Filmmakers seeking new venues for their work are being sought out by the wireless industry as it looks west to Hollywood and east to Bollywood for ideas to keep subscribers entertained and their revenue flowing.
But don't expect to see the latest blockbuster debut on cell phones. The short film is being touted as a natural for the small screen.
"I believe mobile viewers will be surprised and delighted by the diversity of these films," said Bill Gajda, the GSMA's chief marketing officer. "Ranging from the comic to exquisite, the radically different creative styles of storytelling play extraordinarily well to the unique, viral nature of the mobile medium."
The Sundance Institute is banking on it, not to make money but to help the art form of the short film find a new audience without having to rely on screenings at traditional niche theaters in major cities.
Sundance said it would make the films available to download from its Web site on Feb. 15, but did not disclose details, including if there would be a charge. For attendees at 3GSM, the films were available free via a web link sent by text message.
"This is a place for artists to experiment and get their work out," said Jonathan Dayton, who co-directed the Oscar-nominated "Little Miss Sunshine" with Valerie Faris.
The pair released their short, "A Slip In Time," as part of the Sundance Film Festival Global Short Film Project at the annual 3GSM wireless industry meeting.
"There is a whole new audience and, for filmmakers, it's such a great medium," Faris said.
The film stars two men and is a slow-motion study of a slapstick comedy, including banana peels, seltzer water and cream pies to the face.
The pair told The Associated Press on Tuesday that making it was no different from doing a big-budget Hollywood style production, except that the target screen is about 2 inches by 2 inches.
Dayton said making films for cell phones, PDAs and even iPods is cheaper than traditional outlets because the work is done digitally and there's no outside costs for distribution, such as transferring the film to DVD.
Maria Maggenti, who shot "Los Viajes de King Tiny," the tale of a small dog who travels the city while his owner is at work, said the impulse to share the film was surprising.
"I hope that people say: 'Oh! Let me send you this little movie,' or 'Come on over here and watch this movie that's on my cell phone," the director of 1995's "The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls In Love" said. "That's what I want people to get out of it, sharing it."
The films were part of five shown at the conference by the Sundance Institute and the GSM Association, the global trade group that represents the wireless industry.
Sundance was not alone. A pair of Bollywood short films, "Zahir" and "Matrimony," both directed by famous Indian director Sanjay Gupta, were given their premieres.
"Bollywood today is the world's largest movie industry, producing more than 1,000 movies a year with an audience of more than 2 billion viewers across 127 countries," said Bobby Srinivasan, CEO and chairman of Roamware Inc., which provides software to wireless networks.
The use of video, even broadcast TV, on cell phones is not new. It has been a concept that has been touted before, but never before with such hype at 3GSM.
All the major providers worldwide — T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and Telefonica, among others — view video as a lucrative way to bring in more customers who want to watch moving images on their handsets while sitting on a bus, riding in a subway or even waiting on line at the grocery store.
But analysts warn that the hype could come back to hurt them if the money is not spent to improve the infrastructure to deliver such products on third-generation networks. No matter how well produced the content is, if consumers cannot get it quickly, they will not likely try to get it again.
Pricing for such services is also an issue with some networks charging for downloads based on size instead of a flat-fee.
A November survey of 22,000 European mobile users commissioned by Tellabs, which provides infrastructure services for wireless network operators, found that a high percentage of early adopters of mobile TV and video services have snubbed a second helping.
Why? The price, quality and reliability caused them not to renew or extend such services.
Of those questioned, 45 percent cited pricing issues as a factor causing them to switch off the services. Nearly a quarter, or 24 percent, who tried mobile video and TV stopped using the services because of concerns about service quality and reliability.
"Once the basic requirements of quality and reliability are good enough, the focus will rightly shift to issues of programming, brands and marketing in addition to price," said Paul Goode, senior analyst at M:Metrics.