Imitation of Life

A journal about film, music, literature and any other form of imitation of life. Seeing through a glass darkly…

So independent (I): Interview with special guest Linda Olszewski

The So independent Film Festival in Sofia has unofficially kicked off this morning at 11AM with a meeting with some of the festival’s guests at the very appropriate Buñuel Café.
There I had a chance to talk to Linda Olszewski, producer of films like Reality Bites, Shrek and The Prince of Egypt and co-director of Shorts International Ltd., which is the world’s leading short film entertainment company. Its catalogue of over 3000 short movies includes Oscar winners and nominees, festival favourites and genre classics.
Linda is in Sofia to lead a 2-day master class on filmmaking, which will be held as part of So independent.

Here is an extract of my interview with Linda:

IoL: As a blogger who regularly follows the Oscar race I’m very interested in the theatrical release of the Oscar nominated short films, an initiative your company launched some years ago.

LO: That’s right, the program was created 5 years ago to give audiences the chance to see all 10 Animated and Live Action Oscar nominated shorts in theatres nationally prior to the Academy Awards.

IoL: The Academy Awards also include a category for Best Documentary Short Film. Is there any special reason why you don’t release the documentary shorts too? Is there a lack of interest for the genre?

LO: Not at all, we are very interested in the documentary shorts and we hope to be able to start releasing them as well this year. The problem was never a lack of interest, but a question of availability. There was a rule in the Academy which prevented the release of the documentary shorts.

IoL: So it was a problem of eligibility…

LO: Exactly, the eligibility rules for Live Action and Animated Short Films differ from those for Documentary Shorts. For these [Documentary Shorts] the rules establish that they must have completed a seven-day commercial run in a theatre in either LA or New York. Moreover, and here lies the problem, there was a rule that prohibited any kind of television or Internet transmission of a contending documentary. If a documentary short film were to receive an Oscar nomination or to win the Award, and were then broadcasted via iTunes [as it happens in Shorts International Ltd.], it would automatically be stripped of the nomination or the win.

IoL: Let’s talk about the Internet then. Your company is working with major e-commerce platforms like iTunes.

LO: Yes, we’re bringing short films via iTunes to countries outside the US like Germany, Canada or the UK and we’re expanding. This year we started to work in France and Ireland and we’re about to launch it in eight new countries.

IoL: Is the Internet the future of the short film industry?

LO: Not at all, the Internet is actually the last link, but we are focusing in the theatrical release of the short films.

IoL: However, there is still some reluctance from the audiences when it comes to watching short films. I may enter here in the philosophical side of the question, but as it happens with any other form of socially and culturally influenced artistic form, a film and its length are the result of a generally agreed convention. When you go to the movies and pay for your ticket you expect to sit and be entertained for about 90 to 120 minutes. Everything outside that established temporal frame is perceived by the audience as a disruption. People don’t go to see 6 hour long films and similarly are not so keen on watching a short movie.

LO: I don’t think people are reluctant to watch short films. Our Oscar Nominated Short Films 2010 crossed the $1 million mark at the Box Office and it broke the day’s Box Office in New York on the day of the release. Moreover, in an era in which the attention span of people gets shorter and shorter, as you can see with the constant phone texting and Internet updates, the short film can be a perfect form of artistic expression.

IoL: But the distribution through mainline cinemas is still an illusion. After all, it can cost the exhibitor one extra showing.

LO: There are people out there making a living out of short films. And many renowned filmmakers are increasingly interested in the genre. Spike Jonze [director of Being John Malkovich and Adaptaion], for example. He’s made some terrific work in the short film field with We Were Once a Fairytale or I’m Here. Or Jane Campion [Academy Award winner director of The Piano], who made a fantastic short focusing on the environment and AIDS for the United Nations. And do you see Aundre over there [she points at Aundre Johnson, director of the short The Third Rule, which will be presented at the Festival]? Do you know how it all started for The Third Rule? One day he gets a call from Anthony Hopkins saying: ‘I want to make a short with you, and I’m free on Tuesday’.

IoL: Let’s talk about the workshop you are going to lead here in Sofia. Are you going to focus on the short film genre?

LO: The short film will be an important part of the workshop, but I want to approach it as a creative process in general. Long features will be present too. I want to focus on the whole space of creativity.

IoL: What was your first job in the film industry. I’ve read somewhere that you worked in Broadcast News [the 1987 James L. Brooks film], which is still one of my favourite films about the media.

LO: [Laughs] Oh my God, how did you know that? Yes, it’s true. I worked in that film as PA [Production assistant]. I remember I got the call on the day I was supposed to leave for Afghanistan, so I called the director in Afghanistan and he told me: ‘I can wait’, and so I went to the set of Broadcast News. I almost ended up in one of the scenes of the film with the leading actor… I keep forgetting his name…

IoL: Albert Brooks.

LO: Exactly, Albert Brooks! Do you remember the scene where he keeps sweating in front of the camera? Since I was there as PA I almost ended up getting the part of the TV PA, but I only had to tell everybody to shut up in the end [laughs]. It was a great experience. I landed there and I remember meeting that girl in the corridor and I tell her: ‘What are you doing here?’. And she says: ‘Well, I’m actually in the movie’. Turned out she was the leading actress.

IoL: Well, I guess if you meet Holly Hunter in a corridor she doesn’t look so much like a movie star.

LO: No, she doesn’t [laughs]

IoL: Thanks for the interview, Linda.

LO: Thank you.

Alberto Ramos-Lorente


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