‘India would be the third biggest market for ShortsTV globally’

In November Tata Sky had partnered with ShortsTV and Royal Stag’s Large Short Films to launch a co-branded service in India. Priced at Rs 75 a month, Tata Sky ShortsTV is India’s first and exclusive curated destination for short stories with 2000+ critically acclaimed shorts from Oscars, Bafta, Sundance & more.

Satisfied with the response that the service has received so far, ShortsTV Chief Executive Carter Pilcher is looking to expand the offerings. On 9 March Tata Sky ShortsTV started showcasing the Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films (LSF) catalogue on its platform.

TelevisionPost.com’s Ashwin Pinto caught up with Pilcher to find out more about his company’s plans and what makes the short film format unique and exciting.

Excerpts:

What progress has ShortsTV made in growing its presence globally?

In India, our arrangement with Tata Sky is exclusive for the first year. So we have not launched it on any other platform but we are in talks with many others. Outside of India, we are launching soon in many more countries in Latin America. Every year in January and February, we distribute the Oscar-nominated shorts. All 15 nominees are put into theatres at the beginning of February. We have already had a box office of $3.5 million and we will probably end up with $3.5-3.6 million

Which are your top three markets?

The US is our biggest market. The second is Latin America but we don’t break it down by country. We sell to one network like what we have done here with Tata Sky. Then India would be third.

What trends are we seeing in the consumption of short-form content?

We are seeing real growth in the interest and enjoyment of shorts. Recently Netflix released ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ made by the Coen brothers which were a series of shorts put together into an anthology and released as a movie. It was very popular in England and in America on Netflix and got three Oscar nominations. This is similar to our strategy with the Oscar shorts of packaging them together. A lot more people are getting interested in making a bunch of shorts and then releasing them as feature movies.

Is consumption of short-form content an add-on to the consumption of movies and TV shows?

It depends on which audience you are asking about. If you are talking about young people then it is the other way around. They watch lots of shorts constantly and are certainly also watching plenty of TV shows and movies. Because shorts are entertaining and short the more you look at what people watch their age and where they watch content shorts are consumed more by people riding the tube, the subway. They are consumed by people riding transport while going to work.

A lot of the commute time is spent watching shorts. In Europe, we find that in the Netherlands young people hardly watch TV at all. They consume a lot of content on their phone. In general, when people are in the cinema halls they watch feature movies and when they are at home they watch movies and TV shows.

Which TG consumes short form content the most?

In India, we don’t get data on what age groups are. But we get better data in the US. Our sense is that we have two to three types of viewers. Our biggest viewers are always people who love movies. The biggest, most educated film fans, film connoisseurs know that short films are the real deal. They are always people who are a part of our audience. Also more and more young people are used to shorts. So they go to find them and watch them. These are the two demographics that we are the most focussed on.

So far what traction has the service on Tata Sky received?

I think that it has gotten a lot of traction. The numbers that we have gotten from them are better than a lot of other services even in the middle of all the upheaval in the Tariff system for channels. We are an expensive single channel and we have not had any churn off and we have had growth which Tata Sky is very excited about. In three months, we have been very well sold.

How much Indian content do you have on the service and what is the strategy going to be to scale this up?

We have a lot of Indian content on the service. We want more Indian content but more importantly, we want the highest quality Indian content. On 9th March, we launched the Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films (LSF) catalogue. We will have interviews with filmmakers and key films from their catalogue. This will be the first time that the entire catalogue will be shown. The aim is to have a flood of the best Indian shorts. This is a great step as we move forward. We are also working very closely with Large Short Films to commission new projects and build the filmmaking tradition in India.

Is Shorts International looking to launch a mentorship programme in the country?

We worked with the Bangalore International Short Film Festival last year and we will work with them again over the coming summer. There we launched a series of competitions and we will be working with the festival to build on those. Where young filmmakers can pitch their projects and get them funded. We are working with several of our other partners like Large Short Films to provide opportunities and develop projects with emerging filmmakers across India. It is not just about helping out.

How is the practice of binge-watching helping ShortsTV?

The great thing about ShortsTV is that there is a low barrier to entry because it takes a very little amount of time to watch a short. But in our regional surveys and studies, people come back and tell us that the problem is that watching shorts is addictive. Once you watch one of them then you move on to the next one and the next one and so on. An operator in Latin America said that she cannot watch our channel for less than 90 minutes. The initial intention is to watch a short for a few minutes but then she sticks on.

How has the advent of the mobile and the digital medium boosted short filmmaking?

There are a couple of ways in which it has benefitted. One way in which it has benefitted for sure is that all kinds of young people can make their own movie. They try and they start experimenting. One of the reasons why are we seeing very good short films coming from very young filmmakers is that the culture has changed. Making a short film used to be very expensive.

You had to go buy a camera, buy a film. You couldn’t do that when you were eight years old. You had to wait until you were 18. You had to save up money. It was a hard thing. You had to really want to do it. Now every kid practically can if they do not have a mobile phone borrow one from their friend or family member and make a little video, a little movie.

Our culture is moving from an era where we looked at video, visual entertainment as being something that is provided for us by somebody to an era where it is a basic element of communication. So that gives us as filmmakers and storytellers an amazing, ever-expanding repertoire of budding young talent. Over the past five years, our culture has really changed so much. In the next 10 years, we are going to see phenomenal things come and it will come from 18-year-olds rather than from 40-year-olds.

With hundreds of short films being made each year what is the trick to standing out from the crowd?

First and foremost, it takes a great story just like with ‘Period End of Sentence’. To make it a great movie the filmmakers captured the charming lives that the women lived. They captured the huge problem that they are faced with and then they did a great job of having the audience root for the characters. It is a great feeling.

You feel like you are a part of that story. The filmmakers delivered enough emotion to make audiences really connect and feel that it is their story and not somebody else’s. Several hundreds of thousands of people saw it in cinemas through the Oscar Short Film Festival and we have been doing all sorts of promotional events through February. Because it is a very well told story people in America are just as excited about the success of people in this village in India as people in India are.

Does the presence of a big star help in a short film?

Sometimes a big movie star can help. But when they made ‘Chutney’ which is the biggest short film online Rasika Dugal was not a big movie star. It wasn’t about that. It was a beautifully told story that so many people could relate to. Yes! Sometimes a big movie star can help but I think that big movie stars are overrated.

What is the ideal length for a short film?

It depends on the medium. For animation, I would say probably less than 10 minutes, for live action 15-25 minutes. For a documentary, it can be a little longer but there are fabulous documentaries out there that run for 10 minutes. For it to be 40 minutes you have to be a very good storyteller to make it interesting. I think that a short doc should be 20-30 minutes.

For Shorts International how important are film festivals when it comes to content curation?

We have teams of acquisitions people in India, England and in the US who spend a lot of time at film festivals. They are absolutely essential for us. We meet the filmmakers there; we see their movies and normally work with them to bring them to television. We are partners with big festivals like Cannes, Sundance. Now we partner with the Bangalore Short Film Festival. We are looking to partner with other film festivals in India and Latin America.

What role does editing play in the creation of a short film?

Editing plays an essential role in any kind of filmmaking. If you do not have a good editor then you are stuck and lost. There are many examples where an editor took a bad short film and made it great. We have produced music videos, shorts for brands. The director may be young and inexperienced. We always rely on two people to make sure that a short film works– a cinematographer that we trust and the editor.

Editing is an absolutely integral skill for the making of anything. If I have a good editor then it does not matter if the director does not quite know how to put it all together. As long as the material is there, you can pretty much save anything with a good editor.

This year Ridley Scott worked with Turkish Airlines on a short film. What is it about the medium that attracts even established filmmakers?

If you have the right budget then short films are way more fun to make than features. You do not have to do it for the rest of your life. You can tell a great story and have fun doing it. Ridley Scott has done lots of shorts. Remember that he did all the BMW shorts. He loves doing shorts. He is a great guy for shorts. But he also is the kind of guy that needs a big budget. The shorts he does are for big brands as he needs that kind of a budget.

So is there a lot of difference in the budgets within which shorts are made?

Yes! You can make a short film for $5000 and you can make a short film for $5 million. That is a big difference. It depends on special effects, the talent in it and if you pay them properly. The shooting location also matters.

Finally, you tied up with PVR to bring the ‘2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films’. Are you planning more such initiatives in the coming months?

The next thing is the Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films (LSF) branded block. We are working with the Bangalore International Film Festival which is in August. We have a bunch of other things that we are not ready to announce yet that we will be rolling out throughout the year.