LOS ANGELES — Some years back, investment banker Carter Pilcher stumbled across some really good short movies made by a few talented friends, and the money-making and artistic sides of his brain suddenly clicked.
The idea was to buy rights to those shorts cheaply from wannabe filmmakers who sought fame more than fortune. He figured he could make a business by showing them to new audiences for just the right price.
"I just felt like I'd discovered a part of the world of content that didn't take a lot of money to create but was really riveting," said Pilcher, a 49-year-old American who was working in London at the time and still has his office there. "In 10 minutes, you're in tears, or you're shocked, or you laugh really hard."
Pilcher gave up his career in finance to pursue the idea. With his own money and help from family and friends, he started what has become Shorts International, a company that now runs subscription TV channels that show shorts in six countries to about 12 million homes. That's not a lot of homes for a channel, although he hopes to expand its reach. AT&T's U-verse video service began carrying ShortsHD in the U.S. last summer, and Dish Network Corp. did so in April.
While giving thousands of filmmakers a potentially huge new audience, Shorts International won't necessarily make them rich. Its licensing fee — a few hundred dollars over several years — is not enough to transform what is a money-losing venture for most filmmakers.
But his business adds to the many outlets that are now trying to make money from their work.
"It's a fair price," Pilcher said. "What's even more important: We're giving filmmakers a chance to be seen."
For filmmakers, making short movies is a kind of necessary proving ground. No one walks into a director's job at a Hollywood studio without a track record. For many, it's either lose money making your own short or fetch coffee as a production assistant and try to rise through the ranks.
"It's a great opportunity to give people a chance to exercise those creative muscles on something that isn't a beast like a multimillion-dollar movie," said Kevin Reher, Pixar's development producer in charge of ancillary franchises. The unit continues to make new shorts that debut before every Pixar movie.