Festival Spotlight: HollyShorts Film Festival shows indie heart

Here’s a recipe for a successful short film festival: Throw two ambitious 24-year-olds, a phone call, a cheaply-rentable theater, and a projector together and mix well. The following interview with HollyShorts’ co-director Daniel Sol delves into the (perhaps comically) independent origins of the festival, now in its ninth rendition, yet full of the same enterprising, never-say-die spirit that birthed it.

The festival, which started yesterday (August 15, 2013) and will run through the 22nd, has grown into itself over the past eight years and now calls Hollywood’s Chinese Theater its home. Despite this glitzy sheen, though, HollyShorts (HSFF) is still run by a lone trio of passionate festival-lovers. The importance of maintaining this tightly-knit group shines through HollyShorts’ ethos, especially in terms of the community of festival alumni over the years – all of whom Sol is extremely proud of. Last year’s festival featured the hilarious short program “Periods” by Zachary Quinto’s Before the Door Pictures, and past programs are studded with other names of such mainstream success. After all, HSFF’s ultimate goal is to (as Sol puts it) “expose Hollywood to our filmmakers” – and vice versa, we imagine; a task that this year’s festival will continue to do admirably.

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MovieMaker Magazine (MM): Tell us how HollyShorts originated, and how its venue (the Chinese Theater in Hollywood) has played a part in shaping the character of the festival.  

Daniel Sol (DS): HSFF originated in 2005. Theo Dumont and I, friends from high school in Miami and basketball teammates, decided to start a film festival based on a phone conversation that we had.  My brother had a theater called the Space Theatre, which we figured we could rent out for a fair price ($300 for the weekend). A hole-in-the-wall, 40-seat theater, a rigged projector that I bought from my friend in Miami, and a white sheet pinned up on the wall – and HollyShorts was born!  The vibe was amazing. That energy spurred us on to continue to grow and find a bigger place in the world of Los Angeles festivals, for a filmmaker audience both local and world-wide.  Our indie spirit, mixed in with Hollywood connections and our youth and drive (Theo and I both started the fest at 24 years old) led us to bring the “never take no for an answer” vibe of the Space Theatre all the way to the Chinese Theater eight years later, after stops at Cinespace and Laemmle’s Sunset 5.  Now, the Chinese offers us a perfect mix of central Hollywood access, top-notch screen and sound quality, along with the fun indie spirit we have tried to maintain all these years.  So I would say the Chinese certainly assists in our continual growth.

MM: What does your job at HollyShorts consist of, specifically?

DS: Theo Dumont, Nicole Castro, and I make up HollyShorts. We live and breathe it every day. All aspects of the festival, from programming to marketing, to sponsorship – it’s all on us!  Specifically, I handle a lot of programming and submission managing duties, sponsorship inquiries, along with managing the jury, and all in between.  Theo handles the bulk of the press and he does an amazing job – best PR person in town, hands down.  Nicole, who joined us in 2009, is our go-to person for coordination of the event details and the filmmaker liaison.  She has created a family environment with our filmmakers by constantly keeping our group in the loop with event updates.

MM: What are the challenges of a film festival dedicated to the short film medium? What makes programming, marketing, etc. different than at a feature festival?   

DS: Programming, naturally, is a very different challenge because we are literally watching many, many more films than a features festival (with 1400 submissions this year).  With our shorts programs we look to pair films from different genres and aesthetics together.  That lends itself to certain challenges when it comes to matching and pairing films.

Marketing, on the other hand, is more similar to a feature festival. We try to bring the top industry players in town out to the fest, along with short film lovers and film festival fans.  Our goal is simple: Mix the celebrities, industry players, executives, and established Hollywood crowd with the new crop of rising filmmakers and short film content creators.  Expose Hollywood to our filmmakers.

MM:  There are a myriad of short film festivals out there, all of which have different definitions of what exactly constitutes a “short” film. HollyShorts runs films that are 30 minutes or less. Can you argue for why that time limit in particular is the most appropriate? 

DS: Programming purposes, primarily.  To showcase films longer than 30 minutes takes up almost half of a two-hour program.

MovieMaker - HollyShortsThroat1MM: Part of HollyShorts’ goal as a festival is to act as a platform for budding moviemakers who are starting out their careers with shorts. In the eight previous years of HollyShorts’ history, have there been any especially notable alumni whom the festival can be proud of? 

DS: Many!  Last year’s Best Short winner, Bryan Buckley, was nominated for an Academy Award for his HSFF-winning short “ASAD.”  He has gone on to direct a feature for Lionsgate.  Kat Coiro, a past fest award winner and opening night participant, has gone on to direct multiple feature films and worked with many talented actors and actresses (Rachel Bilson and Kate Bosworth amongst them).  Carey Williams won Best Narrative last year for his short “Cherry Waves,” and has gone on to direct an episode of the hit show Banshee.

We screen features of our alumni as well. Dave Rodriguez is having is L.A. premiere of his feature film Last I Heard at our opening night. The film stars Paul Sorvino and Michael Rappaport and premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival.  Derek Waters is a two-time alumni and current jury member and has now hit it big with the Comedy Central smash show Drunk History, which we screened at HSFF years ago.  Jamie Linden screened his short-turned-feature 10 Years (which starred Channing Tatum, Ron Livingston, Rosario Dawson, Scott Porter, Frantz Durand, and many others) at HSFF 2011.   Last, L. Philippe Casseus is a long-time festival staff screener, coordinator and alumni who has gone on to sell his screenplay to Lionsgate titled Freelancers. The film stars Robert De Niro and Forrest Whitaker. I could keep going, but those are some highlights – not to mention the countless amount of filmmakers that have met at the festival and have gone on to work together on future projects.

 

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