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Programmer Roundtable:<br>NYC Shorts Filmmakers

Tribeca Short Film Programmer Sharon Badal talks with five directors of short films in this year's Festival, all of whom are based in New York City.

There's no denying the amount of inspiration given by, and opportunities seized from, an existence spent living in New York City. From the wealth of filmmakers with shorts in this year's Festival, here are the stories of five who all have one thing in common: a life based in the Big Apple.

Search still

Sharon Badal: What inspired you to tackle the subject of your short film?

Lisa Perry (Search): In fifth grade I smacked the boy I liked. I don't recommend it, but he invited me to play later that week. I was so filled with excitement and energy that I processed it physically. I think at some point during puberty we are overwhelmed by our hormones and sexuality. It can be very confusing. It is for both Micah and Jamison. They handle it very differently from each other, but both find a power in it.

Eric Juhola (Nowhere Kids): Nowhere Kids was inspired by a documentary I produced called Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa, about a desert community that is a safe haven for war veterans, hippies, artists, runaways, and drop-outs. In the documentary, there was a real group of real kids who called themselves "nowhere kids" who terrorized the other inhabitants and came off as "the bad guys" because they refused to represent themselves on camera—but there are two sides to every story. I wanted to explore how their circumstances before arriving on the Mesa may have informed their ideology. Also, frankly, they scared me. I am oddly drawn to subjects that make me uncomfortable.

Nowhere Kids still
Nowhere Kids

Sharon Badal: What is one thing you know now that you wish you had known when you started?

Lisa Perry
: That it takes a long time to make a beautiful woman full of life look dead. Also, don't save your most dramatic, complicated scene for last if you have time constraints.

Mark Street
(Trailer Trash): This film was a really process-oriented film. I worked the material as a painter or sculptor might have, moving it this way and that way, editing it in response to what appeared at every turn. I let the film develop organically. It had to grow the way it did.

Gandja Monteiro (Almost Every Day): That we didn’t need to rent as many lights. The producer in me would’ve been happy to cut those expenses. Although it’s always better to have a little more than too little.

Trailer Trash still
Trailer Trash

Sharon Badal: How did being in New York influence you as a filmmaker?

Mark Street
: All my films are about New York and the spirit of the place in very direct ways. I get more inspiration from being on the street in this city than from any other single thing. I let the pulse of the place influence me in small and large ways. I found the raw material on the street in this case! I have a real love for a meandering sensibility.

Gandja Monteiro
: I grew up between the Lower East Side of Manhattan and Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, Brazil, so everything I do is in one way or another influenced by that upbringing. In the case of this short, the contrast between going from point A to point B in Rio versus NYC was key. It’s really how I came up with this idea of the city as an obstacle.

Eric Juhola: After graduating from NYU, many of my classmates went west, but for those of us who stayed in New York, I do feel a sense of camaraderie and a common commitment to independent filmmaking. We do things our own way here, with artistic integrity, and we keep it real. With a little digging, the resources in New York are limitless. Even with this short film, we decided to take the unconventional approach of scouting and casting real kids living on the streets. We scoured the subways and parks of New York City—Tompkins Square Park in the East Village in particular—for kids traveling through who might be interested in working with us. We found amazing people who opened us up to a whole new world within this city.

Almost Every Day still
Almost Every Day

Sharon Badal: If you are both writer and director, how does the final short compare to your original vision?

Lisa Perry: I'm only the director, but the script changed quite a bit as Aaron and I workshopped it. The characters and theme stayed the same, but we did cut out the part where the car burst into flames. 

Gandja Monteiro
: This is the first short film I’ve made in which the final piece faithfully reflects my original vision. I cut a couple of scenes but most of it is to the T. Shooting on film definitely helped make that a possibility.

Eric Juhola
: I tried to approach this film with an open mind, and I wasn't as focused on the end result as I was with the process. The reason for that is, I didn't want my preconceived notions to put something on the screen that would come off as contrived or false, especially since I had the amazing opportunity to work with non-actors who had lived the lifestyle of the characters. So the vision developed as I got to know the actors during the rehearsal process. It felt very collaborative to me. In the end, I feel like the film captures a slice of life, something authentic that I possibly couldn't have imagined before we started.

Manolo Celi (Nueva York): I was surprised at how closely the final version coincided with the script. One major compromise was that a lot of the rickshaw sequences were supposed to take place in Central Park, but the park never got back to us in time about permits, and so we had to shoot on the streets, which honestly was so much better for the film. It gave it a vitality that really added to the final product.

Nueva York

Sharon Badal: What are some of the challenges doing a comedic short versus doing a dramatic short?

Lisa Perry
: Comedies have to be funny. It's harder than you might think! I think comedy is the hardest. This was my first drama. My challenge was creating a dramatic arc for the action and characters in such a short amount of time. Everything must keep building.

Mark Street
: A teacher of mine once compared length in film to SIZE in painting or photographs. Some ideas are best contained in a short form, others are more extended. We readily accept that at a museum, but maybe not so much in the time-based world. We tend to think of the short as something not quite developed enough, which I totally reject as a premise. I've presented five films at the Tribeca Film Festival, ranging in length from 5 minutes to 73 minutes. They each had their own language, and with each I tried to make them the right length for what they were saying.

Eric Juhola
: I think when people see a short film, most want to see something under 10 minutes that is going to make them laugh. Laughter is contagious, so even if it’s only somewhat funny, you’re probably in the clear, at least in a full theater. I think that with a drama, especially if it’s over 10 minutes, there is more focus and patience required of the audience, and the onus is on the filmmaker to make it worthwhile by delivering an emotional punch. The tricky part is to craft it so they don’t see that punch coming, but it can’t come out of nowhere either.  

Manolo Celi
: I think we can all agree what is sad and serious and tense—all those things which nourish a drama. What we cannot always agree on is what is funny. And so it takes so much more courage, I think, to be comedic because you are putting yourself out there and hoping that an audience understands your humor. It is so much more subjective. And in the short format, it takes a really deft hand to make something funny in such a short period of time. I feel like everything leads up to a final punch line at the end, but that lead-up time has to be in the correct tone so as not to misdirect the audience. Good drama also does that—it creates tension which is then released at the end, but in a different way, in a way that moves you as opposed to making you laugh.

premieres on Friday, April 24, at 6:15 pm.

Nowhere Kids premieres on Friday, April 24, at 6:15 pm.

Trailer Trash premieres on Thursday, April 23, at 9:45 pm.

Almost Every Day premieres on Friday, April 24, at 9:30 pm.

Nueva York premieres on Sunday, April 26, at 7:00 pm.

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