How does a short make money?
April 26, 2007 2:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm wondering about the business end of short films. How do they make money? A no-budget, 5-minute short is one thing, but many shorts have high production values, location shoots, CGI, etc., which can come to a substantial amount. For example the Academy Awards for Best Short nominees all seem to be (I didn't see em) at least (stab in the dark here) $10,000 and way up. Unlike features (even really crappy ones), shorts aren't shown in theaters or on video and I've never really seen them outside a shorts festival. Are the producers of these taking a loss? Is it merely a kind of marketing for a director/production company and a loss is the norm?
posted by zardoz to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
No one makes short films to make money. They are usually made for competitions, for/with scholarships, by students and with grants. It's definitely not a business as such. You get big name directors making short films occasionally, but never really for any financial gain.

Mostly short films work as 'calling cards' to prove yourself as being able to create content in good enough quality to move on to features. Very few people work exclusively on narrative short pieces for very long. Like you say, there isn't much of a market for them outside of festivals and the internet.

Avant garde is a slightly different kettle of fish, however.

/3 years of film school making the damn things
posted by slimepuppy at 4:29 AM on April 26, 2007

slimepuppy's mostly right though there are short-film creators that work exclusively in that market and don't want to move to features.

Many short makers do so with their own money (and own equipment which means less money) and many also do it with grants from government and cultural entities.

Also, what you say about shorts not being on video is not correct. There are multiple labels that deal or have dealt exclusively in shorts (Wholphin, SHORT, etc.)--I owned a label myself for 5 years and distrubuted some well-known Canadian shorts. They can also be sold to television (the last short I produced sold to Bravo! for a 5 year contract for instance, and I'm pretty sure IFC and other stations run shorts).

Just FYI, it's very difficult to judge a film's budget by the film itself or its running time. Not just difficult, impossible, so I wouldn't let that influence you or sway you. I made a feature for $14k once while a friend of mine spent $40k on an 11 minute film.
posted by dobbs at 6:19 AM on April 26, 2007

IFC and other stations run shorts

Surely. Look on HBO, Showtime, TCM, etc. Movies typically start on the hour or half-hour, and sometimes shorts are used between programs.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:23 AM on April 26, 2007

As has been pointed-out, many shorts are made as a portfolio piece, of sorts.
On the other end, some shorts are made as in-house experiments or proof-of-concepts.
Pixar's shorts, for example, are often test beds for particular technical effects or story-telling techniques. Sometimes they encompass several different tests into a single piece.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:59 AM on April 26, 2007

There are thousands of short pieces produced every year that make money: Ads and music videos. The amount of money spent per minute of a major TV ad campaign is many times as much has is spent on a blockbuster film.

But the stuff at the academy awards is either done for love of the subject or as a promotional tool. Everyone else has covered this pretty well. I'll only add that a couple creative agencies I worked for would produce them as a perk for the staff who would get burned out making Windex commercials.
posted by Ookseer at 10:48 AM on April 26, 2007

I agree with the above commentors -- with the addition that short film directors/producers usually call in a lot of favors to keep the budget down.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:53 AM on April 26, 2007

Shorts serve a number of different purposes and so how/if they make money can vary. Basically there is the short film that exists for itself and can be sold on video and to TV networks, there is the calling card short film whose only real purpose is to grab attention for a writer, director, actor, cinematographer or what-have-you and there's proof of concept short (like what Robert Rodriguez made of Sin City to convince Frank Miller to sign off on the project).

As I know a couple of people who produce shorts for profit, I have to say that it's a tricky bit of business. They usually own their own equipment and get friends, family and people looking to pad their resume to work for nothing to keep costs down. And then after the film is made they work extremely hard to get whatever money they can from it.

But even with that, it's still a labor of love. All my friends tell me that they're real goal is to break even or to help finance the next movie rather than make a profit. These guys are not cashing big checks on their projects, they're just in it to make movies.
posted by jaybeans at 1:28 PM on April 26, 2007

And some of us do it just because it's hella fun!
posted by trinity8-director at 5:50 PM on April 26, 2007

There are a number of DVDs on netflix that combile several shorts with the same theme. I'm sure SOME money is involved with the rights and such there.
posted by crewshell at 7:47 PM on April 26, 2007

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