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Netflix Enters 2021 'Best Animated Short' Race


Animated shorts are an artform we like to champion a lot around these parts. For many, they may be seen as stepping stones for filmmakers onto producing something bigger, or a fun little side project. This means they're not often seen as the legitimate standalone works of art they are or taken seriously. The big issue resulting from this is that they're notoriously difficult to monetise. Producing a film for its own sake is a noble endeavour. But the hard truth is that kudos doesn't put food on the table.

The traditional methods employed by features and episodic series aren't really realistic for shorts. People (understandably) aren't keen to shell out to watch (or own) ten minutes of content, or even thirty minutes. If a full feature and a short are sitting next to each other on a digital storefront for the same price, why would a customer choose the short?

The problems with their lack of profitability lead to problems getting them funded in the first place. It's no wonder that so much of the best shorts are student films, where such issues are irrelevant. Other short filmmakers have had to play the long game- enter their film into festivals around the world, in the hopes that it might get them enough attention (and if you're lucky awards) to allow you to make your next. Some festivals offer prize money to award winners, but otherwise, nobody is going to pay you to screen your short. Often they'll even charge you just to submit.

Crowdfunding has made a big difference to this. It was also hoped that the rise of subscription streaming services would offer shorts producers a lifeline by being someone who they could sell their films to. But companies like Netflix and Hulu have traditionally stayed away from the short film- the animated short especially. (Note that Amazon Prime does have a lot of animated shorts but they are mostly user-submitted content.)

If Anything Happens I Love You

Noticeably, Netflix's attitude has begun to change. There have been (live-action) shorts available here and there, but normally they've been documentaries or by high profile filmmakers like David Lynch or Paul Thomas Anderson. This year three 'Netflix Original' animated shorts start streaming: Michael Govier and Will McCormack's If Anything Happens I Love You (now streaming) Frank Abney III's Canvas and Arnon Manor and Timothy Ware-Hill's Cops and Robbers

What is behind this change? Netflix has got the sniff of possible Awards Season glory. It's no secret that Netflix covets Oscars (and to a lesser extent BAFTA, Golden Globes and any other awards they can get their hands on) and over recent years has had success with nominations for the likes of Roma and The Irishman. They snagged their first nod this year for Best Animated Feature with Klaus. Could the Best Animated Short be the next party they crash? Netflix hopes so, as it will be entering the three for consideration in next year's Academy Awards.

In the case of Canvas, the short was initially crowdfunded. It's entirely feasible that Netflix were inspired by this year's victory for Matthew A Cherry and Everett Downing's short Hair Love, which had a similar origin and was acquired by Sony Pictures Animation.

The three films are also all covering important issues that are very much of the moment. Two of the shorts are from Black filmmakers, and one is even about a racially motivated murder, making them very relevant in a year when the Black Lives Matter movement went mainstream. The third deals with the aftermath of a school shooting.

Cops & Robbers

Don't forget that half-hour specials such as Alien X-Mas, Angela's Christmas and multiple-Oscar Winner Aardman Animation's upcoming Robin's Robin are also eligible in the category.  

If Netflix finds success next year, with either nominations or even a  win, it might mean them moving into the animation shorts field in the long term. Whether they acquire complete films- as happened here-, or if they get involved in the funding stage, it will be a big boon for filmmakers. It's a smart move for Netflix too, as not only do they get the kudos of awards buzz, but it gives them a chance to get a first look at up and coming talent. Don't be surprised if you hear that Abney has signed on to make a feature or series for Netflix Animation in the near future. 

On the other hand, it is another Big Media Corporation getting involved. Disney and Pixar already dominate in the category. With Netflix competing, will there be any room for the scrappy outsiders, the independent and international filmmakers who occasionally pull off a surprise win?

Still, should Netflix's yield results, rival streamers may follow suit by investing in shorts of their own. Short filmmakers could finally get a taste of the gold-rush for content that other models of animation have been experiencing for a while now. And not before time.

Canvas is streaming on Netflix from December 11, Cops and Robbers will be available December 28.