A few months ago while covering the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Carol Marshall of Carol Marshall PR invited me to attend the LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival at the Independent Theater in downtown Los Angeles. I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to be able to swing it, and was uncertain as to my ability to attend almost until the last day.
To this writer’s great fortune, I was able to pack my bags and head to LA with my lovely and oft hit on travel companion Nikita to spend four days watching great films, hang out with incredible people, and experience a festival that exceeded all of my expectation of what a film festival could be. Now, I’ll preface the rest of what I’ll be writing by saying that I have no loyalties when it comes to the events I attend, or the films I watch. This stands true of events I’m invited to by friends, which was the case for this particular occasion. Not everything about the LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival was perfect — but the things that were more than made up for anything that was lacking.
Two years ago the LACSFF was brought into the world by Jeannie Roshar, Ryan Higman, and Gary Anthony Williams; a group of actors/comedians/writers/producers that wanted to create something unique in the world of film festivals. The degree of success they have accomplished at such an early stage is, in some ways perhaps, unplanned. That is certainly not to say that they’ve not gone out of their way to create an environment that would create organic moments that benefit the participants. They have, and it works.
When I stepped into the press room Thursday afternoon, the first person that greeted me (at length) was Gary Anthony Williams. Gary has been in television and film since the early nineties, and I recognized him immediately. When you’re building a brand, a big part of doing so means bringing a lot of showmanship to the table. Gary did put on a show. He was funny, boisterous, and high energy. That said, there is a difference between putting on a face for a crowd, and actually expressing emotions that belong to you. Gary exhibited true warmth; nothing manufactured — and he did so every time he addressed anyone so far as I could see over the course of four days. This was equally true of Ryan and Jeannie. This is a film festival in its infancy, in a single venue — yes, it’s small. A small film festival is still a massive undertaking for three people to make a reality every year, and the crowds that show up are still large. Every day, without fail, the three of them could be found in the throng engaging everyone that wanted their time — and approaching people when they weren’t being addressed. They did so while dealing moment-to-moment with every technical aspect of keeping the LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival moving forward. It was an incredibly personal touch.
This film festival was full of such things.
The great thing about a film festival covering shorts, is that the vast majority of filmmakers providing said shorts are still growing (see what I did there?). Almost everyone there wants to make feature length films, and these shorts are an example of them putting their best foot forward in hopes of garnering the attention and support needed to realize that goal. The intimacy of this film festival not only put hungry writers, actors, and producers together to talk shop — but put them in the same room with fans, publicists, and agents. The larger festivals are such a spectacle, and they’re a lot of fun — but what they have in flash they tend to lack in intimacy. It was great knowing that once a block of shorts was over and the lights were up, that I could walk into the main lobby and interact with the people that put the effort into entertaining me with their work.
…but it wasn’t just the new filmmakers, writers, and actors that we had access to.
My second morning in attendance, I spent almost an hour being chatted up by Mark Hamill in the press room before he went on to his panel. We talked about his family visiting France, his voice acting in Metalocalypse and Batman, and how if you ever needed a restroom break and you were on the road…that Toys “R” Us has restrooms, among many other things. It wasn’t an interview; I didn’t even pull out my hand recorder. It was simply a casual conversation. This wasn’t just a unique experience granted me by being press. Mark treated the fans in attendance the same way, even while in a relative rush to get on a plane to meet up with his family. By and large, this was the experience that most of the celebrities/writers/producers/studio heads granted everyone who wanted a little of their time. It was an exciting atmosphere; and one that felt productive. People were connected with the folks that could make things happen for them, and making friends at the same time.
On the subject of connections with people that make things happen, the panels were excellent tools for sharing practical application information with people that wanted it passionately. One of the things that I dislike about large festival Q&A/panel sessions, is many times important knowledge is simply not imparted on the audience. Sure, a lot of people love hearing members of the entertainment industry talk about their kids and their motivation to act/write/etc…but none of this generally translates into anything more than a live People Magazine article. An hour of ego stroking is painfully dull. We were greeted with animation houses, agency reps, heads of production companies — all sharing their knowledge of climbing the ladder while still addressing the casual fan that just thought it was neat that they were there. So was the case of every panel, celebrities and behind-the-scenes superstars alike. We had Bob Odenkirk, Missi Pyle, Thomas Lennon, Linwood Boomer, and myriad other representatives from the industry all available to an intimate audience in a positive setting.
Not forgotten, of course, are the short films themselves. Gary Anthony Williams noted on the last night that he and his partners waded through eight hundred submission to their festival to narrow the field down to what was presented at the festival. That is a massive undertaking, and a difficult vetting process. I’d say the only major complaint would be that the festival was a slow burn as far as content. Nothing was bad — but some of the entries were simply not funny. My expectation upon arriving at a film festival based on hilarity is that I find that I laugh until I can’t feel my face. I say this realizing that humor is pretty subjective, but from my experience the crowd shared some similar moments with me. Still, the blocks redeemed themselves fully by day three, and went out with a bang on the last evening. from the hilarious BFF and Sex Ed shorts by Raymond McAnally and Ryan Gould at Daily Fiber Films, the super short (and super awesome) Jones’ Good Ass BBQ and Foot Massage from Big Dog Eat Child, to the worth-waiting-for payoff of Kim Albright’s Edward’s Turmoil, the festival introduced the viewer to myriad styles of humor and production value. I mention the last because, many of the better films lacked the latter. Mike Farrah, of Funny or Die, made a point of emphasizing that funny beats the need for crazy production value any day. I agree.
This may seem like an oddly long review of a festival many folks are likely not to go to. It even has a second part forthcoming later on Wednesday. We reach a large audience here at FSR, and our site visitors are spread across the globe. While I highly suggest attending (prices are totally reasonable), this particular piece is really meant to tell people that love movies, the industry, and seeing new talent succeed…that there is an event out there that makes the film landscape a better place. The LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival is an incubator for the future comedy writers of our generation and the next. Some of these folks are young kids, not long out of high school with a strong eye and ear for what makes people laugh until it hurts, or smile knowingly while they drip wit with every subtle punchline.
I wrote this because, as a writer and a fella with a great appreciation for the art of film/screenwriting, I felt that the LACSFF meets a great need that I appreciated deeply. I know that this festival will grow, take on more venues, larger audiences, bigger names — but I don’t see it losing its heart as long as Gary, Jeannie, and Ryan are steering the boat. Gary said he’d never let this festival become homogenized, and I believe him. I look forward to seeing this festival reach greater heights, bring audiences and content producers together into venues that promote deep interaction, and continue the goal of seeing people laugh their asses off.