Olszewski saw Lily Baldwin's "Sea Meadow" at HollyShorts 2012.
Phil Saroyan recently sat down with Linda Olszewski, vice president of global acquisitions for Shorts International, to find out about the company and what she is looking for as a film buyer. She joined the company in 2006 and spearheaded the Oscar Nominated Shorts release since that time. The company operates ShortsHD TV, a 24/7 short film channel that is available in the US and Europe. And with the help of different online platforms like iTunes, Shorts International distributes movies to 54 countries around the world.
Phil Saroyan: What is Shorts International?
Linda Olszewski: Shorts International actually started as a company called Britshorts. Carter Pilcher launched it in 2000 and acquired [a couple of] libraries to start making a business of shorts distribution.
In 2006, I joined Shorts International and we decided to start creating additional opportunities for short films that didn’t exist. I brought the idea for the Oscar Nominated Shorts to them and was hired to lead the program as well as oversee acquisitions for iTunes. A few years later we launched ShortsHD TV on AT&T U-Verse and on DirecTV. Now there’s ShortsTV in Europe—in France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Turkey. The plan is to try and launch ShortsHD TV across as many countries as possible.
PS: What benefits do filmmakers receive for distributing their short film with you?
Olszewski: We distribute short films globally in a multitude of platforms and we split the profits with filmmakers. We guarantee they’ll get a TV license on ShortsHD TV. There’s also a possibility of also getting their film on iTunes in over 50 countries. We sell to all the major broadcasters across the world, as well as airlines… In addition, we’ve been growing the Oscar Shorts program. This year it did really well–hitting $1.74 million gross box office theatrical in the US and it also was made available on VOD, iTunes and on ShortsHD TV channels. We’re about to launch a new release, “Stars in Shorts,” on September 28th in theaters across the US and on iTunes and VOD on October 9th, and on ShortsHD TV in the US and Europe.
PS: Is there any specific regions or countries that are lucrative for Shorts International?
Olszewski: It depends on the platform.
PS: Does Shorts International submit movies to critics and reviewers?
Olszewski: “Stars in Shorts” and Oscar Shorts releases are submitted for reviews by critics. The LA Times reviews them as well as the New York Times, Time Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, Screen International, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and Newsweek.
PS: What’s an example of a film that would get picked up by Shorts International? Is there a certain genre that’s looked upon more favorably?
Olszewski: I’ll tell you the things that are the most successful for us:
- We acquire films that are well produced, especially if they are original stories and especially if they are comedic in nature. That’s always a plus.
- If you have names and faces attached, like anybody of note that a mass audience would recognize, that’s always absolutely a plus.
- CGI animation sells super well, especially if it’s family friendly.
- [In addition to] celebrity films, comedies, CGI-animated films that are family friendly… we’re looking right now—just to give you an idea—for sci-fi, horror, and Christmas and Valentine’s shorts. I’m especially interested in documentaries being made by photographers because we’re going to be doing a [series] on photographers for ShortsHD.
- I’m also looking for first nations films from around the world… that’s really interesting to us because a lot of people don’t have access to and can’t see [these films].
- I’m also very interested in any films that have ever gotten an Oscar nomination or an Oscar win; they can even be longer docs, they can be a feature, if it’s available. We’re doing a big special at Oscar time, to show the American and European public how far Oscar Shorts has progressed.
PS: Since most of the readers of The Independent are independent filmmakers, is there a specific genre that you would recommend?
Olszewski: Go for comedy. Festivals and buyers are always looking for comedy.
Also, the main, main thing that I always tell emerging independent filmmakers is, you don’t have anybody telling you—like a studio executive—telling you ‘you can’t make this film this way.’ You are in the most perfect place because you can make the film you want to make. Ideally, what an independent filmmaker should do is really develop the story they want to tell the world. People will respond to that, when there’s something real in film. Something that matters.
PS: When does a film really stand out to you?
Olszewski: It’s interesting because I see a couple of a hundred films in a week, but there’s a handful of films that are always memorable to me—no matter how many films I have screened—because they’re the stories that are alive. Usually, when I talk to a filmmaker I ask them what their seed of inspiration was. There’s always something in the film that has its own life to it and that’s what I’m personally looking for to support through Shorts International and ShortsHD. People respond to something that feels real because they can identify [with it] and this makes them care.
PS: What’s an example of success that you’re seeing right now or working with in a movie?
Olszewski: There are two I’m in love with right now–one animation and one live action. I found the animation while serving on a jury. It’s called The Wind Girl or La Nina de Viento and it’s really unique. I was doing a workshop and the director was my assistant… it’s by a small, passionate group of animators. We offered it full distribution and we are Oscar qualifying the film. It’s just so well produced, you’d think it was a studio making this film, that’s what I’m after.
One of reason we Oscar qualify films is to help them have a shot to get seen by the Academy and in the Academy are studio producers who are looking for fresh, original talent, that’s the whole point.
There’s another really wonderful film called Sea Meadow, I saw it at SXSW and HollyShorts, and we just signed it for full distribution as well. You know how they say when you die your life flashes in front of you? This film kind of has those moments, it’s awesome! I was looking at it again and I wondered if they’ve done fashion photography? It reminded me of iconic photographers like Herb Ritts or Greg Gorman, but with their own twist.
PS: Is that where you find most of your films, at film festivals?
Olszewski: I do, but we also have an open submission policy, so anybody can go to Shorts International and send a submission form with a film to my attention. They can send it via DVD or password protected Vimeo link as well.
PS: Do you recommend for filmmakers who are making full features—or are in the process of producing a full feature—to make a short as well?
Olszewski: If you’ve got a feature script and make a short that is even only one scene from the film… it’s easier for investors to invest in your vision when you can show them something completed, even if it’s just a part of the [overall] vision you have. What’s great about our channel, distribution, and iTunes is that you start building a fan base. People become aware of the characters and stories and can follow your journey. In some cases, to the Oscars.
PS: For those who don’t know, can you explain how the Oscar Shorts program works. Does it play during the Oscars?
Olszewski: Shortly after announcements are made, we release all the nominees in the Oscar nominated short films programs in theaters. Last year they were on over 300 screens. The live action, animation, and documentary nominated short films screened in theaters across the US and on limited screens in Europe, Canada, and Mexico. The Oscar live action and animation were also available on iTunes, ShortsHD TV and on VOD through Comcast, In Demand, DirecTV, Dish, AT&T U-verse.
PS: The program has certainly given short films a lot of attention.
Olszewski: It’s been going on for seven years, the press is on board, and the public is on board. The nominees love it. People are waiting for the Oscar Shorts. Once the nominees are out, people want to see them in theaters practically the next day.
See also: Shorts International
This interview was edited for clarity and length.