showcase screenings by filmmakers who have all come to film through less traditional pathways, working in mediums outside of traditional cinema; Clio Barnard, Ben Rivers, Ruth Paxton and Folk Projects are all creating vibrant, original work with its roots in short film, plus the premiere of a new installation work by Luke Seamore & Joseph Bull (the makers of Isolation). There’s also a grass-roots aesthetic to London’s on-going burgeoning alternative film club scene, and the Festival taps into organisations such as Kino London, Club des Femmes, Salon des Refuses, DocHeads, the London Animation Club, the Cabinet of Living Cinema, Midnight Movies and Electrovision, all forging ahead independently with exciting regular events, and showcasing here at LSFF. The Festival will also be hosting cross-arts events mixing film and music from Jersey’s Branchage Festival and the north-east’s Abandon Normal Devices. The Festival industry strand is bigger than ever, stretching across multiple venues and with numerous partners on board to discuss, teach, and learn from our audiences.

We live in exciting times and, over 10 days in January 2011, London-wide, the 8th London Short Film Festival hopes to prove that the short film industry is still very much alive and kicking.


So yes, Phil’s suggestion that shorts are dead is a canard he raises to draw attention to the 8th edition of what is one of London’s finest and most exciting film festivals of any duration. However there are many people who would say he’s righter than he might care to admit.

In many ways the death of the short does seem like the natural product of the two most powerful trends in British filmmaking – the rise of the DSLR and the collapse of the budget.

Ten years ago my brother and I failed to win a BAFTA for best short film with a film called “Russell Square” which goes like this:

Russell Square from Blaine Brothers on Vimeo.

We shot this on on miniDV and, ignore the five minute end credit sequence, we had a crew of four. It cost us £1,000 to shoot and a further £4,000 to transfer onto 35mm so that it could be screened to the BAFTA judges as one of the ten short listed best films. In this screening we were roundly defeated by Tinge Krishnan’s film “Shadowscan” which goes like this:

And which cost £98,000 – a sum that, only eight years later, would be roughly the budget of the BAFTA Nominated feature film “Shifty” which goes a bit like this:

Now one of the many remarkable things about what I’ve just told you is that only one of those three films wasn’t shot on old fashioned celluloid. This though is one of the few facts about the exceptional film “Shifty” that keeps it as an exception to the rule book it is helping to write. There are doubtlessly many reasons why Eran Creevy chose to use 16mm but one of them has to be that despite this film being only two years old it still predates the rise of the Digital SLR.

Even, Gareth Edward’s budget defying sci-fi romance road-trip movie “Monsters” which exemplifies the shallow-focus high colour aesthetic of the Canon 5D, was actually made before the DSLR was released and was instead shot on Sony EX-1 with an adaptor fitted so he could use prime lenses. “Monsters”, which goes something like this…

…is estimated to have had a budget of something between two “Shiftys” and “Shifty” plus “Shadowscan” plus sixty “Russell Squares” – but unlike either “Shifty” or “Shadowscan”, it was shot with a crew of 7. The only reason we had less people working with us on “Russell Square” was because we didn’t need a driver and we didn’t need anything translated into Spanish.

All of which gives you a dizzying sense of how, over the past ten years, budgets have collapsed but what is possible to achieve with them has exploded.

The final part of this story, the part that really suggests we might be witnessing the death of the short film is entirely thanks to the good folk at Box Office Mojo and so any financial inaccuracy is theirs not mine. Box Office Mojo suggests that so far “Monsters” has made a world wide gross of $1,637,958, which, to keep in the same exchange rate of this rest of this blog is 208 “Russell Squares”.

I don’t have any earning figures for “Shadowscan” and since we’ve been selling “Russell Square” as part of a collection of our films it’s hard to give a fair value of it’s earning power, though it is safe to say that it we are not yet in profit.

This though, is just part of the story and the conclusions you should draw from it are perhaps not as straightforward as you’d imagine. Tomorrow, hopefully, if I have time, I’ll write more about what what I think is really going to happen to the first film you make.

if you’re reading this on Facebook and the movies don’t play then come to and watch them in the full glory of internetoscope…

  1. August

    Great post, that really puts things in perspective.

    Despite the decreasing returns for media content, the accompanying collapsing budgets, and the more accessible internet distribution (perhaps even more so because of them), the short film is still the way to prove yourself and create a calling card that gives you credibility. It’s just more democratized with lower barriers to entry. Institutional advantages are lessened, and creativity has more opportunity. Just don’t expect the short to be an end in itself.

    Does not seem like a bad thing to me. It was never easy and never will be. Shorts continue to be a stepping stone — the big question is to what?

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    One swallow does not make a summer

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  5. David Lemon

    Interesting post- and I’m delighted to have a short I wrote in this year’s LSFF – but I’m not sure there’s ever been a short film ‘industry’. I’d agree that they’re a vital part of directors DoPs and other heads of dept proving to the world that they’re ready to make features, but shorts rarely generate a profit- and surely an ‘industry’ is something that can financially sustain itself?

  6. brooklynfilms

    What a relief to hear that shorts are alive and well! I just hope that somebody will screen the little gem I just finished shooting:

  7. Ben Blaine

    Hey Dan – good luck with that, love the trailer.

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