Lexus, YouTube, and the Return of the Short Film

ZEFR recently attended the screening of two works by filmmakers Jon Goldman and Satsuki Okawa, 2014’s selections for the Lexus Short Films second annual “Life is Amazing” series. In collaboration with the Weinstein Company, Lexus Short Films seeks to discover and foster promising young filmmakers by financing the production of new, original short films without any mandate for product placement. In its second year, Lexus Short Films showcased Market Hours (written and directed by Jon Goldman) and Operation Barn Owl (directed by Satsuki Okawa) before releasing them to YouTube for wider distribution.

Lexus sees the value of high-production short-form content as a clear path to captivate an audience that is flocking in droves to online video, especially YouTube. The Weinstein Company, of course, is in the business of unearthing talent anywhere they can find it. Thus a partnership that began in 2013 has blossomed into an annual event, replete with New York City premieres, involving the requisite red carpets and flashbulbs.

High Production, Short Form

After a recent press screening of Lexus Short Films Market Hours and Operation Barn Owl, the producer of both films Joey Horvitz, posed a question that sounded strangely like a riddle: “What is the difference between a James Bond movie and a Lexus short film?” The room went quiet and Horvitz delivered his punchline: “The Lexus Short Film has less product placement.”

He’s absolutely right, in a way. Of course, despite both the Weinstein Company and Lexus enforcing no mandate to include any mention or scene involving a Lexus automobile, there they are, both in Market Hours and Operation Barn Owl, unmistakable, clean, white, and new. Yet the scenes are brief, incidental, and gone before you can blink twice. The scenes called for a car, and well, Lexus was footing the bill, so why not use the freebie?

“Other car companies that have done similar short-film things,” says Horvitz. “A lot of them use established directors that are making massive summer tentpole movies. What we wanted to do is to find up-and-coming directors. We wanted to give them an opportunity, to help them take their careers to the next level and give them the tools necessary to do that.”

Mentorship

Which brings up another question: What’s in it for Lexus and the Weinstein Company? Why finance two short films directed by virtual unknowns to be seen primarily on YouTube that do not explicitly advertise anything? Why recruit actress Katie Holmes to mentor young directors about how actors respond to stories?

Why ask director Antoine Fuqua to mentor these fledgling filmmakers if the goal isn’t to, well, just sell cars?

“You’re right to wonder, ‘Why is Lexus doing this? I don’t understand it,’” says Horvitz, bluntly addressing head-on the question of motive. “It’s not like the BMW movies, or something, where it’s all about the cars. It’s because there is a certain brand essence to film and cinema. There’s a sophistication, there’s glamour. I think you’re going to be seeing a lot more of them. You’re going to see a lot more short films coming into their own. You see what’s happening with all of these YouTube personalities and influencers, like PewDiePie. There’s a big difference between content like that, which brands will probably be investing in, and high-quality movie-quality content.”

Authenticity and the Rise of Online Video

Lexus, along with the Weinstein Company, are fully committed to breaking into digital video platforms such as YouTube and using its astronomical resurgence to usher in a new era of appreciation and broader audience for the short film. And the filmmakers themselves couldn’t be happier with the support, not just monetarily, but for the exposure as well.

“I got really lucky to work with someone like the Weinstein Company and Lexus, the big guns, right?” says Operation Barn Owl director Satsuki Okawa, laughing. “When the opportunity came, I tried to be honest to my ideas, to what I wanted to do. Before the internet, all of us were influenced by what the media said. It was so limited. But now, we can see what other people think, regular people like us. You can’t really lie anymore. You have to be true. You have to be honest. If you stink, they can smell it.”

“It was so cool getting to meet all these people and share the film with them,” says the writer and director of Market Hours Jon Goldman. “I tried to make a good film that came from a purely creative, private place. I felt like I was able to do that. And it’s really exciting and I’m grateful for the exposure that’s going to happen because of Lexus and Weinstein Company. I’ve made what I felt was a good film before and then struggled to get people to see it, so this opportunity is great. A lot of people have an interest in getting this seen, so that’s fantastic. As a filmmaker, I’m just trying to hold on to my experience of making this and the experience of how things feel moving forward, with what I do next.”

 

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