John Ketchum , co-executive director and head of the jury for the Filminute film festival
- How did you come up with the idea of Filminute festival? When did you first think of it, what was the context?
The idea of one-minute films was first presented to me in 2005. At the exact moment, I was in an editing studio in Bucharest editing a feature film. I remember feeling, as a filmmaker at that moment, a strong sense of connection with the concept and the idea of being able to conceive, shoot, post-produce and deliver a finished film in just a few days and then have the potential of the film reaching a very large, global audience.
- What was the first 60-seconds film that you have seen? What do you remember about it?
The first 60-second films I saw were from Brazil. Quite honestly, none of them were strong or appealing to me in any way. In fact, after seeing them, I remember be surprised at how undeveloped the format was. However, during research into the idea, a long-term creative collaborator and friend from Toronto (and ultimately the co-founder of Filminute) reminded me of Ridley Scott’s famous “1984” Apple Commercial. When I watched that again through the lense of a 60-second film, it resonated massively and instantly. I immediately sensed the potential of the format.
- Why do you find 60-seconds films special? What intrigues you about this kind of short films?
The best one-minute films resonate long after the 60-seconds are up. If they are really good, and like any great film, they also spur on discussion, challenge beliefs and perspectives, move us emotionally, and increase our collective understanding of who we are and where we are headed.
At the time we were conceiving of the idea of Filminute, the world of digital and mobile content was just emerging.YouTube was new and was starting to show amazing reach.
We had also long been unimpressed with the state of short films in general – most of which suffered also from weak storylines, but also sub-par performances, average cinematography and lack of expert attention to production values.
What struck us about one-minute films was that on the model of a one-day shoot (the average Filminute shoot we know is about 6 hours), filmmakers – especially the industrious ones – could realistically approach top acting, camera and crew talent and make the big ask, guaranteeing it would only be one day.
With a one-minute film, those gaps in short films could be eliminated, leaving the heavy lifting to the most important part: the story.
We also had an inkling that, for makers and consumers of 30-second tv commercials, 60-seconds would seem like an eternity.
A key early addition from my Canadian partner was to insist that the films be 60-seconds exactly – no more, no less. The idea was that filmmakers and artists would appreciate the further constraint. Watching how that has proven true has been very enlightening in terms of understanding our audience and creators.
Ultimately, I think what intrigues me most now, is how the potential for great storytelling in 60-seconds remains endless. This is our 13thedition of the festival. Each edition has brought with it some amazing and pioneering examples for the format as well as valuable insights from our jury, all of which have contributed to the collective and growing understanding of what makes a great one-minute film. We knew there was potential from the start, but not to this degree. In many ways it feels like we are still just scratching the surface in terms of the vast variety of ways possible to organize 60 seconds into stories that move audiences in profound ways.
Increasingly now we are interested in how one-minute films can serve as the basis for longer, commercial length projects that we help develop.
- What is the most important thing people should know about one minute films?
The most important thing to know about one-minute films screened at Filminute, is that at root you are engaged in a story. And it should be a story that affects you in the same way any great story or film does — long or short. The story can be enhanced through great production, appealing sound design and powerful performances, yet, ultimately, it is the quality of the story that we are most interested in.
I would also add that when watching these films, audiences should consider that every single second of these one-minute films has been carefully thought through and designed to add to the impact of the story. Make every moment count is our call to arms.
- How did the festival change in 13 years? What were the most important stages of its evolution?
In terms of stages of evolution, we’ve remained very consistent from the get go. It’s true we expected faster and bigger growth early on, and indeed made great strides in our first two years. But then the 2008 global recession hit and put an end to many of our more ambitious plans (and many of our competitors). It also forced us to run a lean and focused operation, one concerned with simply showing great films and attracting strong international juries and industry support. Figuring out how to find and inspire great one-minute films, as well as get them in front of the best and widest audience possible was all we did. And the approach worked, allowing us to grow the audience consistently year over year.
Then, somewhere around 2012, starting with the rapid growth of social media, Filminute began to evolve at a faster pace. Facebook became an important platform, complimenting our site and the YouTube player where we hosted the films (in the early days the film was hosted on some other big video platforms, but none could ensure smooth screening of the films worldwide at the same quality as YouTube). Advances in HD technology also greatly improved the online viewing experience significantly in these years after 2012. And now, finally (!), the mobile video boom has arrived! All of this has allowed us to grow the audience and engagement and attract even better films. In turn we’ve ramped up our own editorial – both original and curated – and increased our attention regarding supporting indie filmmakers through our Filminute Development prize which we do in collaboration with CineCoup, a Canadian film accelerator and long time partner of the festival.
But again, its the consistency in the evolution that I find interesting and reassuring. It’s still the world’s 25 best one-minute films, every autumn, with strong juries and industry support and a handful of top awards.
- In 13 years of Filminute, what surprises did you run into? What did you learn about filmmakers and about the public?
The first BIG surprise was the 2008 Global Financial Recession! For an already shaky field of business (the internet) that was a very big set back. Marketing dollars – especially those assigned to the internet, were the first to go. On the other hand, it forced us to focus even greater attention on our core competencies – story and quality. That and the annual format (vs. year round) allowed us to weather this and other big storms while continuing to grow the initiative.
I was also surprised in those early years at the degree of discrimination that internet initiatives faced. I knew it existed from other ventures I was involved in (including local ventures Getloaded.ro & Sector 7), but I didn’t think it would remain so strong for so long. Now we know much of that came from attitudes stoked by the mainstream media of the day which rightly saw a threat to their way of life. Now, thanks to improvement in screen quality and technology generally, attitudes to online ventures have changed.
On the positive side, we were surprised early on by just how accepting and enthusiastic filmmakers were for constructive criticism and feedback. As filmmakers, we knew how important honest and expert feedback is, and made it a central pillar of the initiative, providing it to the filmmakers, including those that annually just miss the 25-film cut-off.
From both the filmmakers and the public we’ve also come to realize both how few other native online initiatives like Filminute exist and how big the demand is for them. The interest in telling great stories and the demand to hear them, remains as strong as it ever was. Yet, in these rapidly changing times, the industry as a whole, has reacted like any industry who had it easy for many years (the DVD 90’s and early oughts): slow and negatively.
- Tell us about the audience: what kind of people are interested in short films? How did this audience change?
We are always amazed at how broad an audience Filminute attracts – from 18 year-olds to 60 year-olds. With broadband penetration increasing and HD resolving image issues, audiences from traditional media have it seems, in increasing numbers, come to Filminute. And I think this will continue as social media platforms increasingly become broadcast platforms. Netflix and others like it have done a great deal to validate the online viewing experience and this, for Filminute, is great news.
In addition, the audience is getting more savvy. We see it in the commentary around our films which in some cases extends into the hundreds. Where “Great!” and “wow!!!” and “beautiful” were typical of comments in the early years, we now the audience going deeper and finding more to comment and on and discuss. Which in turn helps educate the audience further.
- What is the most difficult part of making a 60-seconds film?
Conceiving of the idea. Everything hinges on a great story. Taking the time to get this right, seems to be the most difficult and challenging part. From that moment forward, it is about demonstrating belief, a clarity of vision, and a strong degree of industrious that will ensure you attract the best talent possible which will help you bring that story to life for audiences around the world.
- How did short movies change in the last years? (Volume, topics, interest, production, actors)
Thanks to leaps in filmmaking technology and software, we see a big jump in production values for the films being made and submitted to Filminute. It is especially obvious in the look and sound areas, but also can be seen in the titling and credits. We also see year-on-year improvements and expansions in the quality of supporting materials that filmmakers provide (posters, Facebook pages for their films, behind the scenes photography etc). Filmmakers are clearly paying more attention to the marketing and this is critical in this day and age.
Acting is an area we’ve seen big improvements in as well. Not only do we see more and more name actors, but we also see filmmakers who appreciate more the potential that the format offers for great performances.
Death, Romance, mystery, & comedy are present in every collection – some more than others. But then there are the themes that emerge around those genres. One year it’s the environment, another year it might be suicide. Then parent-child relations. This year, we saw a big jump in films from and for the LGBTQ community, films on corruption, and films that tackled head-on the problem of screen addiction in the modern world. Filminute always manages to reflect the wider global zeitgeist.
Importantly, we’ve also seen filmmakers taking more risks and riskier subjects.
And yet, it still all boils down to story. I still think our first Best Filminute winner, ‘LINE’ by UK/Romanian director Anton Groves, is one of the best films we’ve ever screened.
- How did the partnership with Cinepub started? (relationship with Lucian etc)
In my first incarnation in Romania, as a marketing director with CONNEX/Vodafone, Lucian worked at the advertising agency BBDO, producing the events and initiatives we were engaged in. Together we had some great collaborations, including the one-year anniversary of Connex which attracted 270,000 people to the front of Casa Popului. We’ve stayed friends through the years.
Cinepub, struck me from the start as a model streaming concept, especially for countries. As someone who follows the Romanian film scene fairly closely, it’s not only impressive what films and filmmakers have films on Cinepub, but also the incredible number of views the films have had there! People clearly want to watch Romanian films and especially in a nicely curated environment. For a film community, it’s a huge addition and highly educational. So there’s a shared ethos there and an understanding about the online audience that I think destined the two inititives to seek out a collaboration. Since we started the collaboration last April it’s gone very well. Like with Filminute, I see great potential for a platform and service like Cinepub.