Leveraging the Internet to Make a Short Film

Take your film from mediocre to incredible by putting in that last 2% of work.

 

“An abstract interpretation of the historical Christmas narrative.”

Every now and then you discover a short independent film that redefines what you believe to be possible.

When I stumbled across Anomaly – directed by Salomon Lighthelm and Dan DiFelice, with hundreds of thousands of views on Vimeo – I felt quite like I did after seeing Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life in theatres: lost and full of wonder. It’s an incredible accomplishment made more incredible by the specifics of its production, which we’ll discuss – but first things first!

Take roughly 35 minutes to watch Anomaly, described by producer Jens Jacob’s company, Sypher Films, as “an abstract interpretation of the historical Christmas narrative”. Set in the late 1960s, the film intertwines various narrative threads around broken relationships and an unprecedented astronomical event:

A film where every department excels.

Granted, Anomaly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – its impressionistic storytelling and poetic style are an acquired taste – but it is exactly what it wants to be, and the craft on display is extraordinary. Every department excels, but what most impressed me were the locations and production design; those visual details that root the film in the sixties.

It came as no surprise, then, when I read in an interview that “a lot of [the] budget” went into the locations and production design. “I can’t tell you how much of a difference it made,” Jacob emphasizes. He also reveals that the directors brought considerable visual effects and sound design experience to the table, which helped give the film a look far beyond its means. “A lot of how Anomaly was created was really just setting expectations of it being a passion project and being as resourceful as possible,” Jacob explains.

In addition to capitalizing on the directors’ existing talents, “being resourceful” meant leveraging the tools at their disposal to grow their professional networks. In an interview with Fstoppers, Lighthelm reflects on how he got the ball rolling with his creative work using the internet:

When I started, I had the luxury of doing sound work that didn’t keep me busy for a whole 9-5 work week. This meant that I’d go out shooting some lo-fi passion work – that work soon got noticed. I soon realized the power of the internet and put my work online – next thing you know I’m chatting to Khalid [the Director of Photography] on Vimeo… and also chatting to some good creative crew in Sydney, Australia. Not long after that, I met Khalid in Dubai (where I was living at the time) and formed a new friendship, and then a few months later, my wife and I moved to Sydney all because of passion work and new online friendships.

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The internet helped the film raise over $67,000.

The internet helped bring Anomaly into existence from a financial perspective, as well. Remarkably, the film realized its budget on Kickstarter, ultimately surpassing its $60,000 goal to arrive at $67,301.

The team milked every penny, ensuring the film was as polished as it could be. “I have this theory that a film at 98 percent done, will feel like a film at 25 percent to the average viewer,” Lighthelm muses in his Fstoppers interview. “The last 2 percent of work that you put in can take a project from mediocre to incredible…I think a lot of people underestimate that – they abandon projects at 98 percent.” The Anomaly team’s hard work fed into its collaborations with VFX and sound companies, which helped realize that last 2 percent. “I’ve seen talented people fail and talentless people succeed all because of hard work,” Jacob adds.

Filmmakers are bypassing the festival circuit.

When Anomaly arrived at 100 percent, the team made a bold decision to release the film on Vimeo for free, bypassing the traditional festival circuit. “When it came down to it we wanted as many people to see the film as possible,” Jacob tells Noam Kroll. “And while many film festivals can open the door to allow for such a widespread audience that their channels offer, that isn’t always the case.” He continues:

The internet has opened up a whole new community in many ways… Traditionally, we see filmmaking in 2 categories – Studio & Independent. But I beg to say that there is now a 3rd category of fully self created projects, widely seen in the “Vimeo” market. Currently indie film is thought of as one big market, but if you think about what an actual independent film is, it usually comes in a package of a private investor and maintains an average budget of a million more or less… But that’s not who our peers are. Our community is accumulated by self driven, passionate filmmakers.

The online market has now become the new “foot in the door”. It’s hard for me to say if this is going to be a sustainable model as we are just currently going through it ourselves. But our generation is redefining what this model looks like from a distribution standpoint, making it easier than ever to jump in… And I love that it fuels competition to enhance innovation, inspires creativity and in the end molds better films. All that being said, online distribution is the wave of the future in my opinion, and traditional “TV Studios” will be a thing of the past. As far as theatrical distribution goes, that’s hard to say as the movie-going experience can’t be replicated online.

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The wave of the future.

Here at Lights Online Film School, we’ve talked a lot about the meaning of “indie film” and distribution in the digital age, and recently we launched our own platform to help indie film professionals build new online friendships. It’s exciting to see a crowdfunding success like Anomaly embrace this “wave of the future” and benefit from it!

 Michael Koehler, with


Like the insights in this short film breakdown? They’re not an “anomaly”! Get more when you join our online film school, complete with a comprehensive filmmaking course. It’s everything you need to learn how to create professional narrative and documentary films using the equipment you already have, wherever you live, with guidance, community, and resources at a fraction of the cost of traditional film school.

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