Published on May 21st, 2015 | by Nicole Bivins1
Tacoma filmmakers roll out fresh work at the 253-second short film party
Anyone with a decent enough smartphone and an editing app can call themselves a filmmaker in the digital age. The internet is flooded daily with amateur attempts to tell visual stories—some of them compelling, others painfully shoddy. Gone are the days where one needs access to expensive and finicky celluloid, and we no longer need technical knowledge of f-stops, the focus ring, or how to load the magazine without exposing the whole damn thing. So free of these challenges, how does the new era of short film reinvent itself to remain exciting and relevant?
The answer has multiple components: a nearly impossible deadline, four semi-ridiculous and incongruent criteria, and in the case of the 253 Seconds, the 72 hour film competition hosted by The Grand Cinema, a specific running time of 253 seconds.
Small teams of filmmakers had just 72 hours to make a short film of 253 seconds, including the required action of time travel, the required prop of a children’s toy, the required element of something written in a foreign language, and the required line of dialogue, “I’m not saying yours isn’t good…” The best results used the criteria cleverly, and without shoehorning it into the script.
Expectations for “shoot-out” contests of this sort are somewhat lowered—audiences aren’t anticipating phenomenal production values or flawless acting. There’s a level of understanding that teams have limited resources, and do their best to work within them. Many participants rely on comedy—slapstick and sight gags primarily. Because, well, it works. It entertains.
A few of the entries in the 253 Seconds Short Film viewing party broke that mold a little. Night Music by Isaac Olsen was a frenetic and visceral experimental short peering into the lives of elderly men and women living in a nursing home, and on the streets. While poverty is seldom depicted in films meant for entertainment, the filmmaker handled it expertly—highlighting the contrast by shooting the sleeping homeless in close-up and their counterparts at a distance, and through a window.
Late Bloomer by Alexa Folsom-Hill superimposed a turtle appearing larger-than-life, like a gentle Godzilla, over shots of Tacoma. Not hell-bent on destroying the Tacoma Dome, the turtle merely pointed out the superiority of its shell… “I’m not saying yours isn’t good, but…”
A common theme, perpetuated by the inclusion of the children’s toy prop, was the casting of adorable kids. The cleverest was The Portal by Carter, Parker, and Thomas Storslee wherein two young brothers manage to build and enter a portal into the popular video game Minecraft, then panic when they witness their father dismantling it. Of all the budding child actors appearing in Friday night’s screening, these two managed to grip the audience most skillfully.
Some of the films lacked a discernable plot and relied on the meanderings of a main character. Others had plot, but no resolution, or merely set up a thin plot leading to a punch line.
One project that stood out for its unorthodox storytelling was the cheeky Write it Again, Sam by Tim Dustrude, Eric Dustrude, and Lance Cadena, which begins with another common theme necessitated by the time travel criterion: period costuming and cinematic styles of years past. In this case, it opens on a flimsy film noir detective plot, but quickly devolves into a conversation between team members of the film’s shoot-out action, debating the direction of their script. Because when in doubt, go meta.
Prepare for Takeoff by Jeff Barehand, Russell Brooks, and Riley Gibson explored the inevitable pitfalls of future consumer-level time travel, when a couple travelling backwards to see a Taylor Swift concert are held up at the time travel airport by the TSA and the airline’s technical difficulties. Similarly, Janice Time Law Firm by Alexis Wolff, Emiliano Hernandez, and Matt Scott poked fun at our litigious society by creating a witty commercial for a lawyer specializing in time travel accidents.
The crowd-pleasing Repeat, by Heidi Falck and Melissa Varvil, while pandering slightly, got a huge laugh and warm response from the crowd. Two women find a time travel device that allows them to change one historical event for the better. Save Kennedy or Lincoln? Take out Hitler? No, clearly the only right answer is to change the outcome of Super Bowl XLIX so that the Seahawks make the right call on the last play of the game, and win.
But the unanimous favorite, winning both the Judge’s Award and the Audience Favorite Award was the tongue-in-cheek The Gentlemen Chronologists by Frank Roberts, Amber Celletti, and Sarahann Rickner. It cleverly used prevalent clichés of early cinema’s stylistic choices and sight gags, but in a way that was much craftier than its competitors.
In the film, two time travelling suitors compete with each other for the affections of a single woman. Rife with subtle innuendo (the placement of their hand-cranked time travel devices was perfect), and ego-busting one-upmanship, the film pits the two against one another leaving them distracted as the woman is swept up by a surprise third suitor. It isn’t the most original story, but the way the team executed it was timeless (pun intended).
Given the constraints and deadline, all participants of the 253 Second Short Film Competition turned in impressive work. And refreshingly, there was scarcely a Doctor Who reference in sight.
These were the winning films:
The Gentleman Chronologists – Audience and Jury Winner
(Frank Roberts, Amber Celletti, Sarahann Rickner)
Rhywbeth – Best Use of Foreign Language
(Adam Utley, Dalton Shotwell)
Untimely Guest – Best Use of Dialogue
(Nick Jarry, Cody Char)