A few years back I attended a launch event in Los Angeles for YouTube’s first sortie in the independent film world. It was a moderately well attended event kicking off the site’s Screening Room, a dedicated channel to distribute film festival gems, both shorts and features, that were otherwise trapped in the maze of the festival circuit. Aside from a puzzled reaction on stage from filmmaker Miranda July, the move was celebrated by the indie film crowd in attendance.
But now three years later, it’s clear that the Screening Room hasn’t quite been the boon for indie filmmakers that they had hoped it might be. The quality of films doesn’t appear to be the culprit, but still the ytscreeningroom channel has just 1.6 million total views and 56k subscribers. Ok, to be fair, the total views number might have to be ignored here, as most of the films now released on there are really counting towards the festivals’ own view counts. But still, with channel views (that’s how many views of the page itself) at just 9 million after three years, somehow the Screening Room is in need of a makeover.
Take for example, The Tribeca Film Festival which kicked off in New York last week. Thanks to founding sponsor American Express the 10-year-old festival’s short films are featured on the YouTube homepage today and are availbale now in the YouTube Screening Room—not to be confused with the festival’s own “Streaming Room” which has a limited selection of this year’s films.
There’s also the ‘limited time only’ windowing, as the films are only available through May 17, that may be hurting performance here. You see, limited releases are the antithesis of what YouTube is. Videos on YouTube have become the long tail of popular relevance, making up an immutable public record that even the copyright cops have trouble besting. Even iJustine’s earliest upload, a vintage 2006 montage of her making instant oatmeal, has its place in video history. Once released, some videos don’t have their cultural moment until months or even years later.
There is a baby in this bathwater of course, and its the films from dozens of filmmakers we’ve never seen before. It’s pretty clear that Tribeca is the one monetizing their work, as it hosts the films on its tribecafilm channel. Personally, I would love to subscribe to a few of these filmmakers directly. The current crop of Tribeca shorts in the Screening Room (more added on April 29):
Jac Schaeffer’s Mr. Stache:
Shawn Christensen’s Brink:
Alex Petrowsky’s cut-out animation short The Beaufort Diaries, which features the familiar deadpan droll of David Duchovny as an alcoholic polar bear.
John Hyam’s The Ignorant Bliss of the Sun and Moon
Phil Botti’s Loose Change