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‘Net taps Europe’s rich shorts supply

AtomFilms, Switch2.net, others offer distrib'n choices

LONDON – Short films have always gotten short shrift when it comes to distribution. Unless nominated for an Oscar or making a splash at a festival, chances are audiences and Hollywood alike may have missed a minor masterpiece. But a host of dot-coms are bringing movies to computers everywhere and launching careers via the ‘Net.

One of the first out of the gate — and the first site of its kind to establish a European office in London — AtomFilms is providing makers of short films with a wide distribution platform. Their acquisition staff of 14 people scour festivals around the globe, nabbing product that will be exploited on the ‘Net as a vital part of their overall distrib package to airlines, broadcasters and cinema outlets.

Michael Comish, Atom’s managing director for Europe, says shorts are entering a renaissance thanks to the Web. “In the U.S., shorts have always only been a calling card for those that are trying to get to the second stage,” says Comish. “The European market is different. Shorts have existed for some time as content. Almost every country supports their production through financing.”

Atom’s site promotes the art form as well as providing industry exposure. “If you’re a filmmaker in Leeds, the L.A. talent hasn’t had access to you. They do now,” Comish says.

And more creatives are joining the fray. British animation house Aardman Studios, known for the popular Wallace & Gromit characters, is launching its new series “Angry Kid” exclusively online via the Atom site. One episode, “Bone,” is entered in competition at the Cannes Intl. Film Festival.

“There’s a hunger for short material because it works so well online,” says Aardman’s Michael Rose. “‘Angry Kid’ is very different from what we’ve done before. It’s irreverent, it’s not family viewing so we felt the Internet was an ideal place to distinguish it from our other work.”

Aardman also has several animated features in the works, including the upcoming Mel Gibson-voiced “Chicken Run” with DreamWorks, who’ve hopped on the short-film bandwagon with the imminent launch of Pop.com.

A host of competitors are about to hit the market with several new U.K.-based sites launching over the next four months — and each new Webcaster is out to carve a niche.

Switch2.Net is readying for a June launch. Exec Tony Cross says the site will make its mark with British-based product that “looks toward Europe rather than America” by championing the little guy.

“We’re trying to break the rules a little bit,” declares Cross. “We want to break the movies not because they’ve won an award or played a festival, but because we feel they deserve a bigger platform.”

Switch2.Net will acquire its irreverent, youth-oriented fare by sponsoring grassroots and underground film festivals across Britain in the coming year.

Launching in May, and also focusing on British filmmakers, InMovies.com hopes to land consumers through shorts and build up to offering features online. Acquiring Internet rights only, InMovies offers competitive fees for product. “We pay a lot more money for exclusive rights,” the company’s Laurence Penn remarks, “You get what you pay for.”

For short-film makers the question of fees is only part of the focus. Many see their future in the ‘Net and, like studios, Webcasters aren’t just looking to screen movies but form lasting relationships.

Alex Jovy’s Oscar-nominated “Holiday Romance” is screening on the Atom site while the director readies his first feature, “Sordid,” for a Cannes Market premiere. The Atom team will promote both with an online interview with the director and a trailer for the feature.

“It’s like a dream come true for any filmmaker,” says Jovy, “It’s the future. There is no other route now available to sell. It’s such an easy tool to access a larger audience.” And it’s energizing young filmmakers.

The sibling team of Charlie and Tom Guard will see their award-winning love story “Inside Out” premiere on Atom’s site shortly after it makes its Cannes debut in the Kodak Showcase.

“I think the Internet will challenge filmmakers to explore new areas,” says Tom Guard. “It will definitely have an influence on the way films are made.”

The Web has made such heavy inroads into the short-film market that it’s affecting even the earliest stages of the traditional way films are financed.

Take the U.K’s nonprofit Short Film Bureau, which acts as a middle man between filmmakers and traditional distrib venues. The SFB will be changing course — and its non-profit status — when turning to the ‘Net in a few months with its own deal to showcase product.

Tiger Lily Prods., a U.K. venture that’s produced 15 shorts, is adjusting its strategy for the ‘Net. Founder Natasha Dack says with previous films, the producers sold online rights as part of a acquisition package to broadcasters such as the BBC and FilmFour Lab. But with its latest film, “Bright as Fire,” scheduled to begin production this summer, Tiger Lily along with the film’s producer, Jules Hussey, specifically withheld the Internet rights in order to exploit the online market.

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