DC Shorts Film Festival and Screenwriting Competition

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Starstruck Shorts: Celebrity Films at DC Shorts

This year DC Shorts is thrilled to showcase six films that feature the work of some renowned artists in the film business.  As I watched the films, I was struck with questions surrounding their shared component of celebrity—How do shorts featuring such prominent actors differ from shorts with unknown actors?  Do these films require higher budgets and longer production phases?  Surely I assumed, yes.  Yet, I was surprised and enlightened on the reality of my guesswork after speaking to some of these very gifted filmmakers.

I was fortunate to interview Marc Brener, creator of the Hollywood satire, Say It Ain’t Solo, featured in Showcase 13.  The film depicts the story of a father (Stephen Tobolowsky) and son (Josh Brener—Brener’s younger brother) who attempt to derail the production of a Star Wars remake.  In Brener’s words his inspiration for the film centers on the storyline itself, “Every movie seems like it’s a remake these days.”  Brener’s short featured an ensemble cast of Hollywood entertainers, all of whom he had in mind and were happy to take part in the film.  Hosting a relatively famous cast, Christopher Lloyd, Malin Akerman, Jason Alexander, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Joe Mantegna, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Kunal Nayyar, was not as huge a financial undertaking as one might suspect.  Through the Screen Actor’s Guild Short Film Agreement, Brener was able to negotiate working with these actors affordably, which assisted him in retaining a low budget.  And while the film was shot over the course of a year, there were only “eight or nine shooting days,” according to Brener.  Brener cites his intended audience as, “Star wars fans, overall movie lovers and inside Hollywood.”  Film enthusiasts will certainly appreciate this film, and hopefully the powers that be in Hollywood will recognize the hackneyed and superfluous amount of remakes being produced in their studios today.

 

 

Another film in the 7th Showcase not only features the acting chops of Hollywood charmer, Adam Brody, known for his break out role in Fox’s The O.C., and roles in films such as In the Land of Women and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but was written by famed director, screenwriter and playwright, Neil LaBute.  I was given the opportunity to speak to LaBute and the film’s director, Nathaniel Krause about what it was like to make the short film, Double or Nothing.

 

 

The short depicts a typical spat between a couple Clark (Brody) and girlfriend Becca (Louisa Krause—LaBute’s sister), which progressively evokes a great deal of uncertainty and surprise in the viewer.  The theme of the unexpected is consistent with LaBute’s inspiration for the film, which he imparts,

“I wanted to do something that went in one direction then surprised the viewer by being about something else–a diversion that I’ve employed a number of times as a writer and very much enjoy as a reader and/or audience member.  In this case what looked like a racial/economic conflict turned out to be something very different.”

LaBute’s script was enough to stimulate Krause’s inspiration as a director.

“As the director, the inspiration came from the script.  What immediately drew me in was the raw nature of the interaction between the three characters; Clark, Becca and the homeless man.  Without giving too much away, I felt there was an underlying truth behind Clark’s ploy—something a lot of people can relate to (at least those who have found themselves in a relationship they would rather not be apart of).  As such, I wanted to tow a line between both despising Clark’s actions and being charmed and oddly familiar with them.”

Both LaBute and Krause agree that it was the collaboration of the filmmaking team, “the people who come together to make it happen,” as Krause says, that made the film a success.  This includes the work of the actors.  Of Brody, Krause said, “Adam was a pleasure to work with.  He is an extremely open and fearless actor willing to take risks and explore all avenues of a character.”  The role of Becca, Clark’s girlfriend, was written for actress, Louisa Krause.  Thanks to producer Andrew Carlberg, they were able to get Brody onboard for the film.

To my surprise the film was not a high-budget short, and it was shot in only 8 hours—the biggest challenge Krause faced when making the film.  However, the film was a success.  Krause, the director, hopes that audiences will leave the theatre with more “questions than answers,” and commends LaBute’s writing with this thoughtful sentiment,

“The beauty of Neil LaBute’s writing is that—as in life—it ultimately poses more questions than answers.  It is simply my intention to give the audience an intimate look at a situation that exposes some of the surprising motives behind an individual’s actions.  It reveals why sometimes those we know best can act in ways we least expect.  In that respect, despite the disrespectful way in which the protagonist behaves, the charm he inherently exhibits is meant to maintain his relatability showing that we may not all be that unalike; what truly separates us is how we deal with our similar thoughts and fears.”

Friend Request Pending of Showcase 3 is a particularly noteworthy film directed by Chris Foggin, and written and produced by Chris Croucher.  The film stars British screen and stage icon Judi Drench, as Mary, a lonely senior citizen navigating the new frontier of social networking in search of love.  The story has an authenticity that is perhaps partly amassed by Croucher’s inspiration for the story, “Put simply, my Mum!”  He elaborates saying,

“She has recently started social networking and watching her learn really fascinated me. This very ‘of now’ story about how older generations deal with what for my generation is an everyday occurrence is funny and heartwarming. The way we all communicate now has changed completely and I am intrigued by the digital revolution and it’s impact on dating. The game has changed.”

 

 

Dench brought that inspiration and Croucher’s idealized character to life.  Croucher commends Dench as a key factor to the film’s success, in addition to its “very real and funny take on a very modern reality; Silver surfer dating.”

Of working with Dench, Croucher gushes, “She is a dream, so funny and just how you imagine she would be in person.”

In terms of getting Dench onboard for the film, Chris Foggin, the film’s director, had developed a working relationship with the actress through previous productions.  Croucher was lucky enough to have Dench as his muse for the script, as Foggin had spoken to her ahead of time about the project.  Croucher recounts these dealings with wistful reminiscence,

“When we started on the short, we showed her [Dench] the script, she said yes and a few months later we said ‘Turnover.’  If only everything in life was that simple.”

The film certainly garnered attention for its star, however this did not determine the film’s expenses, which Croucher quotes as “relatively cheap,” around $8,000.

Scott Schaefer’s film, The Carrier, screening in Showcase 3, features performances by three famed names in the business, Rita Wilson, Chad Michael Murray and Anna Paquin.  The film depicts the posthumous implications of an STD carrier, Thatcher (Murray).  Schaefer reveals “legacy” to be the impetus for the film, “I am always intrigued by legacy.  What items or stories that people leave behind.  I feel that this is the ultimate legacy story.”

 

 

Certainly a mother (Wilson) obliged to deal with the death and subsequent discovery of her son’s HIV infection is burdensome, and carries a degree of weight on the remnants of the past.  The film articulates a significance that lingers even after the credits roll, and with that comes natural contemplation on the film’s subject matter.  Schaeffer hopes the audience will “walk out of the theatre wanting more, involved in discussions about what do you think happened next.”

On working with Wilson, Murray and Paquin, Schaeffer extols the trio.

“It was amazing.  They have all been in the business for quite some time and they are amazing actors who were extremely professional and a blast to work with.  I was truly lucky to have them a part of the production.”

With the encouragement of Paquin, who Schaeffer was working with on another project, the film got its start.  And thanks to a casting agent, “everyone else fell into place,” Schaeffer recollects.

While Schaeffer faced challenges with the film’s costs, which amounted to a medium to high budget short, it only took a mere three and half days to shoot.

In terms of what differentiates shorts with celebrities from shorts with unknown actors, all of these filmmakers divulged in some capacity that while prominent actors certainly create more exposure for films, that does not necessarily designate a finer film.  Jonah Ansell, the creator of the animated short Cadaver, featuring the voices of Christopher Lloyd and Kathy Bates, so eloquently extends his viewpoint,

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t.  Movies are about stories.  Successful movies are about finding the right actors to help tell that story.  Great actors (regardless of their fame) are potent partners in helping you create a compelling emotional journey for your audience.  I have such a respect for actors and the talents/nuances they bring to storytelling.”

These are undeniably a superb set of filmmakers who were admittedly fortunate enough to work with experienced performers.  But it was the collaboration of the expert casts, great storylines, conscientious crews, combined with the passion and conviction of the filmmakers that made each of these films a success.

 

By:  Hadley Fielding

 

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Copyright 2012 DC Shorts/DC Film Alliance

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