What is the significance of producing a short film at the same time as shooting a feature? What is the art of film production whereby you learn via the short form? We spoke to Daniel Sol, active in LA and the international film industry, and asked his opinion. We hope you will enjoy the interview and its relevance five years on.
Daniel Sol is director and co-founder of the Holly Shorts Film Festival. He works in Domestic Distribution of the independent film studio Lions Gate, home of Academy Award winning film “Crush” and the hit horror series “Saw.”
From film festival to possibility of content business
While working for an independent film studio, Daniel co-founded the Holly Shorts Film Festival in 2005, which is held in Los Angeles each year. (www.hollyshorts.com) The goal of the film festival was to provide a place to showcase, as much as possible, the films of young filmmakers. At first, there were about 30 submissions which then became 200, then 600, to this year where over 1,000 submissions is expected from around the world. The festival as also expanded from 3 days long at the start to the current 1 week. Since Daniel, who also works at Lions Gate, is essentially holding down 2 jobs at once, and relies on sponsors for financing festival operations. The substance of the prizes awarded to the winners is made up of $10,000’s worth of post-production for their next film and free rental use of equipment such the RED camera. Daniel is always on the lookout for sponsors to attach to as many awards as possible. For the best cinematography award, $1,000 worth of free camera equipment, to as little as $100 worth of free rental of camera equipment is made available.
Tell us about running the festival while holding down 2 jobs.
Mr. Sol: I run the film festival, while working at the same time at Lions Gate. In the last 2 years, the film festival, thanks to tickets sales and sponsorship money, has finally made a small profit each year. But it is still at a “personal project or interest” level. The best-case scenario would be for me to work only at the film festival. I do not, however, intend for just a non-profit making entity but want to make it a commercially successful film festival as well. There are 7 to 8 people, including myself, who work as staff of the festival and they all hold down other jobs. In the future, I want to be able to pay them a salary while we operate the festival throughout the year. It’s not that I don’t like working at Lions Gate, I’m able to learn about how national distribution and national theaters work & operate and most of all, I’m making a lot of connections. Thanks to that, we are able to hold the film festival at the Laemmle Theater (a classic theater built in 1938) which is located on Sunset. In addition, the opening ceremony is held at the Directors Guild of America Theater. The tickets for it are sold out every year. My partner, who also started up the festival, works at a PR firm and through his connections we are able to attract the participation of the media and celebrities. Luckily, Los Angeles is a good location. Celebrities and directors all live here. Directors from places like Mexico and India are here as well. Even directors from Japan who are living here in Los Angeles have made appearances.
What do you think of the business possibilities of short films?
Mr. Sol: In the late 90’s, there was no market at all. There still wasn’t when I started up the film festival in 2004. There wasn’t even You Tube on the internet yet. A festival partner in the past had an IT company but that’s all gone. You could say that most of the business models have failed. Most people don’t have the mind-set to “pay” for anything on the internet. A short film that runs just 5 minutes, for example, has great potential on cell phones. As organizers of the film festival, our job is to be the middleman for the directors. Not just the films, but we sell the talent as well. If a short film is a commercial success we can sell that director to make a commercial. Most of our award winners have been able to achieve a certain level of success in the commercials business. I think that what’s important in the internet business, is not just how to make money, but how can we give something back to the filmmakers? Currently you can watch things for free including on You Tube. There’s a website that’s begun revenue sharing with every 10,000 hits or so as well. That’s just a small matter but the filmmakers are just using YouTube and that probably goes both ways. The filmmakers are just using the server’s infrastructure. In this day and age, in the cell phone business, there’s finally a possibility for growth.
Do you think that there are possibilities for short film distribution into theaters?
Mr. Sol: To try and distribute 5 or 6 short films as a collection is going to be difficult although I think there are possibilities. Probably the art movie houses will be the main venues because the majority of moviegoers want to see stars. The Academy Award® nominated short film programs are very popular. There used to be screenings of this kind of program for about a 2-week run starting from about 2 months before the Academy Awards® in New York and Los Angeles but now there are screenings in over 50 locations across the nation. Of course the “Oscar” brand is huge. Here in Los Angeles, the tickets are sold out just like that. Truthfully, I think bringing in people in to see a “regular” short film program is going to be very difficult.
The discussions with Sol as a film festival director continued. Finally, he stated attraction and appeal of short films as follow; “It’s a blank, white canvas with no rules or guidelines.” As a film festival that’s located in Hollywood where it’s easier to attract celebrities to the festival.