I was a Photo Coordinator for the DC Shorts Film Festival, responsible capturing images of the event and managing the work of twenty volunteer photographers. DC Shorts is a ten-day long festival of short film that takes places annually in Washington, DC.
You probably think that photographing a film festival is a lot like this:
Lots of pictures of pretty people enjoying themselves in a glamorous setting. Which it was. But behind the scenes it was:
That’s the bag I lugged around for the festival, containing my Canon T2i, a 430ex flash and a diffuser. But more importantly – a festival program, a spreadsheet showing when and where volunteer photogs were supposed to be and t-shirts and nametags for volunteers.
Being a Photo Coordinator is less about taking photos and more about volunteer wrangling, i.e., making sure that we had photogs covering each event, that they had their t-shirts (they only got them upon showing up), that the DC Shorts backdrop was set up properly (more trouble than you’d think) and that the photogs were getting pictures of the stuff we needed (people having fun and goods we’d received from sponsors).
Fortunately, I had some great photographers to work with – Hadley Fielding, Sarah King, Milind Raj, Sami Shash, Tamara Blair, Eva Moolchan, Greg Lawler and many more. Here’s just a sample of their work.
Thursday: Filmmaker/VIP Party
September 6 was opening night for us, a VIP party for filmmakers at the Gibson Guitar Room. With guitars hanging from the walls and a deck overlooking the Verizon Center, it’s one of the coolest private venues in the city.
From the marketing perspective, we needed shots of people enjoying stuff provided by sponsors. Without them, DC Shorts wouldn’t happen. So a picture like this is invaluable:
The next day, the film festival began in earnest, with screenings of short films followed by Q&As with filmmakers. It’s tough to get a good shot of someone at the front of a dark theater with a shiny screen behind them. But this is an important moment for filmmakers, when they share their creation with the world.
Each year, festival director Jon Gann tries something new. This year, it was food and drink pairings after select screenings, where local chefs created a special treat tied to a film in the festival.
Friday: City View Party
Friday night was the best party of the festival, the City View party on the roof of Carroll Square. Fifteen minutes before the party – chaos. Arguments over cheese, volunteers mixing drinks and me dragging a planter across the roof to prevent our photo backdrop from blowing away in the stiff breeze. But then, as if by magic, everything came into place as the doors opened.
DC Shorts also featured a day of free workshops on filmmaking, featuring such experts as Kelley Baker, the angry filmmaker (who is actually very nice and incredibly knowledgeable about low-budget filmmaking.)
Jon Gann also debuted his book, Behind the Screens, a guide to getting your short film into festivals.
Saturday: The Grand Bash
Saturday night was the Grand Bash, a massive party at the Navy Memorial. The threat of rain forced the festivities inside but it was still a huge success. Sami Shash was tireless at this event, taking countless photos of partygoers in front of the DC Shorts backdrop.
Interesting, the psychology of it – put up a nice-looking backdrop, have a photog there with a big flash and people line up to have their picture taken. Especially after they’ve had a few drinks.
Biggest challenge: making sure drunk people didn’t fall through our backdrop.
Greg Lawler had the brilliant idea to bring his wife along as photo assistant. She captured names on an iPad while he took photos. They got the most detailed captions of all of the photogs.
Sunday: Awards Brunch
The Awards Brunch at Clyde’s is my favorite part of the festival. There’s lots of bacon, prizes are handed out and it’s incredibly chill.
In addition to being a photographer, I’m a judge with the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition. It’s a great competition – the winner gets $2000 to turn their short script into a film and they automatically get into the following year’s film festival.
We selected five finalists and they read their scripts aloud with actors before an audience at the Atlas Theater who decided the winner.
One more party! There was a final Closing Bash at the Atlas Theater on H St. My co-coordinator Hadley Fielding was there to wrangle the photogs. Looks like there was a lot of delicious Kerrygold cheese.
In this post, you see just a tiny fraction of the hundreds of photos that were shot during DC Shorts. Here are some of the people behind the photos.
Photos from DC Shorts have to serve a lot of different masters. Media outlets need party photos with everyone captioned in them (something we had a hard time doing). Sponsors like to see pictures of people enjoying the food and drink they’ve provided. The festival needs shots showing large crowds and happy filmmakers. Filmmakers want pictures of themselves on a red carpet. Partygoers desire glamorous shots for Facebook pages. You need a mix of event coverage, food photography, candid shots and editorial work.
How do you do this?
I’d suggest pairing photogs with photo assistants, to get names and details from the people photographed. And I’d recruit people based upon their specialty – candids, food shots, posed pictures in front of a backdrop. And I’d tell them to cover the festival, doing what they do best, whether that’s an editorial style or a high fashion one.
Instagram – that was one thing that I wished we did more of. Having a couple of iPhoneographers covering DC Shorts would be a way to promote the festival in real-time and do some interesting work.
But that’s all for next year. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures.
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