I found this week’s film, Black Button, on YouTube where it has become rather popular. That makes sense since it is a good film, but more so than that it is also emblematic of the uniqueness of YouTube and the possibilities for filmmakers there.
Black Button is minimalistic in design and execution, but is the kind of tautly paced, well-written film that really shines in the short format. The film centers around a classic hypothetical and moral quandary; lost and confused in a stark white room the main character, Mr. Roberts, is offered ten million dollars by a mysterious older gentleman to push a black button. The catch? If he does, someone, somewhere will die. This premise sets the stage for a provocative conversation between the two as they discuss the implications of such a choice.
There is a lot to like about the film, the visual aesthetic is stylish; stark and ultra-exposed in order to create the depth-less white set. As mentioned, the pacing is excellent, sucking in your attention and never letting it flag and the shot selection wrings the most dynamism possible out of the limited set. The two strongest aspects though are the excellent sound work and superb acting. Fantastically creepy, disorienting sounds emanate during the payoff that heighten the affect nicely, and quite simply Robert Grubb steals the show with his turn as the elderly gentlemen.
As accomplished a film as it is, especially for a $200 first time effort, Black Button likely would have found success on the festival circuit, but instead on YouTube it has become a phenomena, garnering a half a million views and over 6000 comments. It’s hard to imagine garnering as much exposure or feedback from any other means than the online video giant. But also because of the community-nature of the site, the feedback is often a lot more substantial than other sites. Thirteen video responses have been posted already by fans of the film, and questions generated by the short prompted the filmmakers to post two new “making of” segments to YouTube as well, extending the level of interactions possible between independent filmmakers and their audiences. Now if only YouTube can perfect some revenue sharing…