The GSM Association's bid to transform mobile into an artistic visual medium in its own right alongside film and TV got off to a busy start in Barcelona at the 3GSM World Congress after six independent filmmakers and one big-name Bollywood director debuted new short films that are coming soon to a mobile phone near you.
The Sundance Film Festival Global Short Film Project - announced last November by the GSMA and the Sundance Institute - yielded five shorts (each five minutes long) from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Jody Hill, Justin Lin, Maria Maggenti and Cory McAbee, with topics ranging from slapstick and skateboarding to Mexican revolutionaries, a music video captured on security cameras, and a dog named King Tiny.
Meanwhile, Bollywood director Sanjay Gupta premiered "Matrimony", one of his two short movies for the "Dus Kahaniyaan" project featuring ten short films.
The films are being hawked by the GSMA as evidence that mobile video doesn't just have to be existing video repurposed for phone screens or "mobisodes" of existing TV series like Lost and 24.
"The whole purpose for us is to show that mobile can be a meaningful medium in its own right, to establish it as the fourth screen," said GSMA chief marketing officer Bill Gadja. "These films reveal some of mobile's limitations, but they also highlight the potential of mobile to do what no other medium can do."
While each of the directors took their own approach to the mobile medium, all of them agreed that the biggest challenge - apart from coming up with an idea - was the 2" x 2" screen format.
"At first I thought with a 2 x 2 screen I could get away with anything - just shoot it on DV and that'd be it, but it turned out to be an epic experience," said Justin Lin, director of Annapolis and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, whose short film "Â¡La Revolucion De Iguodala!" tracks one man's passionate message through various forms and agendas.
"I thought it'd have to be all close-ups, but after I experimented with it, I found that wasn't the case at all - you could go wide if you wanted to."
Sanjay Gupta said that his short films made use of alternative shots so that they could be easily be re-edited for a smaller screen. "It was a lot like shooting for television, where you do more medium and close-up shots," he said. "We shot some scenes two different ways, so it was like having two versions of the film, so we could use the medium and close-up shots for the mobile version."
The next step will be distributing the films, which the GSMA will coordinate with its member operators. And while the films were ostensibly made with an emphasis on art and creativity over commercial value, the end goal for operators - and film industries worldwide - is generating new revenue streams.
For a start, making even short professional films isn't cheap - the Sundance films were proper film productions shot on a budget of $20,000 each, and the Bollywood project was a major commercial production intended for theatrical release.
"If you make a short film, it costs a significant amount of money, so you really have to think about how to monetize it," says Abraham Punnoose, director of marketing and business development for Roamware,
Choices include pay-per-download/view, subscription-based services and ad-supported content, although Punnoose believes that the first option may be the most suitable for short films.
Meanwhile, Roamware - one of the sponsors of both projects - is hoping the attention the films draw will also help promote their Media Call platform, which would help add viral marketing and recommendation capabilities that would allow users to share the films.
"If you want to promote a short film, you can't just put it on a portal and expect people to download it without seeing it. People are more likely to buy content that's recommended to them, so viral marketing and recommendations will play a vital role in what people watch on their mobiles."
Visitors at 3GSM can see the films at several stands on the exhibition floor, including The Sundance Institute, Roamware and co-sponsor NXP Semiconductors. The films will be available for wider release on February 15.