Movies on a deadline

Scott Greenberg (R) stands behind Kevin Sloan at the camera. The two are the founding partners of the Short Ends Project, which hones wannabe filmmakers' skills with shoestring budgets, arbitrary demands, and tight deadlines.
Movies on a deadline

By John DeFore

Local filmmakers' collective makes a game of cinema

Hey, you — yeah, you. Pick a noun and write it down. Now give me an adjective. Not an adverb, man, come on. Scribble a number under that, and make it smallish. Good. Now gimme the piece of paper. Come back in four months, and we'll have your movie ready.

That, a few regulations aside, is the way movies are born for the Short Ends Project, a filmmaking club about to celebrate its second cycle of do-it-yourself short cinema: Three arbitrary elements are chosen (the number determines how many actors will be cast) on the first day; a writer then has one month to concoct an eight- to 10-page screenplay; directors have two months to shoot and edit their randomly selected script; and a final month is allowed for composition of the score before opening night, which doubles as a competition for best film.

Short Ends is the brainchild of Scott Greenberg (brother of Current staff photographer Mark Greenberg) and Kevin Sloan, who support themselves through film and video freelance work: Greenberg, a media editor at News 9 San Antonio, has worked with Isaac Julien and Christian Marclay; Sloan has toiled on features and commercials including the Troma opus Legend of the Chupacabra. Each felt a need for more creative outlets so they formed the group about a year ago. The screening of the first group of projects sold out (stop smirking: only half the audience members were friends or family). Now, with a little time in between four-month cycles, they're back for more, this time hoping to raise enough cash to pursue non-profit legal status.

Short Ends Project

7:30pm Sunday, May 30
Bijou Theatre at Crossroads
4522 Fredericksburg
According to Sloan, the organizers have drawn a wide array of folks into their DIY web, ranging in age from 18 to 70. "We have members who work for the city, people who are retired, and people who support themselves as professional actors," he says, adding that participants are "mainly people who want to make filmmaking their profession."

These, then, are not snooty experimentalists who turn up their noses at the idea of working for Hollywood. They're a back-door crowd, looking to learn new skills in anticipation of bigger breaks. And if the Short Ends framework is playful, it also aims to teach some lessons even big film schools often overlook: One of the few "rules" listed on the group's web site reads: "Work together as best as you can with others to get the short complete. In the real world of a production, there will be times where you will not get along with another person. Just remember that all of you are there to make the best short film possible. Once the production is complete, you won't have to work with them again." " `emphasis added` Those last words, frazzled film students can tell you, are often a soul-nourishing mantra.

Unlike a major university, the SEP crew can't provide funds for expensive film prints. So shorts are shot exclusively on video. "It is both a workflow and budgetary issue," Greenberg says. "Working with film is very expensive and time-consuming. This is true guerrilla filmmaking. All of the shorts are made with no budgets. Eventually we want that to change."

They're a back-door crowd, looking to learn new skills in anticipation of bigger breaks. And if the Short Ends framework is playful, it also aims to teach some lessons even big film schools often overlook.
In addition to securing non-profit status, Greenberg says, "I would like to see SEP as a forum for filmmakers to get assistance in producing new creative works with a fiscal sponsorship program. To offer workshops to help beginning filmmakers learn new skills from working professionals ... a place for writers, directors, actors, and anyone that is interested in film to have a creative outlet." The group's models include Houston's successful Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP), which was incorporated almost 30 years ago and includes among its high-profile projects The Territory, a PBS series devoted to indie work.

In the meantime, Short Ends' organizers are happy to light a fire under filmmakers waiting for motivation, to help them find equipment to borrow, and (an important element, considering how many independent films languish unseen after grueling productions) to stage public screenings where crews can "see how an audience reacts to what they have made." Based on their last theatrical experience, which was publicized via word of mouth, Greenberg is convinced that "the public is interested in seeing locally produced entertainment."

"Each time we do a screening," he adds, "we want the audience to have a full night of entertainment. We want people to walk out of the theater having enjoyed themselves." And unlike the real movie industry, Greenberg and Sloan insist the enjoyment should work both ways: As the last bullet point on the "Rules" page commands, with the exuberant punctuation of fervent true believers, "Hone your skills and have fun, damn it!!!" •

By John DeFore


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