Phil Alloy bought a digital video camera for $750 from a local electronics store and hightailed it to Eastern Europe to make a documentary about Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. The University of Toledo graduate student talked to 15 survivors. When he return, he only had enough money left for a short documentary. He could only use two of the interviews, but even if he completed the film, he had no idea what to do with it. He had no ties to Hollywood, no distribution stragedy, and no idea how anybody might eventually see his film.
That was a year ago. Today, Alloy is a player.
He doesn't track box office receipts. He doesn't know which Eddie Murphy comedy has yet to break $100 million domestically. He doesn't care, what he does follow, however, with the same keen eyes and shrewed heart of a studio chief, are clicks, or hits, or views, or whatever you want to call the number of times a World Wide Web page is accessed.
Last summer, with the hope of luring rich eyeballs and raising the additional $50,000 he figures he needs to complete a feature-length version of his film, 'Interviews from the Underground', Alloy went online. His timing couldn't have been better.
Short films are no longer just the toughest pick in the office Oscar pool.
Alloy is proof. He did nothing more than submit his documentary to the hot Internet shortfilm showcase IFILM; a couple of months later, 'Interviews from the Underground' is the highest-rated documentary in the Web site's two-year history. Other film sites are asking to repost the movie. He's been invited to screen the movie at film festivals, including the Milan International film festival. And on IFILM itself, more than 12,000 Web surfers have watched his work. Some of those surfers have left rapturous reviews asking for a feature-length version of the documentary - considerable leverage if he applies for a state or federal arts grant to complete the film.
"Every morning I check my computer to see how [the film] is doing, what the reviews are, how high it's rated," Alloy said. "Gotta know what the weekend receipts are, so to speak. My wife thought I was being obsessive about it at first. Now that people are calling me about the film, she says, "Whatever you're doing, keep doing it."
After decades of neglect at the bottom of the celluloid food chain, short film is big again, rolling across cable TV, DVD, and especially the Internet, where scores of sites - including IFILM, Atomfilms, and Nibblebox - bring brief work (usually less than an hour, often less than 10 minutes) by both fledgling and establishing film makers to any computer with a decent connection speed, around the globe and around the clock.
Atomfilms is so smitten with the genre, founder Mike Saimi envisions a day when we're watching shorts on elevators, in long grocery store lines, and at the gas pump. In fact, shorts are already everywhere - hotel rooms, in-flight movies, shopping malls, Palm Piolets; everywhere except the place where they once ruled: movie theaters.