Who wants short shorts?

Short films are popping up all over the Net, and at Sundance 2000, they're hotter than at any time since Wile E. and the Road Runner were driven out of movie theaters.

Published January 31, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

One of the hottest topics in the film world is that shorts are back, and not just as camp-kitsch echoes of 1976 biology class or nostalgic memories of the days when movie theaters actually played something besides commercials before the feature started. AtomFilms, one of the Internet's premier short-film hubs, hosted its Sundance party in a mountaintop condo on Monday night. Over the canapi tray, I caught up with Patrick Lynn of MediaTrip.com, a player in the brand new world of short-film marketing who showed up in Park City with a million bucks to spend.

Can you explain why short films are getting such phenomenal attention right now?

Well, the real phenomenon is that short films now have an excellent life. On the Internet, on cable, on television -- you name it. It's their day in the sun.

Many dot-com businesses seem to be parking on "real estate" for the future, while they wait for technological innovation to catch up to them. Short films are different -- they'll actually work on the Internet at its current speed, right?

Well, the good thing is that the Internet is the lean-forward medium. Television is the lean-back medium, and that's where the whole convergence is going to come from.

Excuse me, but what are you talking about?

When you're on your computer, you're leaning forward. You're paying attention. You're paying closer attention than you would to your television -- where you're with your remote, clicking back and forth between six or seven channels.

You've been around the block as a feature film buyer and seller at festivals. How is it different as a short-film buyer?

There's been a lot of talk about how there's going to be a big bidding war for short films. That hasn't really materialized yet. A lot of short filmmakers don't consider the Internet right now, when they should. They make the films for a reason, and one of the main reasons is to get some exposure. Now, another reason is to get some money up front. With the Internet, that can totally happen.

What have you acquired for MediaTrip.com recently?

We just picked up a film called "Los Gringos" that has the most amazing animation I have ever seen. It takes the "Toy Story" animation and CGI [computer-generated images], and takes them 10 steps further. They've got the skin tone down; they've got the finger movements down, the swing of a rifle -- it's all very human. There is nothing comparable to "Los Gringos."

Did the huge success that porn filmmakers had in switching their medium to the Internet point the way for other kinds of filmmakers?

Absolutely. Nobody admits to watching porn, but it's a billion-dollar industry. Everybody is watching the porn industry, because the porn industry knows how to make money. And everyone is watching how they're making money, and stepping back and saying, "Now, how can we make money with short films? How can you get someone to pay to watch stuff on the Internet?" I mean, obviously it's easier with porn. With short films it's a little bit different, but at least there's a mechanism in place to make that money.

Will we ever see the day when shorts will play in movie theaters again?

Well, the thing about exhibitors right now is that they're screening the ads. That stuff brings in cash. A short film doesn't necessarily bring in cash. I think, in the future -- if it's an "event" short film, you can help sell a feature by bringing in people that may want to see the short film.

Have you picked up anything else here at Sundance?

Right now, just "Los Gringos." But I'm looking seriously at about five others, including films from [spinoff festivals] Slamdance, NoDance and SlamDunk. All of them have great short films. The hottest title this year is a short called "Moses vs. Godzilla." It's fucking hilarious.

Do you really believe that watching movies on the Internet is the wave of the future?

Well, I've been to Sundance before as a seller and a buyer. This time, as a buyer for the Internet, I totally feel like I'm ahead of the curve. A lot of people are still hesitant. I've got one thing to say to them: Get used to it.

By Mark Ebner

Los Angeles writer Mark Ebner has written for Spy, Premiere and Details. This is his ninth Sundance festival.

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