About theatrical distribution of short films in Finland

Posted by Elina Pohjola - 11/04/2013

I believe short films have a place in film theatres beside feature films. When planning theatrical distribution for short film it’s essential to consider its length, content and the goal of the distribution in order to reach the target audience as wide as possible. Here are my personal thoughts about theatrical distribution of short films in Finland.

The Forest of Babel (produced and co-directed by me) is 1.50 minutes short film and the first film which theatrical distribution I started to plan. Due to its length it was an excellent choice to be shown as “an opening short” in front of the feature film. I first contacted Finnkino to discuss about this idea. Finnkino’s head of programming, Toni Lähteinen, liked the idea, but told that the collaboration has to be done via feature film distributor. Therefore I contacted Timo Räisänen, the head of theatrical distribution in FS Film. Timo liked our film and the concept of an opening short and together we started to search for the right film, where to place The Forest of Babel. We ended up with the film We Bought a Zoo (Koti eläintarhassa) and I think it was a good choice, as these films matched well together by their contents. We also received praise from the audience about a touching Finnish opening short film.

My Godfather, His Thai Bride and Me (produced by me) is 60-minute documentary film, which theatrical distribution was handled by Pirkanmaa Film Centre. Together with Juha Elomäki from Pirkanmaa Film Centre, we in quite early phase came to conclusion that around 10-minute short film would suit well in the beginning of My Godfather, His Thai Bride and Me. So, this process got started by feature-length film’s distributor and producer. We watched several short films together with director Wille Hyvönen thinking which film would be the best choice and would match by its content to our documentary. We ended up Antti Heikki Pesonen’s film Say Yes and Dance (Sano kiitos ja tanssi) which had content similarities both in working environment of main characters and in descriptioning of emotional life of Finnish man. Say Yes and Dance is produced by Helsinki-filmi, so the needed distribution contracts were made directly between Pirkanmaa Film Centre and Helsinki-filmi.

I’m especially happy about the distribution of Suburban Shorts, which has now successfully come to its end. Some screenings are still possibly coming, but the main theatrical period has now ended. Making this all to happen, it took eventually a quite long time. I had negotiated about Sirocco’s theatrical distribution possibilities with different parties already about half a year. Sirocco has been published in DVD of feature film Hush (Ja Saapuu Oikea Yö), produced by Helsinki-filmi and we discussed together with the producer and distributor about possibilities getting these two films also to theaters as a film pair. Sirocco’s 15 minutes length is quite difficult: it’s too long for an opening film. I also thought the possibility to show it as an “end film”, like a bonus after the main feature, but this idea was soon abandoned. The audience usually leaves before end credits, so the short film wouldn’t reach the audience that way.

In fall 2012 we discussed again with Finnkino’s head of programming Toni Lähteinen. He said that it would be good to find another short film as a pair for Sirocco, so that these two films could form one independent screening. In that moment I realized that So it goes (Korsoteoria) is an excellent short film for a theatrical distribution and also a good pair for Sirocco. So it goes is directed by Antti Heikki Pesonen and produced by Aalto University and the negotiations with department of film and television went well. When distributing two independent films in the same screening, it’s challenging to think about the angle of publicity and marketing: which one of the films comes first. After a while, I came up with an idea of Suburban Shorts (Lähiöleffat), a title, which support well both films and gives an idea about the content of the screening.

After agreeing on main issues, things started to move fast. We already had films’ digital screening copies (DCP) ready, but we still made own “starting title” for Suburban shorts. This meant that every screening consisted of three different files. The length was also important, as you have to pay own virtual print fee of a short film. With short films the fee is smaller, but the maximum length of the screening is 45 minutes. We organized own press screening for Suburban Shorts, and it gathered together commendable number of journalists. We got wide publicity both in print media and in TV and the reviews were great. The most important of these reviews was probably four stars in NYT-liite (a weekly supplement of the largest subscription newspaper in Finland).

The first commercial screening was opened by Minister of Culture, Paavo Arhinmäki. We also contacted number of schools and a whole class from Tikkurila high school came to see Suburban Shorts. After these screenings me, Sirocco’s director Mikko Kuparinen and Korsoteoria’s director Antti Heikki Pesonen stayed to discuss about films. Also students from other Helsinki’s high schools came to the screenings. After Helsinki’s screenings, we also tried to distribute Suburban Shorts in Turku and Rovaniemi as single screenings, but the largest audience was clearly in Helsinki. Altogether Suburban Shorts got 856 admission.

Co-operation with Finnkino was excellent. Toni Lähteinen has been a great partner and it’s great that Finnkino has a positive attitude to theatrical distribution of short films. Without Finnkino and Toni Lähteinen this would not have been possible. The ticket price was set in agreement with 4 euros. The fact is that theatrical distribution of short films is not a huge business. However it’s possible in multiplex-theaters, where will be inevitably empty slots in screening-program, where to place short films. This doesn’t make any extra costs for theaters, when it doesn’t cause any outcome pressure for short films either: there’s no hurry to get the film out of the program. From distributor’s point of view, it is good that you can also apply support for the short film’s theatrical distribution from the Finnish Film Foundation.

Around 900 admissions showed me that there is a place for short film distribution in theaters. It’s great that so many found Suburban Shorts. Finnkino is also very satisfied with the result. I really hope to see many short film screenings also in the future, at first in multiplex-theaters of big cities. This is a new thing for a big audience, but I believe that over the years, if the short films are brought to theaters regularly, it will change from abnormal to normal. Still I think it’s important to think about one screening at a time: why, how and as what kind of package exactly this or these films will get a widest possible audience. I understand very well why Finnkino wants to select the film only after seeing completed film and why they preferably shows films that have already received awards. Then the screening has it’s own special value: now it’s possible to see internationally rewarded national short film.

I think that in the future, the short film producers should think about the strategy of theatrical distribution (as well as other optional distribution models) already in the development and production stage, even if it can’t be used as a funding element at that time. I still believe that if this aspect is taken into account as early as possible and it’s taken in part of the production, you’ll also budget your time so that it will include the time for the wider distribution. And this will pay you back in the long run. Theatrical distributing is not a business for the producer or distributor – at least not yet – but every successful theatrical distribution is a big step forward for the short films to reach even more audience than nowadays.

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