Mentoring at DC Shorts

writers at DC Shorts Mentors

For the second year, I’m going to be a screenwriting mentor at DC Shorts Mentors. I’ve been a judge for the DC Shorts Screenwriting Competition, won the Film DC screenplay competition and interviewed filmmakers for On Tap, so I’m glad to share my knowledge with budding screenwriters. I’ll be speaking on a panel on March 8 with other writers.

What I like about DC Shorts Mentors is that it’s 100% focused on the practical elements of filmmaking. This is not a class on theory. These weekend sessions are led by people who have made award-winning films. If you want to learn how to write a script, work with actors, light and shoot a film and then market it to film festivals, then DC Shorts Mentors is for you. These are workshops – not just a sit back and listen experience – where you will be expected to write, work with perfomers and share your ideas.

The objective of DC Shorts Mentors is to develop the skills necessary to create outstanding short films that can be accepted into film festivals. Workshops are designed for filmmakers of all levels and take place over four weekends in March. All for just $200.

Classes are small and take place at the super-hip Gibson Guitar Room. Last year, there were people of all ages and experience levels – everyone from retirees making documentaries to webisode-crafting millennials. If you’re interested in joining DC’s indie filmmaking scene, DC Shorts Mentors would be a good place to start.

Bikes, Beer and the Arts: 2013 in Photos

“Find a city
Find myself a city to live in.”
Cities, The Talking Heads

In 2013, I didn’t travel to anywhere exotic. I didn’t have any great adventures. I didn’t experience anything particularly unique.

But I was in a city  – adventure came to me. Photowalks, film festivals, performance art, burlesque, comedy, music and biking all could be found in Washington, DC, the city I have a love/hate relationship with. I experienced as much as I could, capturing every moment with my iPhone or DSLR.  Here are my favorite photos from the year, featuring bikes, beer and the arts.

Fun with Flickr

I have really mixed feelings about Instagram. While it’s a great social network, I hate how it shrinks pics down to little squares. I was glad to use the upgraded Flickr mobile app, which provides all sorts of adjustments and filters for iPhoneographers (my favorite filter? Brooklyn).

Continue reading “Bikes, Beer and the Arts: 2013 in Photos”

Ten Films from Ten Years of DC Shorts

In the audience for DC Shorts at the Navy Memorial #dcshorts

The DC Shorts Film Festival has a special holiday gift for cinephiles everywhere – ten years worth of short films from the festival are now online and free to view. Watch more than 330 films from the comfort of your laptop. It’s an incredibly diverse range of short films, from every genre, and from all over the world, with one thing in common: they’re all just a few minutes long.

I’ve seen a lot of them. Here are my favs:

  1. The Bullfighter and the Bull – Just four minutes long, this Spanish comedy is a great introduction to DC Shorts.
  2. Everything is Incredible – One of the best short documentaries I’ve ever seen, it’s like a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel come to life.
  3. First Date – Not for the squeamish, this story of romance and gastric distress won the festival’s First-Time Director Award.
  4. Friend Request Pending – Judi Dench demonstrates that you’re never too old to get anxious about Facebook.
  5. Harry Grows Up – Imagine a Woody Allen film, but with toddlers.
  6. Man with a Bolex Movie Camera – I’m biased, because this is done by AU grads, but it’s a funny and sexy short.
  7. Mile High Pie – This food doc is a country-fried slice of charm.
  8. Schrodinger’s Box – No cats were harmed in making this sci-fi short. I think.
  9. The Leeward Tide – This is just a gorgeous film. After watching this at E Street during the festival, I had a chance to talk to filmmakers Brett Eichenberger andJill Remensnyder in front of the theater. It was one of those moments that can only occur at a film festival. This Portland couple went on to make the feature Light of Mine, another dreamily beautiful film.
  10. The Man in 813 – Think you need a big crew and expensive gear to make a movie? This creepy short was made over a weekend on a DSLR.

These are just a sample of the delights waiting for you in the DC Shorts film archive. Comedy, drama, documentary, experimental, thriller, animation – you’ll find them all online and for free. They’re short slices of some of the best cinema from around the world.

Five Days in Calcutta Wins DC Shorts Screenplay Competition

Jon Gann (left), director of the DC Shorts Film Festival, congratulates Fred Perry (right) on winning the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition. Photo courtesy of DC Shorts.

Think screenwriting is a young person’s game? Fred Perry proved otherwise as he won the 2013 DC Shorts Screenplay Competition.

The DC Shorts Screenplay Competition is a very different kind of screenwriting competition. A panel of local judges (including me) reviewed 145 screenplays and selected six finalists. These finalists then received a table read by local actors before an audience of more than 150 people at the Atlas Theater.

The audience then voted on the winner. They selected Five Days in Calcutta by Fred Perry of Los Osos, California. For winning DC Shorts, Perry receives $2000 to turn his script into a short film plus automatic entry into the festival next year.

Five Days in Calcutta is a wry and funny comedy about a failed artist, a suicide attempt and a dog that may or may not be dead. One scene, two actors, one location – about as simple as you can get. But what really shined in the production was the dialogue. Before he took up writing, Perry was an actor. His lines have a naturalistic quality that are a delight to hear read aloud. The script is filled with crackling exchanges between a pair of grumpy old men that left the audience laughing.

(The title comes from a joke about the artist only having one gallery show that played for five days in Calcutta.)

At the end of the reading, Shenanigans, the winner of last year’s screenplay competition, was played for the audience. I read this script, watched it being performed, and now it’s a hilarious short film – can’t get more inspiring than that. This process of making dreams reality is what I love about DC Shorts.

Look for Five Days in Calcutta on the big screen at DC Shorts 2014! And if you’re a writer, stay in touch with DC Shorts and see your short script turned into a movie.

Bonus: see photos from DC Shorts Screenwriting Competition.

Can You Find Success as a Filmmaker Outside LA?

In the audience for DC Shorts at the Navy Memorial #dcshortsCan you find success as a filmmaker outside of LA? That was the theme of the DC Shorts Film Festival,  based upon conversations I had with directors attending the festival.

Now in its tenth year, DC Shorts featured 153 films from 23 nations. The festival is known as a “filmmakers festival,” where directors are given VIP treatment. Get your film into the festival and housing, food and parties are provided. This is in contrast to other festivals, where directors sometimes have to buy tickets to watch their own film being screened.

I talked to filmmakers from DC, New York, Ireland, Russia and elsewhere. Again and again, the same question came up – can you make it as a filmmaker outside LA?

For example, Shenanigans screened in the festival. This won the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition (full disclosure: I was one of the judges). It was written and produced by a bunch of young AU grads – who now live in New York. They had experience looking for actors in DC and NYC and said that in DC, they might get one good actor for each part while in New York, they found four. That’s the advantage of working in the theater capital of the world. If you are a serious young actor, you’re going to LA or NYC. The same holds true if you’re looking for a producer, editor or screenwriter – LA has thousands of people available in every category of moviemaking

But does that mean that aspiring directors, writers or actors should move there? Not necessarily.

A brilliant little film in the festival was Uisce Beatha (Whiskey/Water of Life). It’s a bit of an Irish joke, moving and funny all at once. Beautifully shot, it was made for just a few hundred dollars over three days. Uisce Beatha won the Filmmaker’s Choice Award at DC Shorts and is certain to play in festivals around the world. It’s a simple little film that works perfectly.

Another example is Pishto Goes Away, a Russian film that was voted one of the best of DC Shorts. The director spent three years working on the animation. Funny and fatalistic, it defines the Russian soul.

A way outside of LA effort was Mile High Pie, a sweetly moving documentary about towering meringue pies. Winner of the best food film at DC Shorts, it’s the kind of heartland story that you’re not going to see on the Kardashian Channel.

So, can you find success as a filmmaker outside of LA? With award-winning films from around the world, DC Shorts answers positively, “YES!” If you want to make movies, then make movies, no matter where you are.

DC Shorts isn’t over yet. You still have time to see a Best of DC Shorts screening this week plus come out to the Screenplay Competition on September 27.

DC Shorts: Where to Eat, Drink and Chill in the Penn Quarter

DC Shorts starts on Thursday! Now in its tenth year, the DC Shorts Film Festival and Screenplay Competition returns with 153 short films from 23 nations — including the country’s largest collection of short films by emerging Russian filmmakers.

Thousands of cinema aficionados will be on the streets of the Penn Quarter, going between the E Street Cinema and the Navy Memorial, the two main venues for the festival.

I’ve told you how to get the most out of Washington’s best film festival. Now here’s my advice on where to eat, drink and chill in the Penn Quarter. These are my favorites. Plus, what not do while you’re in DC.

chicken curry at Teaism
Chicken curry at Teaism.


  • Teaism. 8th and D St NW. Located next to the Navy Memorial, this is a great place to get Asian-inspired cuisine. While their bento boxes are works of art, I’m a fan of the Thai Chicken Curry – it’s tasty, nourishing and magically restorative.
  • California Tortilla. 728 7th St NW. Our local burrito chain. It’s called “California Tortilla” because “Bethesda Tortilla” didn’t sound right. The food is quick, fast and good, which is all you want out of a burrito joint. I always get the same thing – the Honey Lime Burrito.
  • Taylor Gourmet. 624 E St NW. Another local chain, Taylor features high-brow hoagies made on bread from Philly. You want to get the 9th Street Italian or Lombard Avenue, possibly with a side of Risotto Balls.
Our local brew - DC Brau.
Our local brew – DC Brau.


  • Iron Horse. 507 7th St NW. They have a great selection of beer and happy hour specials even on the weekends. Hang upstairs if you want to people-watch at 7th and E. Go downstairs if you want to play skeeball and high-five frat boys.
  • District Chophouse. 509 7th St NW. Located right next to Iron Horse, the Chophouse is a high-end steak joint. It’s a classy place to drink a Manhattan and listen to Sinatra, no matter your age.
  • The Passenger. 1021 7th St NW. Home to the local hipster set, The Passenger is a true original featuring exotic cocktails and the best bartenders in the city. Go early.
The very mellow courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery.


  • National Portrait Gallery. 8th and F NW. Have time to kill between shows? The Portrait Gallery is open from 11-7 and features interesting photography, modern American art and one of the most beautiful courtyards in DC. Plus, there’s a little cafe with salads and sandwiches.
  • Renaissance Hotel Downtown. 999 9th St. I love a good hotel lobby and the Renaissance Downtown has a great one, featuring comfy couches, a bar, a Starbucks and even a little library to hide out in.
  • Chinatown Coffee Company. 475 H St NW. Regularly voted one of the best coffee places in the city, this indie shop makes great cappuccino. Plus, they serve beer, wine and absinthe!
january biking in DC
Tourists on distinctive red Capital Bikeshare bikes.

Bonus: What to Avoid

  • Harry’s. 11th and E NW. There’s a fine line between a dive and a dump, and this place is way on the wrong side of the line.
  • National Archives. 7th and Pennsylvania Av NW. I wish I could say, “Go see the Constitution!” But to do so means enduring metal detectors, hordes of tourists and certain claustrophobia.
  • DC Taxis. Dirty, unsafe and they don’t take credit cards. Avoid. It’s not a big city so walk, get a bike from Capital Bikeshare  or arrive in style in a private car from Uber.

DC Shorts is more than just a film festival. It’s a chance to explore the city. This weekend, do more than just see films – try some place new.

DC Shorts Survival Guide: How to Get the Most Out of Washington’s Best Film Festival

Angelika Theater – photo by Sami S

For ten years, the DC Shorts Film Festival and Screenplay Competition has screened the world’s top short films to audiences throughout the region. From September 19-29, the festival will screen 153 films from 23 nations in venues from the E Street Cinema downtown to the Angelika in Falls Church.

What makes this event special is that it is locally-produced by film-lovers like you. The films have been carefully selected by volunteer judges. It’s a place where you can see Oscar-nominated shorts and the debuts of first-time directors. Filmmakers value the festival to such an extent that 120 of them are showing up for it.

I’ve been a part of DC Shorts for years. I’ve judged films, managed the screenplay competition, been a “master blogger” and photographed parties for the festival. I’ve been behind the scenes at VIP parties and rowdy midnight screenings. And I’m going to tell you how to get the most out of the largest short film event on the East Coast.

Find the Right Films
Use the film sorter to find comedies, dramas, documentaries or anything else you’re interested in. Some listings even include video previews.  Also check out the blog for interviews with filmmakers and other information to help you make up your mind.

Get the All-Access Pass
Want it all? Then get the All-Access Pass. At $100, it’s a bargain. You get entry to all the screenings and parties you want plus a swag bag full of goodies. The All-Access Pass also allows you the opportunity to schmooze with filmmakers at a VIP party.

line for VIPs and filmmakers
Line for VIPs and filmmakers

Go (Early) to the Parties
DC Shorts throws two great parties. The CityView Party takes place on September 20, 9-11 PM, and features an open bar of Stella Artois and gorgeous rooftop views of the city. The Grand Bash on September 21 is at the Navy Memorial and offers a chance to drink more Stella and enjoy a spread from Whole Foods.  These aren’t parties to show up fashionably late. Go early and enjoy yourself.

CityView Party

Find a Photographer
At these parties, look for event photographers. It’s a chance to get a professional photo of you and your friends in front of the DC Shorts backdrop to remember the occasion. All photos are posted to the DC Shorts Flickr page.

Talk to a Filmmaker
Look for people with badges around their necks – they’re either a VIP or filmmaker. Ask them about their film. They’d be glad to talk about it and you’ll learn something about the creative process.

Filmmakers (note the blue VIP badge) at the Grand Bash.

Learn Filmmaking at a Free Seminar
How do you make a film, anyway? How do you get into a festival like DC Shorts? Indulge your cinematic dreams with a free seminar.  Make a film and you could be at DC Shorts next year.

Pick the Winning Screenplay
DC Shorts also has a screenplay contest. Attend the reading of the finalists and decide who gets $2000.

Peter Kimball (center) and the cast of Shenanigans
Peter Kimball (center), winner of the 2012 DC Shorts Screenplay Competition, and the cast of Shenanigans

Watch DC Shorts Online from Anywhere
Not in DC? No problem. Attend the festival virtually with the DC Shorts Online Film Festival.

Stay in Touch with DC Shorts
Learn about free film screenings, drive-in movies and other fun events by staying in touch with DC Shorts year-round. Get connected through their Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Volunteers at DC Shorts. Photo by Sami S.

DC Shorts is a great opportunity to see unique films, meet creative people and party in downtown DC. Don’t miss it.

And if you have questions, let me know! I’d be glad to answer them. Look for me at DC Shorts!

Volunteer with DC Shorts!

Volunteers hard at work.
Volunteers hard at work.

Great events like the DC Shorts Film Festival require great volunteers. Photographers, ushers, party crew, ticket-sellers and guerrilla marketers are all needed for the East Coast’s largest short film festival, now in its tenth year.

I’ve volunteered with DC Shorts for years, in a variety of roles. Last year, I was the photography coordinator and had the opportunity to work with some amazingly talented photogs.

Trust me, the volunteers have fun (see above). Volunteers receive one film ticket per shift worked, and a volunteers-only thank you party.

Volunteer today!

DC Shorts Laughs: Fun and Films

David Miller performsDC Shorts Laughs featured local comedians with some of the funniest films from the DC Shorts Film Festival. Short flicks alternated with comics Jon Mumma, Brandy Reece and David Miller from the Funniest Fed competition (yes, there is such a thing). The show played to a full house at the Navy Memorial Theater on May 18.

The comics were great but First Date from Steven DeGennaro is probably the film the audience will remember most – it is horrifying and hilarious at the same time.

I was in the front row, shooting for DC Shorts. See the complete set of photos to get a taste of the evening.

Coming up next month for DC Shorts is Popcorn and Pasties – “short flicks and even shorter skirts in a debauched evening of cinema.” I wrote that memorable line of copy. So proud… 😉

Let's Make a Movie: DC Shorts Mentors

screenwriters at DC Shorts MentorsDC Shorts Mentors is a great new opportunity for aspiring filmmakers to learn how to make movies. Over four weekends in March and April, you learn how to write, cast, shoot and market your cinematic vision.

I had the chance to speak at the March 3rd session, which covered screenwriting. Joined by some great panelists, including Hollywood vet Monica Lee Bellais and local screenwriter Khris Baxter, we shared tips and techniques on how to translate a story into a fully-realized screenplay.

It was very informal. After brief introductions, we took questions from a class of around 4o people in the super-hip Gibson Guitar Room. We covered topics such as screenplay formatting, breaking into Hollywood, pitching to producers, television writing, treatments, agents versus managers, local resources (such as WIFV) and working on documentaries.

Monica had a wealth of information on getting your script read by producers. To get past jaded Hollywood gatekeepers, your script must be more than a just great story – it has to be in the right format and pitched to the right people. Khris stressed that you can be a screenwriter outside of LA, and offered the example of Sunshine Cleaning writer Megan Holley, who lives in Richmond.

I’ve written six screenplays and won the Film DC Screenwriting Competition. The experience of going to LA taught me that it’s better to do it yourself than wait to be discovered. I suggested writing a short script and entering it into DC Shorts. Or getting a team together and making a film for the 48 Hour Film Project. You can make a film with an iPhone these days – why not do it?

After the panel, things got interesting. The writers had an hour to write a short scene which would then be read aloud by local actors. It was really fascinating to watch the reading – the actors were pros, who did a great job with material they had just been handed. The writers learned a lot too. It can feel embarrassing the first time to hear your words read aloud. But it’s an inevitable part of the process. If you’re a screenwriter, your work will (hopefully) make it to the big screen where people will see it.

I’ve been part of DC Shorts for years as a judge, photographer, volunteer wrangler, etc… I’ve stayed with it because Jon Gann does things in a professional yet casual way – it’s all about the artist. But what I really liked about DC Shorts Mentors was the focus on the practical. This wasn’t some screenwriting seminar selling an impossible dream for an outrageous price. This wasn’t theory. Instead, these inexpensive seminars offered hands-on instruction from people with real experience.

Bonus: see photos from the March 3rd class.