As viewers continue to balance increasing television options on shrinking screens, the Emmys have begun to celebrate exemplary content tailor-made for rapid consumption with its short- form categories. Likewise, network executives behind this burgeoning digital content are recognizing the importance of talent, both on and off camera, who can successfully jump from one platform to another.
For AMC’s Lyle Underkoffler, senior VP of new digital business, the key to ensuring talent will resonate both on its long-form programming, like “Fear the Walking Dead,” and on its short-form content like the Emmy-nominated “Fear the Walking Dead: Passage,” is to keep enough of the talent in-house in order to maintain a through-line for its shorter spinoffs and their parent series.
“What we allowed [with “Passage”] is folks on the show to expand their creative capacities to a different location and a different setting that wouldn’t work in the show itself,” Underkoffler says. “In that way, it allowed us to expand the reach to fans, but it also allowed us to expand our creative muscles into different corners of existing content and existing worlds.”
“We want to engage talent both that are up and coming within our four walls — or within the show’s four walls — but we also want to marry that talent with the right kind of content creator … that might be outside our four walls,” Underkoffler says.
This is all much to the delight of the creators behind this content. Amy Landecker, “Transparent” actress and director of the show’s spinoff short-form series, “Transparent: The Lost Sessions,” says the format allows more creative freedom for writers and directors, though the competition for viewership is much tougher in the online space. The upside, she says, comes with the inherent lower risk a short presents, since production costs are much lower than a full-length feature show or film.
“A short is something where if you have friends and $100 to give to a sound guy, you can make one,” Landecker says. “The upside of it is even the people do invest on higher level like Funny or Die or Amazon aren’t risking as much, so there was no one telling me what I had to do at all.”
Funny or Die writer Dashiell Driscoll says while competition to get content noticed online may be tough, but the short-form format is inherently perfect for the online content consumption era.
“With short digital content, you can click a button, you can send it right away, you can tag a friend and there’s a good chance they’ll watch it right away and it’ll create a conversation, and you can get that effect much faster” Driscoll says. “There’s something there that just doesn’t exist when you’re creating long-form content.”
Landecker agrees, saying that the internet medium of distribution is “perfect” for short-form digital content creators.
“I think the idea of scrolling and browsing is very applicable to short form, I’m not going to land anywhere for a long period of time, I want to consume this and move onto something else, which is, I think, the way people are consuming content now,” Landecker says.
Landecker says the format will only continue to grow as younger audiences begin to grow into the 18-25 audience, since platforms such as Twitch TV and YouTube are already incredibly popular with children, teenagers and young adults. She says you may even see short form shows embracing higher-concept ideas on par with “Game of Thrones,” and she expects it to become more interactive with the audience.
“I think you’ll see shows like ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Transparent’ in a short form kind of style, where you have a really deeply rich narrative with deeply rich characters, but they’re given to you in a series of three-minute epsiodes,” Landecker says. “In a way, it’s sort of like taking a video game where you go to different places and you make different choices, but in a more sort of traditional storytelling format.”
A much younger platform, First Look Media’s Topic.com focuses more on standalone material than offshoots. Topic’s strategy for selecting creative talent for its many short form series is to choose candidates with fresh outlooks and healthy room for growth, says head of content Adam Pincus.
“We’re looking for people who are ready to go to the next level,” Pincus says. “It’s not that we’re leery about working with really first-timers and baby creators, but a lot of the people that we work with have made a thing or two, have shown some promise, and we really feel like we can help them get to the next place and give them an opportunity to make something in a very free environment, creatively, and with a lot of support from us.”
Topic’s 2018 short form submissions include “AKA Wyatt Cenac” (comedy or drama) and “She’s the Ticket” (nonfiction or reality), which all reflect the platform’s attention to hot-button social issues — an important factor in the brand’s talent recruitment process.
“Fundamentally we’re looking for people with something to say and who have an original voice and take,” Pincus says.