Short film makers find newer ways to generate revenue from their creations.

“What a great film! I have nothing but good things to say about it! I really identified with the main character…Hats off to ‘granny’ as well! Her charm and energy was absolutely infectious.” Anna Powell from New Zealand posted this after watching the heart-warming Kuttimaa, a Tamil short film that celebrates rural life and relationships. She watched a sub-titled version on IndieReign, a pay-per-view website that allows independent filmmakers to make some money on their investment on a revenue-sharing basis.

Aghavizhi, another Tamil short has also earned some money through this website. Ganesh Kumar Mohan, Kuttimaa’s director, and Gopakumar who directed Aghavizhi, have tapped a whole new audience using this method. Strangely both films have been seen by more foreigners than Indians!

Until now, short film makers uploaded their films on YouTube. Many did not use the monetisation option even when their films went viral. The only way of seeing some money was making a feature film version of their short film (like director Balaji Mohan did with Kaadhalil Sodhuppuvadhu Yeppadi (KSY)), or using their short film to grab a foothold in the film industry.

Paid screenings have gotten popular too. Filmmakers hire a hall, club a couple of short films together, and screen them for a nominal charge of Rs. 50 or 100. “This is preceded by adequate online publicity and so, we usually recover our screening cost even if we do not make profits,” says Ganesh, who screened his film in Bangalore.

The 25-minute-long Aghavizhi, that the director describes as a ‘mind twister’, has now gone to the Censor Board, before it does the rounds of various film festivals. These festivals are a boon, says Gopakumar, because they give them much-needed publicity when a film is screened online.

How happy are filmmakers with online revenue? Ganesh says the initial revenue might be low, but “this is an evolving model and people will take time to get used to it”. Ganesh did explore the option of releasing a DVD of his short, but faced logistical issues. “However, once online, if the content is good, the film is marked as the ‘film of the day’, with reviews from viewers. That gives it a huge push,” he says.

Bangalore-based www.zingreel.com, an IIM incubation company, hosts films for free on its website, but charges viewers. Payment is powered by Paypal. Balwanth Singh, head, content acquisition, says filmmakers can choose how long they want their film to be available on the website. “We are a non-exclusive website. Filmmakers retain the rights and can simultaneously screen their film elsewhere. We share gross revenues on a 50:50 basis,” he says. The advantage for filmmakers is that they do not have to spend on screening, server cost or marketing.

KSY’s Balaji Mohan says this boom was waiting to happen. “It always had the potential. Now, with more people using credit cards, online revenue generation will pick up. Filmmakers must cash in on it. Even I uploaded some of my movies (Mittaiveedu, The Juniors…) on a website, FridayMoviez.com,” he says.

As for the quality of short films, he says: “Many have achieved technical finesse. If they work on the content, there’s no stopping them.”

Another person who has supported short film makers is Y NOT Studios’ S. Sashikanth. He co-produced the film version of KSY. “Besides online avenues, I think television will also play a key role. Some channels are exploring the possibility of a series of episodic short films.” He says that with mobile content getting popular and attention spans reducing, short films are the way forward.

As for short films being converted into features, Sashikanth says that while it was a novelty a while ago, it has become a formula now. “The uniqueness of short films lies in their quirkiness; not all can be translated onto the big screen.” Now, he is evaluating some short film scripts to be made into features.

Will short films ever see commercial release in theatres? A trade source says that’s not a viable proposition under the present rules. “Until flexibility in show timings and pricing is brought in, it is difficult. It is unfair to price a 15-minute film and a regular feature in the same price band. That also results in very low turnout,” he says.

Gopakumar dreams of a day when like in Australia and a few European countries, there will be special screening spaces for short and indie films in India. “These have a screen of 720p or 1080p resolution and are set up in airports, metro rail stations, etc. If your flight or train is delayed, you can always enter this space, choose your movie, pay and watch.”

This niche spaces, he says, will provide the much-needed breathing space for short film makers and encourage them to come up with good content. “This is ideal for filmmakers such as me who make films for sheer passion, not with a commercial bent of mind,” he says. “Films such as these can create a small ripple in society. The least they need is a screening space,” he says.

FUNDING ROUTE

Most short films are funded by friends and family. Aghavizhi (above) was produced by Gopakumar’s friends Sripriya Krishnaswmay and Selva Kathiresan. Ganesh Kumar Mohan got lucky. Dhaarunika Ambedkar approached him through Facebook and offered to produce Kuttimaa (right) after seeing some of his earlier short films