Ethan Shaftel on the set of Flesh Computer“Flesh Computer” — the weird and amazing sci-fi short we profiled earlier — is wrapping up its festival run and is now available to view on Vimeo.

In honor of the web premiere, I asked writer and director Ethan Shaftel to give us an update on how the film fared fest-wise, and what he’s learned…

Filmmaker Ethan ShaftelWhen my feature Suspension hit festivals in 2008, the landscape was very different. The internet wasn’t as central to the experience of production and exhibition yet, basically because speeds were not high enough for handling large video files routinely. There was a lot of DVD-burning and -mailing involved. On the post side, many tape formats were still in use for masters and copies — which means a lot of expense at post houses and dubbing companies to make professional formats for festivals or distributors.

Entering your film into festivals is easier now, since almost all have gone to online screeners instead of mailing in DVDs. The problem is that it’s hard to decide which festivals to enter and which not to enter. With entry fees ranging from $20-60 a pop, you just can’t enter everything and stick to a reasonable budget. I’ve been going to festivals with my films since I was a teenager, so I have festivals I’ll enter because of a history there. Others I just select case-by-case, usually because I would like to attend in person or they are close by where family, friends, or collaborators live and I know they would go if the movie is screened there.

I have some ambivalence about film festivals. There are so few that are game-changers for a project. I’ve never been to any of those festivals with my work. But I do genuinely enjoy festivals and in some cases have met long term collaborators only because of attending them. I think the key is to think of them as something for you as much as for the project, something to celebrate the movie after all the work you’ve put into them.

In terms of distribution: since “Flesh Computer” is a short film, no other distribution besides putting it on Vimeo was ever a goal. I just can’t conceive of a distribution “opportunity” for a short that is worth the trade off of having the film seen by far fewer people, or having it be much harder to find online. The deterrent effect on the online audience of having to pay for a short film (or maybe anything) is totally disproportionate to the actual amount you might charge — you could charge 25 cents and the views would fall off as steeply as if you charged $2.99. So what’s the point? Getting a quarter per view of the much smaller audience is not going to get you anywhere, and it’s not why you made the short in the first place. Short filmmaking is not a profit-making venture on it’s own. It’s only a business decision if you consider it an advertising cost for yourself as a filmmaker or media professional, which is perfectly legit. But mostly it’s a passion to make a particular film.

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Flesh Computer is also currently being featured on the Short of the Week website. So hop on over there to learn more about how it was made.