Short Film Showcase 2015
Article by Ray Schillaci
Shorts. Most audiences are familiar with shorts in the form of Disney, Pixar and, for an older generation, the amusing Warner Brothers cartoons that sometimes played before a feature. But there are a variety of short films that range from animation to documentary that are available to the public. Many filmmakers place their heart and soul into these projects, and a great deal of them are extremely personal pieces that gives us a glimpse into the mind of an artist at work.
Short films can contain drama, comedy, horror, science fiction and even be experimental, as in the works of David Lynch (i.e. “The Alphabet”, “The Grandmother”). Some can be far better than many full-length features, and I have my own particular theory on that. Those short films that become exceptional have a filmmaker that goes in knowing all too well that the resources are limited, so the story needs to be impactful, and demands to be concise in its telling. Every minute of that film is well thought out.
Some filmmakers go into a short subject with the hopes of either expanding on it later as a feature and/or use it as a showcase for their talent, and sometimes the talent of cast and crew as well. Some filmmakers have been wildly successful. George Lucas expanded his tale of a dystopian future with “THX 1138”. Paul Thomas Anderson turned his “The Dirk Diggler Story” into “Boogie Nights”. And in 1978, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell screened their short “Within the Woods” to an excited audience and eventually nabbed funding for “The Evil Dead”.
Allow me to place a well-deserved spotlight on seven filmmakers who have worked diligently on their short subjects. All four films are very different. Scott Storm’s beautifully rendered “The Apple Tree”, “A Tricky Treat” wickedly directed by Patricia Chica and written by Kamal John Iskander, director Jeremy Asher Lynch and writer Stephen Przybylowski’s exhilarating “Tomgirl,” and the extremely amusing “Moving On”, written and directed by the team of Marcia Fields and Mike Spear. These filmmakers succeed in telling their stories with a wonderful flair, capturing their audience in their world, and doing it all in less than 30 minutes.
With “The Apple Tree”, writer/director Storm was inspired by yearly hikes with his best friend in the Catskills during the fall season. Both being environmentalists and conservationists, they were aghast over the “human neglect” and trash that’d been left behind over the years. They would take it upon themselves to clean up the area in an attempt to restore the natural beauty. This experience stuck with him all his life until he finally found himself drawn into telling a story.
He spent close to five years working on his animated dream project, “The Apple Tree”. While most animated projects have a team of animators doing everything; “in-betweens” to make the action more fluid, “clean-up” drawings, colorists, and employing the use of a character designer as well, Storm did it all himself. He worked it all with his Apple laptop and mouse, pointing, clicking, dragging, and painstakingly creating his work of art. For some, this could get easily tiresome, but the animator found his comfort zone in it, and aside from that, he jokingly mentions that he does not work well with others.
The story unfolds as a young boy takes on the side of nature and is willing to go into battle for her at any cost. Storm’s film is like a fine wine, it needs to be taken in slowly and appreciated for every nuance he so carefully delivers. His color palette is breathtaking and reminds one of a mix of the infamous Ralph Bakshi and Walt Disney.
His choice of music, sound and visual is a breath of fresh air much like the wondrous scenes of nature that he portrays. What makes Storm’s film so impactful is his ending. Throughout this beautiful film we are nearly moved to tears, but by the time we reach the subtle end it’s a deal breaker, and guys, you may want to make an excuse to your girlfriend or spouse and leave the room (tell her you gotta hit the head) so she doesn’t see you ball.
“The Apple Tree” is currently being entered in festivals around the country. It was a near shoo-in at the Phoenix Film Festival, but Storm had not cleared some music rights at the time. You can learn more about this wondrous project at http://www.appletreemovie.com.
On a much darker side with severed tongue firmly in cheek, Patricia Chica plays along with Kamal John Iskander’s grisly Halloween tale, “A Tricky Treat”. A nasty little ditty that tends to shock, horrify, and make some even gag, but eventually ends on a creepy, funny note. In less than five minutes, this gruesome twosome are able to satisfy the most blood thirsty horror fans.
Chica was invited to direct a short subject by the cult sensation Soska Sisters (“Dead Hooker in a Trunk”, “American Mary”), who put on a horror shorts anthology series for the “Women in Horror Month Blood Drive”. Having met Iskander at several film festivals, she admired not only his sense of black humor, but his ability to tell a short story in a very quirky way with the added attraction of a twisted ending. Iskander provided a unique horror story with a bizarre metaphor – the tale of an unfortunate abduction on Halloween night with horrifying intentions.
At first glance, you can’t help but wonder what you’re witnessing. What appears to be several gruesome torture sequences (minor SPOILER ALERT), turns into something that is as normal as stuffing the family turkey at Thanksgiving. That’s the most I am willing to give away with this E.C. Comic (“Tales from the Crypt”, “Vault of Horror”)-style short that is helmed with a giddy and naughty touch by Patricia Chica.
According to Chica, the two had tremendous respect for one another and decided to work as a team. They found it easy and constructive while delivering the finished product in less than three months. If there were any hurdles in their creation, it was the visual and practical effects.
Iskander is quick to recognize the importance of the collaborative crew that faced the challenges, but also stresses the talents of their team of producers that gathered much of their resources, financing and post production work. Chica adds that she was blessed with a group of talented technicians, crew and artists as well after her previous short films were screened at other film festivals. Together they’ve conceived a dark tale of one of the most fun holidays of the year, complete with laughs and gasps.
“A Tricky Treat” is being screened at the Cannes Film Festival’s Short Film Corner, and has playdates at other festivals, but they were not at liberty to mention them at the time of this article. The one other screening they were able to mention is on Halloween night 2015 at the “RIP Horror Film Festival” in Hollywood. For more information and future screenings, please check out their Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/ATrickyTreat.
On a far different note, Jeremy Asher Lynch’s “Tomgirl” is the rare documentary short that not only informs, but enlightens as well. My first mention of this unique short was in “Highlights of the Phoenix Film Festival, Part I,” and I was so emotionally affected by the handling of the subject matter that I wanted everyone going in unprepared, as I was. The impact was amazing. So, for those of you who want the same exact experience, go no further (SPOILER ALERT) and move onto the last short subject mentioned.
Director Lynch and writer Stephen Przybylowski have delivered a whimsical tome to childhood and its innocence, overlooking the possible hurdles or barriers. We open on an adorable child of seven chit-chatting away about herself. Delving further into the child’s life and meeting friends and family ,we suddenly come upon the realization that the beautiful youngster with the long golden locks is a boy, and matters are further clouded due to the simple fact he sometimes likes to wear dresses and other apparel associated with girls.
But here is the wondrous thing about Jake’s tale, it does not matter. In fact, the child’s biggest hurdle (so far) was attending school with glasses for the first time. Wow, what a jolt to so many of us as this absolutely beautiful documentary unfolds, stripping away our concepts (most of us) of the norms, and bringing us into the mind of a very unique child.
Witnessing the candid interviews of Jake’s parents and friends is enthralling. No one is out to label him. No one questions his motives (probably because he has none – he’s seven years old). Some would say that Jake is “oddly” into fashion. But let’s take the “odd” out. So what if he has his own sense of style? To him it’s as normal as playing ice hockey, which he loves to do.
Lynch approaches the film with an effervescent eye. Colors are bright and cheery like Jake and those surrounding him. The atmosphere is supportive, happy and loving. When Jake does face adversity regarding his glasses, he handles it with amazing aplomb. Taking all of this in, one realizes that this fourteen minute short speaks volumes.
How the director and his short subject came about is just as interesting a tale. Lynch was introduced to Jake by the producers, Amey Rene´ Morris and Stephen Przybylowski. After viewing the young boy’s first “raw” interview, Lynch knew he was onto someone very special. He could tell immediately that Jake was extremely intelligent, funny, and very proud to talk about himself. Lynch, through the eventual meeting and making the documentary, realized that he, himself, ended up changing his way of thinking.
Being the father of three boys, Lynch could not help but question how he would react if he, as a parent, were placed in the same situation. Jake and his parents would ultimately have a major impact on his perception of gender in society and the labels we put on our children. Lynch’s changed perception and the passion he found for his subject translates with great alacrity on the big screen and the change continues onto many viewers as well.
Audiences have been incredibly supportive. Perhaps it’s not only the disarming way the subject matter is approached, without hammering opinions to its audience, but also Jake himself, who so easily captures our hearts and opens our minds. Lynch happened to capture the proverbial lightning in a bottle when shooting off-the-cuff moments with Jake. He used little direction and found that the child had so much to offer for the camera as he does to all of us. And, all of you can treat yourself to this wonderful documentary by following them on Facebook and Twitter. “Tomgirl” has been entered in seven festivals, two of which are Oscar-qualifying. Screening information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/tomgirlthemovie and https://twitter.com/tomgirlthemovie.
I leave you with my final pick, which slipped in just before I was to finish this article. Marcia Fields’ and Mike Spear’s delightful “Moving On” was unanimously praised at the 2nd Annual NoHo Cinefest. Their comic timing is impeccable, bringing big laughs and leaving the audience wanting more.
The writing/directing team have come up with an extremely clever idea that could easily transpose into a very comical television series. They show a tremendous talent and confidence in their writing and directing. From the production to the actors, the whole affair is pure joy. The only problem with reviewing this short is that, once again, the surprise is in the storytelling, and one cannot finish reviewing without some SPOILERS. So, you’ve been warned.
Ross (Mike Ivers of “419”) wakes up one morning to a knock at the door of the place he shares with his live-in girlfriend. He finds two hapless movers, ready to move him out. Of course, he feels they’re mistaken until they inform him they are with the “Moving On” company. When a spouse or significant other feels that it’s time to “move on,” they are phoned in and remove the “tenant” and their belongings to a new place. Ross goes through a series of emotions and the movers try to help him along through the ordeal.
There is so much fun to be had with the bewildered boyfriend and the two movers, played as a fun comical team by Robin Lord Taylor (“Gotham”) and Ryan Ferrell (“Inside Amy Schumer”) that one nearly feels that no one else need bother. But all others who do show up just add great spice to this very saucy mix.
Fields’ and Spear (who are incidentally a married couple) have been working as both writers and producers of scripted and reality television for over a decade. And yet, their comedy short feels as fresh, new, and exciting as talent just being discovered. The impetus of their idea actually stemmed from a “debate” over who was going to do the dishes. They started joking about how funny it would be if the dish situation turned to a breakup which led to the easiest ways to carry it off. Once the idea came to them they were too busy laughing to continue arguing. On a side note, Spear ended up doing the dishes.
Start to finish, “Moving On” took nine months to create. A two-week pre-production, two-day shooting and the rest, post. One of the reasons post took so long was a the discovery of a number of scenes audio recorded at a different frame rate. Creating a problem with synching. The team also revealed that as with most micro-budget films when hiring at slightly lower than competitive rates and asking for favors, one is often forced to accept haphazard hours.
Another hurdle was a conflicting shooting schedule with one of their main actors. They found themselves juggling cast and crew while attempting to accept the lesser of two evils. The possibility of losing their DP and some of their crew, and deposits on rental equipment loomed over them unless harsh decisions were made. Ultimately switching shooting days involved losing a location and finding a new one, having to recast a supporting cast member and rewrite a scene as well. But one would never know with the sure-footed outcome.
Currently, Fields and Spear have taken to the festival circuit. In May, the team’s brilliance will shine at the Court Me´trage at Cannes Film Festival, and at the end of July, the New Hope Film Festival. You can also follow their progress at their website: http://www.movingonshort.com.
On further examination of all of the filmmakers mentioned, one realizes that although their visions and methods may be very different, they do share some things in common. Passion drives their ambitions while telling a good story is the center of their focus. They are the future, and it brings a smile and hope to this critic that they have so much more in store for us all.