Meanwhile, for the creators, the low barrier to making a short has democratized the medium of cinema. "Animation is a producers' medium. This is a way to take the reins back," says Blaas, who should know about the difficulties of imprinting one's vision on a film – he holds a day job at Pixar, where hundreds of animators sometimes work just to create a single frame. (Blaas took a five-month leave from the Disney-owned company to work on "Alma," which he financed himself.)
Or, put another way, it means everyday Joes, with little more than a handheld camera and software they picked up at Best Buy, can win the lottery, landing six-figure development deals and going almost overnight from their basements to the corridors of Hollywood power in the manner of an "American Idol" winner. "Panic Attack," for instance, generated more than 6 million YouTube hits and secured Alvarez representation at CAA and Anonymous Content, in addition to the Raimi deal.
Packed with homemade videos showing teenage karaoke and silly pet tricks, Web video has long had little relevance to serious filmmaking. But these days, it's being seen as a shortcut through the Hollywood system; where outsiders to the movie business would once have to work their way through the torturous world of music videos or commercials, inexpensive cameras and Web exposure now drastically cut down on the time it takes for newcomers to get noticed.
It's also no accident that many of the hot shorts directors come from outside the U.S. as filmmakers use the Web to shorten the distance between themselves, fans and executives. (Plus, insiders say, foreign sensibilities often seem fresh to jaded Hollywood eyes.)
But as the trend has caught fire, some point out there are limits to what even a good short can prove. A five-minute movie, after all, is shorthand. It's a far cry from a well-paced, three-act story that even the most rudimentary screenwriters turn out. And even when it's done well, only certain film categories lend themselves to shorts. One could hardly begin to lay out the building blocks of an emotional drama in a few minutes. "With a genre movie, it's about feeling and sensation," admits Andres Muschietti. "I don't know if a short works well for other types of movies."
The shorts wave has also grown intense enough that it has provoked a backlash — in many ways before it even has had time to prove itself. The Hollywood Reporter ran a story last week proclaiming that the trend had already passed. "Hollywood feeling shorts fatigue," the headline announced, even though no film from this new crop of shorts has gotten close to becoming a finished feature.
Like other Hollywood trends, this one will probably mint a few more overnight stars before it's all over, as well as churn out a number of cut-rate copycats. "Shorts remind me of how Esquire used to put the image of a monkey typing on its cover to show how easy everyone thought it was to write a screenplay," Wick says. "But it of course wasn't that easy." He pauses. "The idea of creating a good short is much easier than the actuality."