Eli Sisach’s deep-space sci-fi thriller “Atropa,” Rightor Doyle’s kinky “Bonding” and Frenchmen Edouard Salier’s U.S./Cuba “Cabeza Madre” – where an initially lampooned Cuba in many ways comes off the better – all figure in the inaugural Canneseries Digital, a showcase for the riches – artistic, financial – of a burgeoning entertainment form.
Compulsive viewing, and homaging an ‘80s “Aliens”-school of murky, industrial deep-space sci-fi, American Eli Sasich’s time-warp mystery “Atropa” has an Off-World officer reuniting with his estranged wife in an outer galaxy, as her space vessel collides with another version of itself.
A Studio + Original Series, “Cabeza Madre,” delivers a “Fargo”-oddball character comedy about an uptight American (Clifton Collins Jr.) facing off in Cuba with his decapitated mother’s apartment-block mob.
Created and written-directed by U.S. actor Rightor Doyle (“You’re the Worst”), “Bonding” turns on two former high-school best friends, Tiff and Pete, who reconnect in New York City.
This decade, “digital” has rapidly become a misnomer.
“I don’t really differentiate between a digital series and a series now. ‘House of Card’ is a digital series,” said Adi Shankar (“Bodied,” “Castlevania”), Canneseries Digital jury president, who pointed out that “digital series” now refers more specifically to short-format web series.
Illustrating the range of Canneseries Digital, other titles include The Arena” and “Immature.” A bit like “Rocky,” but without the boxing, director Marjorie Armstrong has said, the Montreal-set “The Arena” chronicles a young mother preparing for a rap battle with her ex.
Created by Sameer Saxena and made for The Viral Fever (TVF), an Indian web-series pioneer and branded content specialist, “Immature’s” coming-of age story features 16-year-old Dhruv who sets out to woo the first crush of his life. But she’s out of his league.
Canneseries Digital is a welcome platform. The short-format business still “all comes down to distribution. The fundamentals of how to monetize this content is exactly the same as [more traditional] content,” said Shankar.
But the competition also illustrates the trends – artistic, industrial – now shaping the burgeoning short-form web series format.
Four Canneseries Digital titles are genre pieces, for instance: “Atropa,” “Bite Size Horror,” Spain’s “If I Were You” and South Korea’s “Memento Mori.”
Two-minute shorts, “Bite Size Horror” twists classic horror scenarios: an elevator stops between floors (“Floor 9.5”); a haunted road (“The Road”); a fisherman fished (“Live Bait”).
A high-school horror thriller with a big twist, “If I Were You” has Alba moving to a new high-school where she’s a dead ringer of Chris, who disappeared six months before.
The predominance of genre may just be coincidence, or reflect an out-reach to youth audiences, said Jean-Michel Albert, head of Canneseries Digital.
Or it may reflect larger trends. “What I believe we’re seeing is the beginning of a global language of content and companies like Netflix are playing a pivotal role in bringing the human species together to create a shared global consciousness,” said Shankar.
He aded: “There’s a global zeitgeist now that eclipses any local zeitgeist.”
Often young content makers, such as the directors of “Bite Size Horror” are appropriating its forms because they love genre and can add their personal imprint to a content type which reach out to broad youth audiences.
Three of Canneseries Digital’s titles – “Bonding,” “Cabeza Madre” and “Camionero” – are fish-out-of-water comedies.
In “Bonding” for example, Tiff, now one of the city’s top dominatrices, offers Pete, a struggling stand-up, a job as her assistant.
“Camionero” is a narco caper with a truck driver (seemingly) in way too deep making a drug run for a psycho capo to pay his daughter’s quinceañera.
But, again, there may be a bigger picture. “We’re also seeing the globalization of the content production business. We’ve had access to foreign series and films for decades,” said Shankar.
“However, today is international content reaching your average consumer who’s not doing a deep dive into international content?,” he asked.
“I would argue ‘yes.’ Absolutely, international shows like ‘Dark’ that expand beyond their niche are becoming more and more prominent every year.”
As the world becomes globalized, audiences become increasingly fascinated by those fictional universes or characters – S & M: the Cuban mob of “Cabeza Madre,” embodied in a machete-wielding big mama local queen pin; the refined, if completely pathological drug cartel kingpin of “Camionero” – who resist a globalization of behavior or mores, sometimes comically.
The short formats are not necessarily short on social point.
A well-received five-part web series from Zoe Pelchat, another young Montreal writer-director like Armstrong, “Dominos” turns on two brothers struggling to adapt after their mother’s sudden death. Aired by Canada’s TV5, it is a “poetic fresco of young people doing what it takes to get by in a tough South-West Montreal neighborhood,” said Albert.
Co-written and directed by Jacques Toulemonde, Ciro Guerra’s “Embrace of the Serpent” co-scribe, “Camionero” delivers a candid take on how drug dealing enhances one man’s (very masculine) self respect. ’
Short format web series, moreover, allow directors to experiment with form. Created by Lee Young-sook, “Memento Mori” kicks in like “Saw” – five strangers wake up chained in a blood-stained room. It then goes its own way i“breaking established codes,” said Albert.
Web-series are also, increasingly, big business.
“There’s always been an interest among distributors in short format series, Shankar argued. “But that is now growing into an economy.”
“Get on the subway in South Korea or on a bus: Every young person is watching video content on their mobiles,” observed Albert.
But Europe is playing catch-up, with short-format originals now positioned as a classic way of attracting cord-cutting youth audiences.
“TV audiences are aging. So, in France, though you can see this all over the world, all the TV channels have launched platforms for young audiences: TF1’s MyTF1, France Televisions’ Studio 4, Canal Plus’ Studio +,” Albert noted.
So “all the series target contemporary youth and mobile platforms” he added.
Some of the inaugural Canneseries Digital titles, especially from the U.S., have sometimes auspicious backing.
Going straight to series for Blackpills, “the upcoming Bonding” is produced by Anonymous Content (“True Detective,” “Mr. Robot”).
“Bite Size Horror” was produced by Fox Digital for Mars candy brands, the two-minute dramas playing complete in commercial breaks on Fox TV over 2017 Halloween.
“Cabeza Madre” and “Camionero” are Studio + Original Series, part of a drive by France’s Vivendi Content into digital first premium short-format web series, sold as a multi-title service to telecoms. “Atropa” was acquired by Studio + from Studio 71, a Red Arrow company.
Adapting – quite extensively – NZTV Digital Emmy-winning “Reservoir Hill,” interactive drama “If I Were You” was co-written by “The Department of Time’s” co-scribe Javier Olivares, just hired by Mediapro as one of its main Spain-based show-runners. Playing weekly from last fall, then with its eight episodes stacked as a TV feature in December, ”If I Were You” lured over three million views for RTVE, achieving the Spanish pubcaster’s priority goal of rejuvenating its audiences.
CANNESERIES DIGITAL COMPETITION
“The Arena,” (Jean-François Leblanc, Canada)
“Atropa,” (Eli Sasich, USA)
“Bite Size Horro,” (Tony Sella, David Worthen Brooks, USA)
“Bonding,” (Rightor Doyle, USA)
“Cabeza Madre,” (Édouard Salier, Cuba)
“Camionero,” (Jacques Toulemonde, Colombia)
“Dominos,” (Zoé Pelchat, Canada)
“If I were you,” (Joaquín Llamas, Spain)
“Immature,” (Prem Mistry, India)
“Memento Mori,” (LEE Chul-Min, South Korea)