Why we released our film online

As I renewed our Vimeo Plus account this morning, I was reminded that it has been exactly a year since we released “Something Left, Something Taken” online. Traditionally, filmmakers have waited for a two-year festival cycle to end before putting their work online. Over the past year, we have received many questions about our decision not to wait.

Here are some of our thoughts.

-Time and Place
We made our movie for a specific time in the world and in our own life. It felt natural to put it in front of a broader audience while it was still fresh for us. We knew the movie itself wouldn’t make much money, so we decided to quantify its value by how many people were able to see it.

I read a comment on a popular film blog a while back that asked how filmmakers could afford to give their work away for free. Ru and I always felt the exact opposite. How could we afford not to put our work online? For us it was simple. We reasoned that the sale of our animation could not possibly generate enough money to sustain our life in New York. By putting our work in a place that people could see it, we actually ended up making far more money from opportunities created from the online presence than we had in previous years.
This approach did not completely undermine distribution of the short. We are currently working with a short distributor who has sold the rights to the short in several countries despite the fact that it can be viewed for free online.
Texas-based artist Austin Kleon wrote about what he called “the secret” on his blog— Do good work, then put it where people can see it.

-Instant feedback
There is something terrifying and wonderful about being able to monitor the response to your work as quickly as we can these days. The truth is, people want to watch good work regardless of the technique,form or content. Work that resonates with an audience circulates quickly. Posting your work on the internet is the simplest way to find if what you are doing is connecting with an audience.

Some of the most exciting things that have happened in the past year were complete surprises. We’ve tried to be as open to new opportunities and, as a loose rule, we decided to say “yes” to most requests that have come our way.
-As a result, we have been invited to hold workshops at seven different schools in the country.
-Our film has been completely remixed and re-dubbed by some incredibly talented Argentinian students.
-A lovely French woman helped create subtitles so that she could share the film with her friends
-Our sound designer randomly saw our short playing on Virgin America airlines during a cross-continental flight.
-A Brazilian teacher is using our movie to help teach English to his students
-A Swedish school asked us to help rework their motiongraphics curriculum  (unfortunately we were unable to fit this one in our schedule)
The unexpected avenues are part of what has made this whole process so much fun!

-Art and the artist
One of the unique things about releasing work online is the relationship between the artist and the art. Identity and context has never been so important to an audience when evaluating work as it is when viewed online. Posting our work online and documenting our process has given us an opportunity to engage directly with the people who watched our film. We are delighted that other artists have sent emails asking us questions or sent links to works that were inspired by one of the techniques that we documented.

After putting our short film on Vimeo, we were automatically ineligible for a Academy nomination (even though we have won an Academy qualifying award). We have also been disqualified from several big festivals that wanted to show our work . We didn’t think about this much because we honestly didn’t know how our work would do in the festival world. As disappointing as that may seem, we still have had the opportunity to show our work at a lot of incredible festivals including Sundance, Annecy, Ottawa, Clermont-Ferrand. We are also incredibly proud to have been nominated as finalist at the first Vimeo Awards Festival. I have to believe that in the upcoming years, more and more festivals will adopt flexible policies for the online presence of short films.

Final thoughts. After reading that, it might come as a surprise that we will not be releasing our next short online. The project that we are currently working on will be co-produced by the Netherlands Institute of Animated Film and we are contractually obligated to keep the film offline. There is no doubt that putting your work online can lead to some wonderful opportunities, but after all, this really is one big experiment. We are interested to see how our next work is affected by having a more traditional festival run and we’ll let you know in a couple of years!

EDIT- For those who want to read more on the subject, Andrew Allen wrote a terrific case study here.

14 thoughts on “Why we released our film online

  1. leo

    Exellent article, i love your work, and the sort you did your short movie and the tv commercials.
    That give me envy of making my own short movie too :D
    i have started to make my short 30s with your idea of using every day objects, like carton and plastic.

    I want to share with you the begginig of my short 30s movie,look theses pictures if you have the time, and give comments too.

    Thanks to you.

    Links. http://img51.imageshack.us/img51/6527/small03x.jpg

  2. Tim Rauch

    An interesting and worthwhile topic, thanks for taking it on.

    I’ve also been converted to the belief that putting your work online is the best way to go. Many festivals and distributors no longer care, many more find you thanks to the additional exposure, the audience feedback is greater and the sheer number of eyeballs is much higher. Spending thousands of dollars to get our first two shorts into festivals we probably managed to have no more than 5-15,000 people see those two combined. Our most recent work went online Monday and by the end of the day yesterday had 600,000 views.

    In the end, the best way to make money from animated shorts does not seem to be from selling the product itself (your film) but from capitalizing on the opportunities that come from getting it seen by others (teaching gigs, money for future projects, commercial clients, etc).

    Good luck with the new work!

  3. tinymax Post author

    @Leo Thanks! The pics of the barn are lovely and the pinecone trees are very clever. Definitely send us updates on the progress.

    @Tim I think that the popularity of your Storycorp shorts online is evidence that really good work gets seen. I’m really interested to see how audiences will react to one of the newer shorts that you haven’t released yet…Mike gave one of my classes a sneak preview and it is a very powerful piece.

  4. Steve Kirby

    Good on you. I’ve always disliked the exclusivity policy of those festivals. A good film is always worth seeing again on the big screen anyway. As with the music industry, it’s live events that can’t be replicated, and as we spend more time communicating online, participatory events will have more value. I think this is why F5 has just been so successful.

  5. tinymax Post author

    @Steve Kirby I agree 100%. Context is everything. I’ve been floored when seeing a film on the big screen even after watching the same short with indifference several times online. I would have loved to go to F5 this year but couldn’t fit it in.

    @Robert Trujillo Thanks, Robert! Keep us posted on the project that you are doing in The Philippines. Best of luck!

  6. Nabeeh Bilal

    Great Post. My team and I at CreativeJunkFood, LLC are working on an animated short as well. It’s great that you mentioned creating great work that resonates with people, allowing the people to see it online, and the great results that positive online feedback can bring.


  7. Pingback: from the internets: Should I post my film online, via CartoonBrew | Canadian Animation Resources

  8. Phil Willis

    Thanks for talking about a subject that I’ve been considering for a while.

    I’m glad for all the opportunities you’ve had as a result of posting your work online.

    Well deserved. It’s a brilliant idea, beautifully executed.

    One question:

    Do you think you could have had your cake and eat it too?

    What if you’d entered festivals first, walked down the red carpet, grabbed your Oscar, kissed Halle Berry and *then* posted online later?

    Is it just a matter of timing?

    Thanks for the great post and all the best for your next project

  9. tinymax Post author

    @ Andrew Wow. That is incredibly insightful. I’m linking to your article in our post. Thanks for sharing!

    @ Phil That’s a great question. I don’t really think that it’s an “either or” decision. If a filmmaker has reservations about releasing it online, I would recommend submitting to a couple of festivals and feeling it out. If the response is overwhelmingly positive and film is winning all sorts of big-time awards, it might be best for the filmmaker to wait.
    It’s a personal decision and for some people the benefits of an Academy nod or a screening at Cannes would outweigh any immediate opportunities gained from online exposure.

    Honestly, we didn’t have much of a choice. We had exhausted a lot of our own resources finishing the project and needed to see if we could create some new opportunities right away. We simply couldn’t afford to hold out for two years or wait to see if we would win any qualifying festivals.
    In addition, Ru and I are extremely excited about what online distribution means for the future of independent film and were anxious to see what would happen. It was the right decision for that time in our lives, but I don’t know what we will do with future projects.

    I’m really glad that this is leading to some great conversation. Check out some interesting comments and experiences in a thread over at Cartoon Brew:


  10. Darien

    Hi Andrew, Hi Ru,

    thanks for a really interesting and insightful take on the subject. As the producer for “We Are What We Eat”, (an ambitious Zombie Film by Sam Toller, an even more ambitious 16 year old director!)we’ve been experimenting with periods of proclivity on websites and are still in the first 6 months of success for our short. Thankfully, we had a boon in the way of a screening at NFFTY 2012 (the National Film Fest for Talented Youth) and the film appears to be resonating with horror fans and young audiences alike.

    I’m not sure what the future will hold for our project but I feel positive that although we’ve been acquired for non-exclusive distribution by Renderyard and Black Flag pictures, our exposure will continue to reap benefits.

    It’s nice to read the words of two filmmakers who actively take a stand on where the future of online / festival exposure seems to be heading. I think the notion that online = less value is flawed and ignores the reality that web audiences (in numbers if nothing else) engage in numbers at a level that cinemas are envious of.


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