Ask any new film-maker why they made a short and they will likely say they wanted to tell a story and to explore their craft. But it is also true shorts act as a commercial for a film-maker's talent - and in the age of YouTube, getting a calling card seen is easier than ever before.

Gone are the days when film-makers had to strike a print of their short and cajole executives and producers into screenings: shorts posted online can be viewed immediately - and can quickly build the kind of buzz that makes the industry sit up and take notice.

As one film executive says: "Even the thought of opening a DVD package, unwrapping the disc and putting it in a laptop can be a disincentive to watching a short. With the internet, it's there immediately. It's made exposure much faster."

British director Jim Field Smith, for example, secured a US agent (Endeavor) and manager (Underground Films) after they saw his short Goodbye To The Normals online. "The film had already screened on (UK broadcaster) Channel 4 but its real success was online - more than 300,000 viewers on Google Video and 150,000 on YouTube," says Field Smith, who has also signed up with New York commercials company Creative Film Management International after a member of the company saw the short on IFilm.

Nor do shorts have to be polished and perfect in order for talent to shine through. "The industry has started responding more to raw talent and vision than just a film-maker who could craft a film with a beginning, middle and end," says the Sundance Institute's director of programming John Cooper. "The industry is smart. They look everywhere for new talent. However, there is a huge difference between a short film and a video clip. Savvy film-makers will look at all options of platforms once a film is finished."

But if the internet offers new film-makers the chance to have their work seen, the sheer volume of material online can make it difficult to seek out genuine talent. "The great thing about the internet is that it's easy to access. The bad thing is that you easily get lost in it," says Persian-Canadian director Hossein Martin Fazeli, whose recent short The T-Shirt (aka Tricko) won several awards, including the Youth Jury award at the 2006 Clermont-Ferrand short film festival. "There are simply too many choices."

"There's just too much on there," agrees one agent. "I much prefer to see shorts on the big screen."

It is no accident, then, that despite the rise in online short-watching, the major short film festivals and prizes have gone from strength to strength with more shorts festivals now than ever before, fuelled by the increase in production and interest in so-called nano-entertainment. Events such as France's Clermont-Ferrand and Cannes, Finland's Tampere and the US's Sundance Film Festival provide a valuable curatorial role for talent scouts in search of new signings.

As Sundance's Cooper points out: "The continual flow of content from novices is exciting but it also makes cultural filters, like festivals, just that much more important." And the prizes given at such events - as well as the Oscars and Baftas - can bring prestige and, crucially, the cash to help film-makers produce more shorts.


Winner, BBC New Filmmakers' Award at Encounters 2006; winner, Best British Short, the British Independent Film Awards 2006; Rushes Soho Shorts best short award

British film-maker Tom Harper's third short Cubs, a high-energy drama about urban youth, has received wide critical acclaim. It was also nominated for best short film at the Baftas.

What impact have the awards had on your career'

Winning the awards has certainly raised my profile within the industry. Awards are great publicity and the film reached a larger audience as a result. Due to its success, I have had a constant stream of meetings and have been making films ever since. I don't know how much the awards were to do with this but they certainly haven't hurt.

Have the awards made it easier to finance your next work'

Yes - my latest short film, Cherries, was financed off the back of Cubs. I think this is mainly to do with the script by Fiona Kissane, but it's always easier to back someone with a track record.

What lessons did winning the awards teach you'

You learn pretty quickly that not everyone is going to like your work. You have to try and tell the stories you feel passionately about, that you are prepared to fight for and defend. Of course, you also have to be aware of your audience and know your market.

Did you make the short as a calling card'

I think short films are absolutely an art form in their own right but they don't pay the bills. After Cubs I wanted to make another short that challenged me in different ways as I felt I needed more experience before tackling something longer form.

Did you make any money from it'

The BBC award came with some prize money which enabled us to pay back the people we owed money. It also left us with a bit in the bank to put towards getting Cherries out to print. We have earned small amounts from licence fees and the film has sold more than 1,000 units in the first couple of months on the iTunes US site.

Does it matter to you how people watch it'

The ideal is that the film is seen in the cinema as this is the medium it was created for. But it's not a question of either cinema or other mediums, but cinema and other mediums. The more people that see it the better. I posted it on MySpace last week as part of the mymoviemashup competition and within five days it had 2,500 hits. It's great that the internet provides a platform to reach such an extensive audience, and you are able to interact with your audience (through it). I'm also keen to explore sites that split ad revenue, such as Revver.

Can you make money from short films in other ways, through mobile phone companies or selling to internet sites'

Pay per download will generate some income, but primarily for the shorts that get exposure from awards or the top festivals. Sites that split banner advertising revenue with the film-maker will also provide a source of income. Another interesting area is product placement - with the decline of the 30-second broadcast commercial, I think advertisers will be looking for new ways in which to promote their products.

- The Encounters Short Film Festival, held in Bristol, Southern England, screened more than 300 shorts in 2006. It gives out 15 awards worth a total of $19,850 (£10,000).

- The BBC New Film-makers' Award comes with a prize of $9,900 (£5,000).


Winner, short film Palme d'Or, Cannes film festival, 2006

A Norwegian graduate of the London International Film School, Peers has worked as a writer and cartoonist as well as a director. His first film, Sniffer, is set in a world in which people can fly.

What impact has the Palme d'Or had on your career'

Huge. A short while after Cannes, I was signed with one of the largest commercials companies in Norway. Making commercials enables me to take time off to work on my own stuff and pay the bills.

Has the award made it easier to finance your next work'

It is easier to get people's attention but I still have to go through the process of rewriting and convincing the funding bodies.

What lessons did winning the award teach you'

Once you have a name, everyone wants a piece of you. Nothing's changed in terms of your talent and ability, but you've got a name.

Did you make the short as a calling card'

I made the film because I care very much about what it says. But I also recognise the calling-card value of a short film, so I made it to show people that I can make a good film and to make it easier for me to get future funding.

Did you make any money from it'

The film has been sold to TV stations all over the world but they don't pay very much. Sniffer has not made me rich.

Does it matter how people watch it'

It depends on the film. Sniffer was made for the big screen and works best in the cinema because it is a very visual film with no dialogue. I have no problem with putting my work on YouTube, but it has to be right for the project. I think the internet is revolutionising the way we watch films, especially short films.

- The Cannes film festival official selection accepts films of up to 15 minutes in length that have not been screened at any other event, released outside their country of origin or shown on the internet. About 15 shorts compete for the Palme d'Or.


Winner, live action short film Oscar, 2007

Ari Sandel's West Bank Story, a comedy about Arab and Jewish falafel vendors on the West Bank, premiered at the Sundance film festival in 2005, went on the festival circuit and won the Oscar for live action short this year. His documentary, Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days & 30 Nights - Hollywood To The Heartland, premiered at the 2006 Toronto film festival.

What impact has the award had on your career'

It did give me a lot of credibility. My film had been around for two years so people knew who I was, but after it won a lot of people much higher up in the studios wanted to meet up with me. I got the chance to read many more scripts.

Has the award made it easier to finance your next work'

The documentary I made is owned by Vince Vaughn and now I'm working with the studios, so finding money is not an issue. But if I wanted to go back to independent movies, I know that the Oscar would reassure investors that I had a track record.

Did you make the short as a calling card'

The short was my graduate thesis film. But I wanted to make a calling card showing what I was capable of as a film-maker; I wanted to make a political film to get attention around the world.

Did you make any money from it'

You don't make money from shorts. You don't get many buyers for shorts because there just isn't much money to be made from them.

Does it matter to you how people watch it'

I've always preferred it to be seen at the cinema and on TV. Sure, the internet opens the door to a wider audience but it doesn't look so good, the sound and the picture are inferior, it skips. My film was put on YouTube without my permission but I got it taken down. And if you're trying to break into the business, festivals are the best way; they get you the prestige.

- International live action or animated shorts which have won the best-in-category award at an accredited festival, have received a theatrical screening to a paying public or have won a gold medal at the Student Academy Awards are eligible to enter for the Academy Award.


Winner, best short film Bafta, 2007

British-Sri Lankan Ameresekere's Do Not Erase is about one woman's video-letters to her son fighting in Iraq. His other credits include short In Sight which played the festival circuit in 2003.

What impact has the award win had on your career'

It has certainly been easier to get my work read. Production companies have asked for meetings. And other festivals have shown interest in the film, which for short film is the most immediate and cost-effective form of distribution.

Has the award made it easier to finance your next work'

Hopefully it will allow me into places previously closed to me. Do Not Erase was self-funded.

Did you make the short as a calling card'

The story dictates the format. It's an organic process. Do Not Erase could never be anything other than a short film, and this premise is why the short form is so important to us. I find the concept of making a short as a calling card more prevalent in the UK than in Europe, and the UK film industry seems to encourage this. German and French film-makers use the medium less to prove themselves and more to explore.

Did you make any money from it'

When the film premiered at the International Hamburg Short Film Festival in 2006, I signed the film's rights over to the Hamburg Short Film Agency. It will be distributed theatrically in German-speaking countries soon. For now, the only cash I've had is through awards.

Does it matter to you how people watch it'

I think with this film it's important it is seen only via cinema or TV, and that stems from the story. It's a video diary and I don't feel comfortable with it being on the internet or a phone.

What do you think of the rise in amateur short film-making on sites like YouTube'

It's great. It's only a matter of time before the internet becomes a serious distribution vehicle. However, what it is missing right now is PR and marketing, directing a specific audience to a film. Your film can get buried.

Can you make money from short films in other ways, through mobile phone companies or selling to internet sites'

One company wanted rights to my film and I declined because a lot of TV stations are not comfortable with mobile rights belonging to another company.

- Bafta's live-action and animated best short awards are selected by a jury. Only British films are eligible and must have screened at one of the Bafta-recognised festivals.


Winner, Grand Prix, Clermont-Ferrand shorts festival, 2007

Swedish short-film maker Assur's The Last Dog In Rwanda, a recent winner of best narrative short at Tribeca, tells the story of a news photographer in Rwanda.

What impact has the award had on your career'

After winning at Clermont-Ferrand, the film was invited to festivals all over the world. It will be shown in the US, Canada, Brazil, South Korea, Turkey, Italy, Germany and Spain. I have found there is a genuine interest for both the film and my work as a film-maker at these festivals.

Has the award made it easier to finance your next work'

The prize opens doors. It makes it easier to get in contact with organisations and individuals.

Did you make the short as a calling card'

I wrote and made the short in order to make it easier to finance my feature-film screenplay. After having attended a couple of festivals, I have been both impressed and inspired by what can be achieved with a short film ... all the way from funny and simple three-minute films to the more dramatic and demanding 40-minute films.

What do you think of the rise in amateur short film-making on sites like YouTube'

Short films which go to the top festivals are of a high artistic quality. The short films shown on the internet are often made on the back of just one idea. Some are smart and witty but they are seldom done with any high artistic quality. The difference between the film festival shorts and those on YouTube is like the difference between Citizen Kane and Police Academy 6.

Can you make money from short films in other ways, through mobile phone companies or selling to internet sites'

As the forms for distribution are changed, the forms for financing will also change. Mobile phone operators and internet sites will, in the future, primarily finance series adapted to a cellphone or the internet.

- Around 180 shorts compete annually for one of the prizes from Clermont-Ferrand, one of the world's leading shorts festivals. The international Grand Prix is worth $5,400 (EUR4,000).


In next week's issue, Screen International will launch The Talent Filter, a weekly look at the hottest emerging talent working in shorts, advertising and other short-form media. Each week on the Final Cut page, the Filter will showcase a short film from a new international talent and look at why its writer, director or star cannot be ignored.