Grassroots filmmakers are always looking for mainstream distribution, and short films often have a particularly tough time gaining exposure. Which is why the success of the Logo Network’s short-film programming is welcome news. Two years ago, Logo, which is basically MTV’s gay cousin, launched The Click List: The Best in Short Film, a weekly show featuring an eclectic mix of stories. Yes, you’ll find the requisite tales of adolescent longing here. But there are also featherweight comedies and disturbing psychological thrillers. It all feels very democratic and for good reason: Most of the shorts that are broadcast are initially submitted online, and filmmakers are given a few minutes as the credits roll to talk about their work. The films are also available on Logo’s website, where they have quickly drawn a substantial amount of traffic. How are the films selected? Marc Leonard, Logo’s senior vice president of multiplatform programming, recently outlined the process for The Independent’s Mike Hofman.
When did the idea of putting short films on Logo first come up?
When we first started thinking about programming Logo in June 2005 before the launch, we conceived of it as a digital channel that would reach its audience through other platforms like iTunes, Xbox, mobile phones, and free of demand. We also knew we were going to be relying a lot on feature-length films and that meant we would have an unusual clock for a cable channel with commercial advertising. We would have extra gaps in time to fill, so we decided to program music videos and three-minute news updates and short films to fill those gaps. We also wanted to look different from every other channel—to build a TV network for the ground up—because we thought the gay audience would want and deserve something really creative and outside of the box. Breaking up long-form content with short-form material in between is not something other networks really do. Then there was the fact that we had fewer ads at launch, as every startup network does, and short films could air in place of them.
So shorts were part of the mix from the beginning, and I think we are starting to get credited for getting short film to be seen as a must-have medium, because a lot of other channels are doing it now.
Inside Logo, was there a naysayer who thought shorts were a bad idea?
Sure, we had an interesting discussion here. Some people thought “That’s a little PBS.” Short films are not mainstream. For even the gay audience, they may be too artsy. There’s a lot of baggage the genre carries. But on the other side, people argued that there are a number of totally amazing short films that aren’t widely seen. It’s a great art form. Nobody gives it credit. And there happen to be a lot of great short gay films, which are a perfect fit for Logo.
Why is the gay genre especially big among short films?
There are a tremendous number of gay filmmakers who can’t sell gay-themed ideas, so they work on mainstream projects and make short films as a creative outlet to tell those stories, which are perceived as being non-commercial. So there’s this great wealth of material just sitting out there, and we can show it on the Click List.
How do you find films?
Filmmakers usually contact us through Logoonline.com, where we ask them to submit films, although we are also out at the gay film festivals looking for content.
What are the terms of the deal like?
That’s handled by our acquisitions group, which negotiates a licensing agreement and fee with the filmmakers. We basically acquire the rights to show the film on TV, online, on a mobile phone, and in some cases, we buy the rights to sell it on iTunes with a revenue share for the filmmaker.
How much is the fee?
Well, it’s fairly consistent—and it’s a short range. A few factors influence the amount we pay, such as the length of the film, the quality of the film, and the experience of the filmmaker. But it’s still a pretty standard amount.
Is there a wide range in terms of length for what you air?
Yes, we have run films that were two minutes long, and films that were 32 minutes, so obviously one length or another would affect our fee.
How many films do you run in a season?
Thirty, and it’s probably a 3 to 1 ratio of what we review versus what we air.
Who picks them?
There are nine people at Logo who weigh in, and it’s a diverse group of people. It’s very subjective obviously, so for that reason it was important to us to have a group of people involved who represented a wide range of ages and backgrounds to review all of the shorts. It’s not so much voting as coming to a consensus as a group.
What do you look for?
We ask ourselves, is it good? And is it different? In gay film especially, some of the same stories have been told over and over again. For gay men, it’s coming out stories and AIDS stories. For lesbians, there are a lot of overly dramatic relationship stories. For the transgender community, there are a lot of stories about the process. All of those stories are fine and need to be told, but we see this as a place where we can tell stories that are different.
Do you accept a range in terms of the professional quality of the films?
We’re pretty flexible with what we’ll allow in terms of lower production values. Many people don’t have the funds to make a professional film, but if the story and the spirit and the energy of the piece is right, we’ll totally show stuff that’s less polished.
In ratings terms, is the show a hit?
We don’t get actual ratings because we’re too new, but it’s a hit in this sense: As a multiplatform channel, our website is very important to us, and the short film series drives significant online traffic. In fact the current season of the show is the most trafficked part of our website right now.
How often is the show aired on TV?
We do two seasons a year, with eight episodes per season, and a ninth episode where we announce who got the most votes from our audience online. The show airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. and is rebroadcast seven or eight times a week. Plus, people obviously watch it on DVR.
I imagine the show must be pretty low-cost to produce, and therefore pretty profitable?
It isn’t a pre-produced show, so the graphics you see when it airs are actually overlaid live because it’s cheaper to produce it that way. So I’d say the show is fast on the road to profit and, for relatively low-cost programming, it drives incredible amounts of online traffic. And advertisers are increasingly excited to be associated with it. Advertisers see it as artistic, creative, smart programming and there are special requests to be on the show. Saw 4 did a special horror-themed show with us, for example.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about how little Brokeback Mountain changed—that there are still very few major films with gay themes. How does the success of Logo’s short programming square with that?
Well, I’m most proud of the diversity of what we are doing. There’s not as much diversity in gay media as we would like, and by that I mean both ethnic and gender diversity, but also diversity in terms of genre and in terms of characters. But the Click List is an hour when you can watch everything from animation to drama to science fiction to comedy. There are bisexual and transgender stories. And I think we are seeing a gradual shift to more LGBT characters integrated into stories that aren’t strictly speaking about them. I think we’ll move into a post-gay world where there aren’t gay films and straight films, just films with gay and straight characters. Do you watch Torchwood? It’s a BBC show—a spinoff of Doctor Who—and the lead character is bi, openly bi, and that’s just it. And all of the characters have bisexual experiences at one point or another. It’s a sci-fi show, so sometimes the experiences are related to something like a body switching story line, and sometimes the characters just have a relationship with someone of the same sex. But it’s treated casually. The show is British, and the British have more seamlessly introduced equal rights for gay people in terms of hate crime laws and civil unions, so there’s a little of that sense with the show.
I also love Talledega Nights though, where you have a gay character in a Nascar comedy, and the whole thing is very respectful while also being very funny. When we have a seat at the table in movies like that, that’s exciting to see.
Go to Logo Online’s short-film page.