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Showtime’s “SHORT stories” recruits YouTube finest to make short films

By Trevor Noren

Creative Director, Digital Content, Showtime

For “SHORT stories,” Showtime contacted cutting-edge creators from across the Web and asked them to tell a tale in an innovative way. The series sports the work of some of YouTube’s top creators, so naturally we’re interested in learning a whole lot more about how “SHORT stories” came to be. Showtime's Trevor Noren tells us more.

1) What gave you the idea to use YouTube stars in this way?
YouTube has become a venue for animators and filmmakers to explore new ways to communicate a narrative. Whether it’s an established artist like Don Hertzfeldt or a talent the community has discovered, like Cyriak or Levni Yilmaz, YouTube has offered an opportunity for artists to experiment and find out what people respond to. That spirit of innovation seemed like a natural fit for our brand. Unique storytelling is the hallmark of what we do as a network: our shows challenge viewers with characters they haven’t seen before. “SHORT stories” is a way for us to bring our brand to a new audience while at the same time showing the work of these amazing artists to our subscribers.

2) What was the process of working with them?
Our mission statement to the artists was pretty simple: “Tell a story in a way people haven’t seen before.” We figured a directive that open-ended would create a huge range of results. They didn’t disappoint. Don Hertzfeldt made up a language. Michael Langan employed thousands of still images to show a run around his block. Cyriak used his hands to tell the story of evolution. Whether acquiring a film already in the works or commissioning something entirely new, we did not interfere with the artists’ creative process. The filmmaker explained what they planned to do and we let them run with it. As a result, we ended up with an incredibly diverse collection of films.

3) What have you learned about the YouTube community over the course of this project?
How much they embrace the bizarre. It doesn’t matter if they know exactly what the filmmaker is trying to say with their video. They recognize the dedication that goes into creating the piece and they recognize the personality and vision behind it. It’s really amazing and inspiring how open-minded the community is to new ideas.

4) Will you pursue more of these and if so, how are you finding the filmmakers?
“SHORT stories” will be ongoing. We’ve identified a few potential candidates. We’d like to keep who they are a surprise. That said, the YouTube community is already helping us identify potential filmmakers. Names pop up all the time in comments on the videos. Everyone from Czech great Jan Svankmajer to Mystery Guitar Man. The best way for us to find new talent is to watch and listen to the YouTube community.

5) What’s something no one would know about these videos by looking at them?

The sheer amount of time that went into the creation of some of the films. Inspired by a vintage nutcracker that looked like a fish, it took PES five years to find all of the objects that went into “The Deep.” For Michael Langan, stitching together all of the still images for “Dahlia” took one month for every minute of the film. “Pretty, Dead” by Jeff Scher consists of more than 3,000 individual drawings. The final products themselves are incredible, but when you really start to understand what went into creating them, it’s remarkable.