No one has written a history of how we got to where we are with short film on the internet, and I’m certainly not going to take a comprehensive approach to the task, but an anecdote: I remember Ben Briand’s film Apricot being important.
There had been shorts on the web for a long time when Apricot came along, Short of the Week itself was started in 2007, Vimeo and YouTube both date back to 2004, but the kind of films that we long associated with festivals — mature, live-action dramas, had been slow to embrace the internet. Even in 2010 the web was rich with brilliant animations and documentaries, and it was a ripe time for emerging genres like fashion film, and modern sci-fi teasers like Panic Attack and Pixels, but longer narrative storytelling was still somewhat rare. Apricot was not a festival film of course, intriguingly it was branded content (for tea of all things), but it was a huge hit, and became a touchstone for many casual netizens, the first time they saw a narrative short film on the web with the subtlety and depth they associated with cinema. It won the Audience Award at the first Vimeo Awards that year, and with the earlier introduction of HD, helped precipitate the move of prestige short film to the web.
Apricot was a big deal, but you shouldn’t have to rely on fondness for that film to be excited by Blood Pulls A Gun, Briand’s long-awaited followup. An all-star crew from Australia worked on the film, including Blacklist-nominated scriptwriter Kevin W. Koehler, Blue Tongue Collective collaborator Luke Doolan, and Jeremy Rouse won a Gold ACS award for his work as DP. Briand himself took home “Best Emerging Filmmaker” at the Melbourne International Film Festival for the film.
What Briand does that is so appealing with Blood Pulls a Gun is classic genre bending, blending coming-of-age themes of sexual awakening with a crime thriller, exploring the ennui of a beautiful 14 year old girl, Alice, and the excitement that flushes her upon the arrival of the dangerous bad boy “Blood”. Filled with equal parts menace and raw sexual magnetism, Blood is a dose of mystery and allure to Alice. But, will her kleptomaniac ways cause trouble when they intersect with the brutal reality of Blood’s circumstances?
Alice is no shrinking violet as Briand and Koehler made specific attempt to avoid situating her as a passive character. Rather than act as a simple observer, her actions play critical part in the unfolding of the narrative. Situating the POV of the film with Alice, played by the lovely actress Odessa Young (also the star of Corrie Chen’s Bloomers) is the right thing to do, but part of what is so appealing about the film is how the limits of her understanding heighten the appeal of the mysterious crime elements. Hinting at expansive back stories is often more effective than explicating them, and it will be a challenge for Briand and Koehler going forward as they develop characters from the film into a feature.
At 18min, the film can be leisurely in its pace, but is always captivating, in no small part due to the exceptional production values. The lack of action early on is not sloppiness in the writing or editing, but instead is an important decision, as it allows the viewer to more easily empathize with Alice, hidden away in her stultifying milieu . Shot on the RED Epic in Northern Australia, the natural beauty of the country is hidden by the generic motel surroundings that is the film’s setting, but the golden glow of the photography and grade drenches the film in a wistful nostalgia that the action of the film ends up upsetting.
It took a few years, but Blood Pulls a Gun is a impressive step up in ambition and craft for Briand. It solidifies his standing as one of the most intriguing talents in the short form, and with this film as a calling card and the support of his agency, WME, a feature seems to be inevitable for this talented team.