Jacqui Gal

Canadians in Shorts: The Bravo!/FACTPhenomenon

Photo: Moving Pictures Magazine

If we can agree with the 1979 New Wave song which alleged that video killed the radio star, in an age of attention span deficit, could short films be threatening the feature’s future?

Borrowing the MTV Mold

However unlikely that prospect may be, short films are garnering critical acclaim and growing platforms for distribution. And while it might have been the success of short format music channels like MTV that inspired the birth of the Bravo!/FACT (Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent) grant program, it was the advent of the video cell phone that sparked the “Shorts in Motion” project.

In 2005, when Bravo!/FACT executive director Judy Gladstone first heard about video phone technology, she aspired to be first in providing original shorts for the new gizmo. Bravo!/FACT approached four filmmakers for six-minute shorts for the first project, lending Nokia video phones to the creative talent to assist the inspiration. “Their challenge was to create a short that would be enjoyable, watchable and understandable on a small screen,” explains Gladstone. The films would later be available also for TV, festivals and the Web.

This year, nine filmmakers participated, and two of them used cell phone cameras to produce footage. Ericsson came forward with cameras, and Bravo!/FACT teamed up with the National Film Board of Canada for the first time, resulting in a series of shorts that can be viewed on the “Sundance Channel’s website”:http://www.sundancechannel.com/seduction/.

Exposure

Often it’s the exposure, more than the funding, that really helps to launch the Bravo!/FACT artists.
Year ‘round, Bravo! (distinguished from the American channel by its exclamation point) airs a half-hour national program of Bravo!/FACT shorts on Fridays at 7.30 p.m. (Eastern time). The show is repeated over the weekend on free-to-air regional channels. For all recipients of the Bravo!/Fact grants, this is the world premiere of their short film. Importantly, the films remain the property of the artists and can be screened at film festivals and other venues.

“The films reach a demographic that wouldn’t come out to a festival event. Plus, we encourage the awardees and organize screenings at festivals. If the shorts sell to other broadcasters, they get the second window in Canada or internationally,” Gladstone says. “The awardees own the work and get any money from sales.”

Short Means Short

The six-minute limit is non-negotiable, so filmmakers must make every scene count. “We based it on the success of the music video,” says Gladstone. “And we have seen that festival organizers appreciate when shorts really are shorts. They would rather put more in a program and give their audience a cross-section. If it’s very short, they can put a short before a feature.”

This practice looks set for revival in cinemas, too. “I keep hoping I’ll be able to announce that we have an ongoing agreement with a cinema chain,” says Gladstone. “It will be easier when everything goes digital.”

From Short to Showtime

Comedic writer Dan Redican and composer Alexina Louie were partnered at a conference and given 48 hours to come up with an idea for a short. They wrote Toothpaste , and applied to all the federal and provincial government agencies for production funding. After winning a Bravo!/FACTgrant for CAD $20,0000, the short achieved popular acclaim internationally, and fostered a further eight operatic shorts ordered as part of a million-dollar project called Burnt Toast , written by Redican and directed by Weinstein.

Giving Something Back

Bravo!FACT has apportioned more than CAD $12 million to filmmakers, launching more than 1000 short films. Originally established as part of the CHUM network, Bravo!/FACT was recently acquired by CTV globemedia Inc., which has committed to continue funding the channel’s annual budget by allocating five percent of the previous years’ gross revenue to it.

“The idea was to give back to the arts community of Canada. So the funding is 100 percent provided by the program, not the government. We started by granting half a million [dollars] a year, and it’s grown in sync with the gross revenue of Bravo!” says Gladstone.

The Outlook, In Brief

Thanks to video iPods and video cell phones, the viewing experience is becoming increasingly portable. “Some say people have shorter attention spans. I don’t personally believe that,” says Gladstone. “People still sit down and focus on the cinema or a DVD . But when you’re not ready to make that commitment or you want to be distracted, that’s when the beauty of the short comes in.” - MPM