There’s something to be said about a great short film—whether experimental, animated, comedic or dramatic, a well-done short can fulfill our emotions, dazzle our eyes and make a few brief minutes seem like so much more. Unfortunately, short films are often overlooked in the mainstream film industry. Sure, there’s a slot for shorts in the Academy Award ceremonies, but where do those nominees come from and why haven’t we heard of them before?
The Asbury Short Film Show of New York aims to do just that—provide an opportunity for those all-too ignored short films to be screened by the public in a fun and theatrical setting. The films represent the filet mignon of the medium, including the all-time greats along with current festival winners and a handful of new submissions as well. This year, Asbury celebrates its 30th anniversary with a special July 21st short film show and jazz concert at Washington Park in Brooklyn, New York. Blankets and a $5 donation are suggested.
MovieMaker caught up with Asbury director David LeClaire to find out more about short films, Asbury’s history and the upcoming anniversary event.
Kate Ritter (MM): Congratulations on Asbury’s 30th anniversary! Any favorite Asbury moments over the years?
David LeClaire (DL): Thank you very much! Sure, last August, more than 1,700 people attended our show at SummerStage in Central Park. We opened with a live performance by the outstanding Mingus Dynasty Quintet. It was quite a night! I also remember a spontaneous marriage proposal by a member of our audience during a show hosted by director Frank Oz back in the mid-1990s at the Fashion Institute of Technology and I would have to include our show in London in 1999 at Royal Festival Hall. There were amazing music acts and spoken word performers along with us all in one night—a huge kick. Lots of cool memories, but we’ll stop there.
MM: Why short films? Have you always enjoyed that medium, or was there a more specific reason as to why you founded Asbury Shorts?
DL: We started ASNY in 1980 as an extension of the student film program at New York Institute of Technology on Long Island, where fellow ASNY founders and I were graduates. Our instructor, world famous indie moviemaker Manfred Kirchheimer, enjoyed screening student productions each semester for everyone’s families, friends and the community. We just continued that process after graduation in the church basement on Asbury Avenue on Long Island and it became a very popular event. We kept organizing the event annually and along the way learned about the independent short film world and International festival circuit. Film entries got better every year but we stuck to our guns and never made the show competitive—just wanted to give the public a chance to see really great entertaining shorts without interruption, which they never get a chance to do in a compilation-type presentation. We also vowed never to hold a Q&A; we’d rather have malaria.
MM: How were you able to move your show from a basement in Long Island to a sold-out Central Park screening?
DL: A very large van… no! We were these young dedicated curators; we moved the show from Long Island to NYC in 1987 and settled into a wonderful, nine-year run at F.I.T.’s Haft Auditorium where guest hosts included Harvey Keitel, Joan Micklin Silver and Bob Balaban, to name a few. They all agreed to jump on board at no fee to help us screen independent shorts for audiences in a theatrical setting—on a big screen. Since then, of course, we’ve done the show annually in NYC at the Directors Guild Theatre to sold-out audiences as well as touring it to Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, D.C. plus many more and now for the first time in Los Angeles in October!
MM: You receive as many as 200 short films submissions each year, and have to narrow that down to 24 for exhibition. What does your ideal short look/sound like?
DL: For us it’s about pace, production value, entertainment level and the one area first -time moviemakers and a lot of indie producers have a really tough time with—ending their films! So often we screen an entry that has promise and the moviemakers can’t come up with an ending that makes sense to the storyline or just falls flat. It’s really frustrating but we fully understand that it’s tough to do. Comedy especially is extremely difficult to pull off in the short form, at least for the quality level we seek. Generally, we look for a really fun comedy or gripping drama that we would like to see ourselves if we were sitting in the audience
MM: The industry has evolved significantly over these past 30 years. How does the short film market fit into today’s era of digital and 3-D technology? Is it better or worse for short moviemakers? How has Asbury Shorts adapted to the changing times?
DL: It’s the script and/or story that matters the most. HD/3-D/Super 8mm—I don’t care. It’s all about the story and if the 10 or 15 minutes of screen time captures the audience’s attention. Will it make them laugh hysterically and hold their attention? You can wear all the fashion 3-D glasses you want but if the film sucks, what’s the point? For us it’s pretty simple: Combine awesome, classic and new festival winners (and non-winners as well) in a two-hour program, screen them in a theater or auditorium or park (either digitally or on film) and hope to have chosen really cool, story-driven films that you can tell were produced by passionate, talented artists.
MM: Tell us about your 30th anniversary event. What can attendees expect from the evening?
DL: At Washington Park in Park Slope, Brooklyn on Wednesday July 21st, we’re going to pray for good weather and then open with a half-hour set by an amazing Brooklyn-based musician/composer Daniel Furman and his band, The Primordial Jazz Funktet. Immediately after that we’ll blast the audience with amazing classics from past shows including Stalker Guilt Syndrome from award-winning Brooklyn moviemaker Jonah Kaplan and the Duplass brothers’ classic short, This Is John. Then we’ll launch into current titles such as Backwards from moviemaker Aaron Hughes and Nueva York from director Manolo Celi. This outdoor evening event is presented by the good people at Yelp, The Old Stone House and Brooklyn Film Works. It’s a $5 suggested donation for amazing music and a fast-paced “Short Film Concert.”
MM: Are there any buzz-worthy submissions this year to which audiences should pay special attention?
DL: Well, we don’t really choose new shorts until September. New submissions are mainly for our Manhattan show set for November 11-12th at the New York Institute of Technology theater on Broadway at 62nd street. So our search for new films is just beginning (to all you moviemakers who read the amazing MovieMaker Magazine or visit online: We’re looking for your brilliant new short!)
MM: What advice would you give to moviemakers trying to get their short film out there today?
DL: We only know what our audiences over the past 30 years seek out when then buy tickets to our show: Keep it as short and sweet as possible, cast well and have an ending that makes sense with logical closure. Shorts are often called a “calling card” to feature moviemaking or getting hired to direct episodic television. What those worlds need desperately are good storytellers. Make a short with a good story and who knows; maybe you’ll get hired!
For more information about The Asbury Short Film Show in New York and their 30th anniversary event, visit www.asburyshortsnyc.com.