Los Angeles Times February 28, 2006
The spotlight lengthens for Oscar's short films

The Oscar nominated short films took another big step toward wider exposure yesterday when the five films competing in the live action short category were all made available for download on the iTunes Music Store.

By the end of the day, all five of the nominees were on iTunes' 100 most-downloaded video list, with the British short "Cashback" cracking the top 10, where it sat alongside such high-profile offerings as Nelly and Beyoncé videos, episodes of "Lost" and "The Office," and standup comedy from Dane Cook.

The lone American nominee, Rob Pearlstein's "Our Time Is Up," followed "Cashback" into the top 10 this morning. "Six Shooter" was next at No. 23, the German "Ausreisser" ("The Runaway") at No. 42 and the Icelandic drama "The Last Farm" at No. 59.

The shorts, which can be downloaded for $1.99 each, have already received wider distribution than any other slate of nominees in the category, with public showings in 17 cities via a deal between Magnolia Pictures and Shorts International.

The iTunes deal was a popular topic of conversation last night at a reception that preceded the academy's annual sold-out showing of all the shorts at its Samuel Goldwyn Theater. The makers of every nominee except the audacious "Six Shooter" were in attendance, basking in the kind of attention rarely afforded short films.

Photo: Sean Biggerstaff, in "Cashback," is a top 10 hit on iTunes.
(Magnolia Pictures / Shorts International)

"Usually when you make a short, you do the festival circuit and just try to get people to see your movie," said Pearlstein, whose comic film features actor Kevin Pollack. "But there are only so many festivals out there, and I thought we'd gotten to the end of our run. And then the nomination came along, and suddenly there are all these new ways to get a bigger audience."

Sometimes, the filmmakers can't even keep up with those new ways: When "Cashback" producer Lene Bausager told director Sean Ellis that their film, a romp featuring "Harry Potter" actor Sean Biggerstaff and lots of naked women, had gone up on iTunes that day, Ellis looked confused. "It did?" he asked.

"It's one of the top downloads already," his publicist told him.

"It is?" he asked, incredulous.

The animated shorts aren't part of the iTunes deal, although other things may be in the works. "There are talks going on with the big boys, way above my head," laughed Shane Acker, director of the creepy, atmospheric "9."

In the meantime, the five animated filmmakers have been on a tour of sorts, meeting in San Francisco over the weekend to begin a series of screenings and Q&A sessions at the major film studios and animation houses. They started with Pixar, and are now hitting the Southern California studios.

"I'd seen all the other nominees separately, but it's been a treat to watch them all back-to-back," said Andrew Jimenez, co-director of the stylish Pixar short "One Man Band." "It's a great category this year, because the techniques are so completely different and the people are so completely different."

In the back of the room, Sharon Colman agreed. The 28-year-old Scottish student put together the charming, hand-drawn "Badgered" as her final project at film school, never expecting that it would put her in this company or win her an introduction to Pixar chief John Lasseter.

"It's been surreal traveling around with all these other filmmakers," said Colman, laughing. "Who would have thought a film student from Scotland would be going up against Pixar?"

Anthony Lucas, an Australian who directed the epic adventure tale "The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello," covered his ears when a guest told him that his ambitious film had a chance to win. "I can't think about that," he protested. "Really, I think this category could go in any direction."

The nominees kept talking, schmoozing and enjoying their unexpected visibility until academy staffers shooed everybody out of the fourth-floor gallery and into the Goldwyn. A thousand fans waited downstairs to see their movies and hear their panel discussions — fans who, when they bought their tickets a few weeks ago, would never have guessed that by the time the screening rolled around they could also be watching the shorts in commercial theaters and on their iPods.