Consider just how brief a 100-word story is. And consider how tough it is to have something important to say and be limited to a mere 100 words. Ninety nine is too few, and 101 puts you over the limit. There’s nothing extraneous about 100 words. It takes real discipline to be succinct. A scalpel, in fact. Remember the famous quote, “If I’d had more time, I would have written a shorter letter”? There’s truth to it. Paradoxically, shorter is much harder and takes more effort. It’s almost effortless to be long and lazy. Brevity? Now, that’s a remarkable feat.
The above paragraph is exactly 100 words. It took longer to write than any other paragraph in this story. Try it yourself to get an idea of what filmmakers have to do to enter a movie in the 100 Words Film Festival.
The second annual event, headed back to McGlohon Theater on Nov. 6 and 7, is the film festival for short attention spans. Documentaries, comedies, dramas, horror and student films are all part of the mix, but the common denominator is the word count.
If the concept sounds unique, it is. It’s the only 100-word film festival that founder Scott Galloway is aware of. He came up with the idea (and trademarked it) from observing how his own children watch videos: They want to know how long it’ll take to get to the end.
Galloway, a TV film producer himself (HGTV, Food Network, PBS) and founder of Susie Films, a Charlotte-based film and video production company, brought the festival to life last year and is broadening it for its second year. He’s able to expand, he said, in part, because “Charlotte totally embraced the concept.”
The inaugural year sold out its one and only night in McGlohon. “The second year is bigger in every way,” Galloway said. “There were more entries this year. The festival’s two nights instead of one. And there will be more interaction with filmmakers.”
Much of that interaction will take place at a seminar that Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. Shadow Distribution Founder and President Ken Eisen will be part of the seminar. Shadow is the exclusive distributor of more than 40 films, including “A Man Named Pearl,” the 2006 Eisen-directed documentary about the self-taught topiary artist Pearl Fryar and his magical, Bishopville, S.C. topiary garden that has become an improbable tourist destination. Other Shadow Distribution films include Oscar nominees “The Weather Underground” and “Under the Sun.”
Eisen will attend both nights of screenings, and he will offer a talk on the film industry and distribution at the festival’s Saturday afternoon session. His involvement is a big deal, Galloway assures, and aspiring filmmakers shouldn’t miss the chance to learn from an industry insider.
Karen Young, a film, TV and Broadway actress Galloway said audiences may recognize from “The Sopranos,” will also attend. After the Saturday screenings, there’s an after-party at Rooftop 210 at The EpiCentre. Galloway wants the festival to be festive. It’s an event for movie lovers, but it’s also intended for aspiring filmmakers who want to learn more about breaking into a highly competitive field.
Nearly 100 films from across the globe were submitted this year. “Holy smokes,” Galloway said. “We had entries from all over the world – Russia, India, Iran, Poland, Germany, France and Italy.” From there, he winnowed it down to 35 films that will be shown over the course of two nights.
He’s especially excited to welcome Turkish filmmaker Yavuz Pullucku to the United States for the event. His film, “The Water Bedouin,” shows a side of Iraq most Americans never see. The film is not about war; it’s about an agrarian society in which families, yaks in tow, move from bog to bog.
The festival offers a rare chance for Charlotteans to see a film about Iraq that deals with ordinary people living their lives.
One hundred words may be tough for filmmakers, but the format benefits the audience. If you don’t like one film, another will be starting soon.
While it may be a challenging constraint, a short film “democratizes the process,” Galloway said. A short film is cheaper to make, which opens the competition to up-and-comers on a tight budget.
A low budget doesn’t mean quality suffers. Galloway and his team are picky about what films they accept. Once he’s weeded through all the entries, those films go to a judging panel made up of Charlotte Observer film critic Lawrence Toppman, Creative Loafing’s Matt Brunson and Ken Eisen. Winners – for best documentary, best drama and best student film (a category that will have two winners) – will be announced at the event.
Alan Brooks, who earned a master’s degree in May from the esteemed Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), was one of two best student film winners last year for “Peer Pressure,” a film he wrote and directed that’s just a little more than a minute long.
In it, an African-American man in an orange jumpsuit is telling his personal story to a group of African-American students. He begins by saying, “I was just like you” and then says he wanted to be accepted by his “homies.” In the compelling last frame, he holds up his hands to reveal they’re cuffed.
Galloway said Brooks, an Orangeburg, S.C., native, shows a lot of promise. He’s not the only one who thinks so. Tommy Ford, best known for playing the straight man to Martin Lawrence’s character in the sitcom, “Martin,” agreed – over the phone after a brief call – to star in a short Brooks wrote. “I cried when he said ‘yes,’” Brooks recalled.
Brooks has a film that was accepted into this year’s festival. “Just in Time” deals with a teenage girl whose faith is challenged when she’s diagnosed with terminal cancer.
The young filmmaker doesn’t shy away from heavy subjects. And he likes sharing a story with a message.
He also likes the challenge of telling a story within a 100-wordframework. “You have to focus more on action and less on dialogue,” he said. He’s putting into practice what his SCAD professors taught him: “Get in and get out.” Viewers don’t want or need a point to be belabored. No one, these days, has the patience for a story that drags.
Giving students a showcase was one of Galloway’s goals with the festival. Making a film is an expensive venture. Making a short is economically doable.
He also wanted to serve a greater good, so he paired five promising student filmmakers with nonprofits and asked the students to make a 100-word promo film the nonprofits, including Camp Blue Skies, Holly House (a battered women’s shelter), Green Teacher Network, Animal Protection of New Mexico and Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency, could use as a PSA. The nonprofits get help promoting their cause; students get a wider audience.
And they get to practice the vital art of self-editing.
A good story is essential to a good film. Nothing compensates for a poor script. The filmmakers whose work is being showcased in the 100 Words Film Festival all had to ensure their story was fully realized – with a beginning, middle and end – in just 100 words.
It took 1,236 words to tell this story. I’m in awe of the filmmakers who can say everything they need to say in 100 words.
The 100 Words Film Festival takes place Nov. 6 and 7 at McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square. Tickets are $10 for each event – the Friday and Saturday night screenings and the filmmaker seminar on Saturday, Nov. 7 at 3 p.m. – or $24 for all three. Learn more and buy tickets at 100wordsfilmfestival.com/tickets/
This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance