In living rooms across Canada on Sunday night, folks were high-fiving Toronto-based director Chris Landreth's Oscar win for his 14-minute animated short, Ryan.
But once the patriotic fervour died down, Academy Award junkies started asking the obvious. Had anyone actually seen this $900,000, lauded short film, made by a virtually unknown 43-year-old director? The answer, sadly, was no.
The reality is Canadians are fabulous at producing this kind of creative gold, but because short films rarely make a profit, they often end up orphans on the airwaves, having to fight tooth and nail to get any mainstream exposure on TV or in cinemas.
Yesterday, after staying up all night celebrating at the Vanity Fair party and then taking his Oscar to breakfast at Norm's restaurant in Santa Monica, Mr. Landreth said he is now hopeful that the little golden man will propel Ryan onto more channels and into more theatres as a preview to full-length films.
"It's a fact of life that short films are damn near impossible to program into theatres," he said. "And that's because people aren't accustomed to the format. In an ideal world, we would go to a movie theatre and see a collection of short films all running together as one anthology.
"We hope this award makes people more aware that short films -- like short stories -- are not an inferior form of art but a really great way to tell stories, in a truly imaginative way," added the director, who was swamped at the Vanity Fair soirée by a gaggle of celebrities including Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Hilary Swank and Cheryl Tiegs, who asked whether she could hold his Oscar.
And Ryan -- which has won 35 international awards -- was already off to a better start than most shorts. CBC purchased the first-window broadcast rights to Ryan as well as to a 43-minute documentary about making the animated short called Alter Egos. The public broadcaster has aired both films several times since November, and is now mulling giving Ryan more slots in its forthcoming schedule.
Alliance Atlantis bought the second-window broadcast licence for its specialty channels, and other broadcast partners include the Sundance Channel in the United States and Canal Plus in Europe. The NFB has also streamed a version of Ryan on its website.
The short, which is based on the life of real-life animator Ryan Larkin who succumbed to cocaine and booze and is now a Montreal panhandler, also managed to get some limited exposure in repertory movie houses, such as Montreal's Ex-centris Theatre and Toronto's Cumberland, where it screens in advance of the Bollywood-inspired romance Bride & Prejudice.
Thanks to the Academy Award, Ryan producer Steve Hoban is now trying to push the film (a collaboration of Mr. Hoban's company, Copper Heart Entertainment, the NFB and animators at Seneca College) into more mainstream theatres. Yesterday, he said he is close to a deal with distributors in Japan and Britain to pair Ryan with a feature film his company made a few years ago called Nothing. And he plans to pitch Famous Players and Cineplex Odeon to see whether they might talk to a distributor about screening Ryan prior to a main feature.
NFB producer Marcy Page said Ryan might never have seen the light of day without the "incredibly generous donation from Seneca College of the entire infrastructure of the film," which she values at roughly $250,000.
"Everyone who makes short films recognizes there is no commercial bottom line. It's an artistic and cultural one," she said. "However, this film [and another Canadian Oscar nominee] Hardwood have secured licence sales better than most. Hardwood for instance was sold to PBS for $25,000 and Ryan has $70,000 in sales, which is unprecedented for a short film. The Oscar nomination and the quality of these films has contributed to the success of selling these short films, and boosting their exposure on a global scale."
The only time that shorts typically make money is when they are picked up as a concept for a series, such as the NFB's much-lauded Bob's Birthday.
At 14 minutes in length, Ryan is also considered too long as preview material in the theatres where owners prefer shorts under seven minutes, Ms. Page added.
"The theatre owners have opted out on showing shorts in favour of advertising and previews of coming attractions," she said, "which in my view is a huge tragedy."