|Gina, an Actress, Age 29|
FOR RAPACIOUS BIZ TYPES trolling the indie film scene, the history of the short film probably began with the creation of AtomFilms in 1998 and ended with this winters Nasdaq crash. But not for Jean-Michel Dissard. As the amiable New York-based Frenchman tells it, he was exploring the business opportunities of short-film distribution long before cash-laden dot-coms started scooping up shorts and streaming them over the Internet. And in recessionary 2001, in fact, his sales and production company, Aisle 10 Productions, is doing better than ever.
Much of the companys current success is due to Dissards discerning eye. His small catalog only contains 23 films, but among that list are the past four winners of the Sundance Best Short Film prize: Paul Harrills Gina, an Actress, Age 29, Peter Sollett and Eva Vivess Five Feet High and Rising, Michael Burkes Fishbelly White and Debra Graniks Snake Feed. And if you talk to Dissard, hell tell you that what hes doing has nothing to do with the online download merchants. "The main concern of the Internet companies," he says, "is their relationship with their investors. The more films they have, the more traffic they get and the more advertising income they generate. But little seems to trickle back to the filmmakers. Ive created a platform that has helped filmmakers make their money back."
What Dissard provides is not Web exposure but simply good old-fashioned hustle. He works his clients films into foreign festivals like Cannes and Clermont-Ferrand, the worlds leading fest for short films, and brokers television licensing deals with such international broadcasters as Canal Plus in France and Spain, Channel Four in the U.K. and the Sundance Channel in the U.S. Dissard claims that the average production cost of the films he represents is about $1,000 per minute of running time. So a successful sale to France ($400 a minute), Spain and England ($200-$300 a minute), and Germany ($400 a minute) will just about put the film into profit (Dissard takes a 30 percent fee). Unfortunately, Dissard says, the U.S. is lacking in lucrative short-film opportunities. "Sundance Channel is beginning to buy more shorts," he explains, "but Poland pays more!"
Dissard explains his boutique approach by citing his own taste, which tends toward documentary-styled fiction shorts: "I like films that turn their camera away from the beaten path, like Paul Harrills short, which is about a struggling actress in Knoxville, Tennessee. International buyers can see an image of America that they wouldnt see in a Hollywood feature." Dissard particularly shuns overly slick "calling card" shorts: "They have a strange and premeditated logic that leads to sneaky and obvious films. I get weary."
Dissard got into the short-film business while attending NYU Graduate Film School four years ago. When some friends at Clermont-Ferrand invited him to curate an NYU showcase there, he realized that there was a "culture for short films in Europe" that could be accessed by American independents. Soon Dissard was putting together showcases in São Paolo, Kiev and Sydney.
Despite Aisle 10s considerable achievements Fishbelly White, for example, has sold to 22 countries, and he just picked up New Directors/New Films hit Upheaval, by Itamar Kubovy Dissard says commissions and sales arent ultimately what hes about. Citing increased coin from foreign broadcasters into U.S. indie productions, Dissard says his is a more long-term plan. "I dig working directly with filmmakers. Together we can figure out what is the best way to use their work to build the right ground onto which they can stand firmly and confidently take their next steps." (Translation from the French: Dissard wants to use his short-film sales business to help find feature financing for filmmakers.) Aisle 10 may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.