Short Films In 2020: Why They Could Become The New Prestige Television
From Criterion And Mubi To Film Festivals And Oscar-Winning Talent, Why Short Film May Be Following In The Footsteps of Shows Like The Sopranos and Mad Men
Short film has, for most of its history, been seen as the scrappy, independent little brother of features. After all, how many short films have you seen crack the top 10 at the box office? Even though the art of cinema itself was born on the short form (one of them very recently making the news for its 4K upgrade), once the 90+ minute film became the established norm of Hollywood, shorts were usually relegated to obscure festivals, museum exhibitions, and in the worst situations, stuck in filmmakers’ basements.
However, with the streaming revolution and the ever-growing inventiveness of hobbyist filmmakers and artistic geniuses alike, short films may just be becoming the medium to tell new, high-quality stories. For most of the 2000s, prestige television became a new model for a mode of communication too-long dismissed for its endless lineups of half-hour laugh-track sitcoms. With landmark shows like The Sopranos, The Wire and Mad Men, cable television proved that it could be dark, serious and very cinematic. Television show writers like David Chase and Matthew Weiner showed the rest of the television world that complicated, sprawling stories could very well be told on Sunday nights in primetime — the arthouse theater had come to your home theater.
By the early 2010s, streaming came alive. Places like Netflix began bringing a whole new immediacy to the prestige television, dumping entire seasons of a new show at one time. Now you didn’t even have to wait to catch 6–12 hours of your new favorite drama. A-list actors and directors were lining up to work in this exciting new space.
Now that we’re in 2020, the idea of prestige television has itself become the norm — so, what’s next? If recent news items from the last few weeks are any indication, short film could replace prestige television as the new boundary-pushing that has large critical followings. As you’ll see below, short films are becoming more lavish, with bigger budgets and bigger stars. They are getting more acclaim than ever before in the theatrical and home video spaces. Plus exciting film festivals are prioritizing the short (or non-feature) film.
Top Talent Are Making Short Films Their Creative Sweet Spot
Short films used to be a stepping stone or trial run, the kind of thing you did in film school and didn’t dare show anybody afterwards. Now some of the best and most decorated filmmakers in the world have decided to make their next project a short one.
For a recent example, you don’t have to look any further than Luca Guadagnino’s “The Staggering Girl”. This sumptuous 37-minute short stars none other than Julianne Moore and Kyle McLachlan. Only a few years removed from his multiple Oscar-nominated Call Me By Your Name, Guadagnino decided to pour his creative efforts into a story with a very unconventional running time. In the past, a film that was 45 minutes or less and made by an A-list cast usually meant that there was more there than met the eye.
In most cases an auteur’s short film was really a car or perfume commercial disguised as art. While some were still beautiful and captivating, others became nothing more than horrible publicity stunts (we’re looking at you, Martin Scorsese's “The Audition”). At first glance, “The Staggering Girl”, partly inspired by the creative director of Valentino, may have seemed like another short film casualty. But when it was announced that the arthouse streaming brand Mubi would be distributing the film exclusively, everyone took notice and recognized that this film was being taken very seriously.
Known by many as a world cinema stamp of approval, Mubi has been backing many great shorts (including one by Paul Thomas Anderson, who himself also made a short with Thom Yorke for Netflix) for some time now, a streaming equivalent to HBO releasing The Sopranos or AMC sticking with Breaking Bad after its slow start in the ratings.
Other streaming services (like us at Miniflix), have been beating this drum for some time, offering world-class short films and believing in the ability of the medium to become event cinema of its own, and not just some quirky sidekick, which brings us to….
Shorts Are Becoming The Main Event Of Home Video Collections
…the bombshell announcement from beloved home video label the Criterion Collection that one of their newest titles would be a curated selection of “Scorsese Shorts”.
While short films have long been part of the Criterion catalog, they were always relegated to secondary status, usually ending up in the supplements section of a director’s more major work.
This time, and for the first time ever, Criterion acknowledges short film as worthy of preservation in its own right, collecting five of Scorsese's early short film works. Special features include a discussion with both Ari Aster and the Safdie brothers, who have all three made some of the best contemporary shorts out there. Perhaps this is a sign of things to come — perhaps we will see their short films getting the Criterion treatment, alongside some of the other best short films from the last ten years.
One of the surest signs that prestige television had become “a thing” was when cult followings resulted from home video releases of season-long box sets. By the mid 2000s, the peak of the DVD market, the most critically-acclaimed television shows were becoming curated, creating a canon around the medium that had never been possible before.
We’ve had the capability for years to do the same with short films, but why have so many sites elected not to curate as well as they could? With labels like Criterion, as well as places like Miniflix, the hope is that short films can have their own canons that are easily accessible by people who are new to the form and wouldn’t know where to start otherwise.
Shorts Are Literally Becoming Television
Another sign that short films are the next new form of prestige television is that television itself is beginning to fold itself around the short film model. Streamers like Netflix and Amazon stopped caring how long a particular episode was years ago. Now you can just as likely find a 25-minute episode of television followed by a 60-minute episode. All of the conventional barriers have fallen down, making way for the next new development — short films as television.
With Silicon-Valley backed groups like Quibi making waves at this year’s Super Bowl with major commercial announcements, the whole world knows that everyone from Steven Spielberg to Chance The Rapper is getting in on short form content. Disney + too has made short form a priority, most especially in the Pixar-backed SparkShorts, which has made plenty news of its own before. While we have yet to know for sure what this future will look like, by the end of 2020, we can bet that people will be browsing shorts just as easily as they go between episodes of Friends or The Office right now.
All Hail The Future Of The Short Film Festival!
What’s the most exciting film festival right now? We bet you’d guess Cannes, or Tribeca…maybe South by Southwest or Sundance. But you’d be wrong — the festival that authorities like Film Comment and Indiewire consider one of the most innovative and surprising film festival institutions out there exists in Columbia, Missouri every year: the True/False Festival. Specializing in experimental documentaries and other non-fiction film forms that don’t fit an easy box, True/False has become the paragon of what we love about 2020 in short film.
The lineups include films of various lengths, with each short film selected pushing new boundaries and defying any industry expectations. At this festival, films aren’t just there to be bought and sold, but to be experienced with others in a shared space. The movement of prestige television only became what it was because of innovation, and it’s because of places like True/False that the traditional short film model (three act structure, 20 minutes or less) comes to die — so something new can be born.
If you want to experience a platform that champions innovation in short films, and that cheers on the advent of prestige short filmmaking, come to blog.miniflix.tv. We cover the short film world as it evolves, while also providing in-depth interviews with artists and filmmakers creating shorts all over the world.