Screenings at ‘short indies’ provide outlet for filmmakers

Rainy Schermerhorn

Editor's note: The embedded trailer for "short indies" contains explicit content.

According to J.J. Castillo, creator and host of “short indies,” the biggest problem currently facing short-film producers is that no convenient medium for showing these films currently exists — rather, “the only way your short film will be watched is if you drag your friends to a film festival or promote it online and hope it goes viral.” 

By hosting film screenings, short indies strives to provide an alternative to the often hectic festivals with a laid-back, comfortable atmosphere for the audience, as well as a focus on the filmmakers who devoted their time to producing these films. Of course, there’s also the benefit of free beer for the first hour.

Under the alias “Jose Jones,” Castillo has directed many commercials and music videos for artists such as Ghostland Observatory, The Riverboat Gamblers and Daniel Johnston, and also has experience with a handful of short films and feature films. The idea for short indies developed through his personal experience competing in film festivals and the frustration that often resulted from the rushed nature of short film screenings at these events.

At short indies, after each individual showing in the lineup ­— most films are typically between three and 15 minutes long — there’s a “firing squad” Q-and-A session between the filmmakers and audience followed by an intermission of locally made music videos and viral videos, providing a break for the audience to stock up on refreshments or chat with the filmmakers. This screening style was largely intended as a departure from the rushed nature of short-film screenings at film festivals; although the time constraints are often necessary because of the large number of films screened.

The criteria for submissions is largely open, with no specific qualifications for genre or past experience. Submissions vary from older short films that have already been screened in the film festival circuit to lower-budget films produced just for fun. Castillo and a handful of other judges screen the submitted films, take votes on their favorites and then proceed to narrow down the final films.

Filmmaker and former UT radio-television-film student Brittany Washington’s short films “Bedside Manners” and “The String,” which aired last December, explored complications in casual sexual relationships and adolescent bullying. Both films aired while she was still a student at UT, and her screenings at short indies was her first debut outside of school. According to Washington, short indies provided an accessible platform for her to get an audience reaction outside of the university before delving into the film festival scene.

“Both films were fun to work on because I got to use different formats and write both of them,” Washington said. “I was particularly proud of them.”

While submissions are open to everyone, short indies has had an impressive past lineup of filmmakers, such as Allen Keller, who featured actors from “MADtv” and “Weeds” in his work. Part of the intention behind short indies is to not only showcase these films, but also the ideas and creative efforts that went into producing them.

“We want to provide a home for short films, a place where people can expect to see new and different things every time they come out,” Castillo said. “Some funny, some scary, but always entertaining, while at same time celebrating the up-and-coming filmmakers of the world.”