TO MAKE AN INTERNET business work in the global marketplace, you need name recognition. Name recognition means advertising, and advertising means money. One Seattle start-up, AtomFilms.com, has done a great job with both. AtomFilms is known as one of the top places to go to find short films on the Internet, and they just raised -- in their second round of "strategic financing" -- $20 million. Wow.

Now AtomFilms is expanding into video stores. Their first two collections of shorts are called Definitely Not Hollywood: Dark Comedy Edition and Definitely Not Hollywood: Extreme Comedy Edition. They've been out on tape for a little while, but short films don't belong on tape, they belong on DVD! Technology has finally advanced to the point where, as with CDs, you can pop a movie disc in and skip to whatever track you want to see.

With so many shorts to draw on from their website, the tough part is curating the packages, deciding who makes the grade. Having watched short films at Seattle's many film festivals, as well as Blackchair Productions' "Independent Exposure" series at the Speakeasy, one thing remains true: Short films are almost always too long, with far too many one-joke films stretched far beyond the breaking point. As a general rule, 10 minutes is way too long for a short film. That said, my favorite was "Stalker Guilt Syndrome," an 11-minute monologue inside the head of a guy who finds himself following a woman off the subway. Smart writing, smart direction, and one great performance makes this the best short on the otherwise disappointing Dark Comedy Edition.

The Extreme Comedy Edition is better, and is (coincidentally?) packed with shorter films. "Saving Ryan's Privates" is the one that'll draw you in, but it can't live up to its title. Sure, the production values are high, but the script sensibilities are very low, and the piece never becomes anything more than a series of dick jokes. Shorter and better are the "Sid Sidesplitter" cartoons, where Sid performs a feat of self-mutilation to an appreciative crowd, but loses them every time he decides to do a song and dance routine. Throughout, the animated pieces tend to outshadow the live action ones, but almost all of them have something going for them.

Both collections are worth looking at, particularly for fledgling short-filmmakers (to see what does and doesn't work), and for those without access to the Internet. Now that AtomFilms is $20 million richer, let's hope they spend their money wisely, and not waste it all on a series of expensively pointless Super Bowl ads.

The Right Medium for the Message

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