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Directors ring in cell phone shorts

Stars from Sundance, Bollywood get mobile

Big names hit the smallest of the small screens here at the 3GSM mobile phone conference Monday as directors and stars from Sundance and Bollywood debuted short films made for cell phones.

Sundance helmers included “Little Miss Sunshine’s” Oscar-nommed duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Fariswho showed a 5-minute, all slow motion, stylized circus-like slapstick short called “A Slip in Time.”

Many of them lauded mobile as a platform that can provide exposure to independent filmmakers and a much-needed stage to the short film.

The Sundance Institute awarded the directors $20,000 each to make the mobile shorts.

“The mobile is a great place for up-and-coming filmmakers,” said Dayton.

“This is good, because there’s no venue for short films,” said director Cory McAbee, whose short “Reno” captures four cowboy-like figures dancing to a heavy rock beat in a gritty convenience store through the eye of a security camera.

“It’s a chance for filmmakers to become their own studio,” said Justin Lin, whose “La Revolucion de Iguodala” cuts together images of international revolutionaries and gives way to a jokey Mariachi rebel named Iggy-O.

They also spoke about the creative chances the medium provides.

“No one is looking over your shoulder,” said director Maria Maggenti, whose short “Los Viajes de King Tiny” follows a little dog through the streets and skies of L.A.

“I would not have done a whole feature film in slow motion,” said Faris.

Dayton said that he also experimented technically. He shot “A Slip in Time” with a high speed, 60,000 frames-per-second camera normally used by scientists to shoot hummingbirds.

Bollywood producer-director Sanjay Gupta said, “In India, we do not have the concept of short films.”

Gupta announced an initiative to produce 10 10-minute films that will run together in cinemas but which consumers will download individually to their mobile phones this summer.

The mobile shorts, he said, will not be the singing dancing extravaganzas that characterize Bollywood.

Gupta said the move onto mobile with drama reflects an overall Bollywood effort to expand beyond the extravaganza and more into drama.

Along those lines, Gupta himself plans to release later this year the feature film “Shootout at Lokhandwala,” about a real life all-day siege by police of gangsters in a residential Mumbai apartment complex.

Bollywood and Sundance filmmakers were enthusiastic about the potential of reaching a much wider audience through mobile, which has about 2 billion customers globally.

“As an actor, it gives you a chance to expand, and to think of reaching different audiences,” said Lara Dutta, a Bollywood star and former Miss Universe.

Sundance director Jody Hill said he sees the short film and videos joining music as content that cell-phone users will tap at the push of a button “without having to carry around different devices. Hill debuted the short “Learning to Skateboard.”

But at present, nobody quite knows how many people will actually watch mobile shorts, and how the entertainment or telecommunications industries will profit.

Sundance is making its films available for free but is expected to enter negotiations for commercial distribution through carriers. Gupta is working in partnership with Indian mobile media company Hungama Mobile to distribute through cellular carriers.

Research firm Juniper says the mobile entertainment biz could be a $76 billion industry by 2011.

Also at 3GSM today, London-based Omnifone unveiled a mobile music service that makes more than 1 million songs available through carriers’ decks for a flat fee of about $3.90 per week.

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