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Cinema in Brief: Telling Stories in 100 Words

by Michael Walsh

Cinema in Brief: Telling Stories in 100 Words

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Picture by Linda Midgett

November 13, 2014

"There's no movie set in America where you'll to hear a director say, ‘I wish we had more words'."

With typical brevity and humor, independent filmmaker and founder of Charlotte-based Susie Films Scott Galloway discusses the guiding principal of his company's current venture, The 100 Words Film Festival. (Sponsored by the Knight Foundation, the festival launches its inaugural annual screening Nov. 22 at the McGlohon Theater.)

From over 60 submissions — including entries from India, Brazil and Mexico as well as Charlotte — Galloway and his staff have narrowed the field down to 30 films, covering documentary and fiction in all conceivable genres.  

And each is only 100 words long.

"The average person speaks about 150 words a minute," Galloway says. "With timing for opening and closing titles, 100 words is perfect for an engaging, concise film."

For Galloway, brevity is more than the soul of wit, it is key to effective storytelling in "the era of communicating succinct information, the age of Ted Talks and YouTube videos."

In fact, Galloway credits YouTube with kick-starting the 100 Words concept.

"I noticed my children watching YouTube clips on the computer. Like clockwork, at twenty seconds in, they'd scroll down to see how much time had elapsed," he says. "That's when I got the idea of embedding a time counter in video content."

Through Susie Films, Galloway produces television programs for a score of networks including A&E, Court TV, Food Network and the Travel Channel. He discovered that the 100 Words platform — including an implanted time counter — was an effective way to tell the stories of commercial and non-profit clients.

"It's easy to get buy-in when you ask someone to watch something that's only 100 words long," Galloway says. Even more important, the counter actually draws viewers in. "It's a fun hook. As the clock winds down, viewers ask 'How are (the filmmakers) going to get out of this? How will they wrap it up?' "  

Joshua ThomasAccording to Galloway, expanding the 100 Words format and counter from commercial applications to independent filmmaking makes the 100 Words Film Festival unique.

"If you've been on the festival circuit, you notice that many of the same films will screen again and again — from Sundance to Sonoma to Fort Lauderdale," he says. "Because of our 100 words requirement, you can't re-purpose films given our criteria. Every film at our festival will be making its premiere."

Another benefit of the 100 Words criteria is that all the films showing at the festival are, by necessity, short. "I love short films," says Galloway. "If you don't like the film you're watching, stick around, and three minutes later, there's another one right behind it."

Though films by industry professionals will be screening, several of these shorts will be student submissions. This is no accident. Through Susie Films, Galloway’s crew has interacted with universities and colleges across the nation.

"One thing we've noticed is that a lot of filmmakers coming out of school today are technically brilliant — they know how to edit, how to shoot and how to use graphics — but they don't know how to tell a story," he says. "That's the thing about the 100-word concept: It forces you to focus on words and to use them carefully."

The festival's student filmmaker mentoring goes beyond fostering storytelling skills, adds Galloway.

Jay Thomas"We found a promising student film maker at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts named Drew Barnett, and we partnered him with the charitable non-profit organization Charlotte Rescue Mission. This gave Barnett the means to tell an important story about the charity, while the charity gets their message out at a nominal cost."

"That partnership has been a win-win. Barnett made a beautiful film for Charlotte Rescue Mission which they can use after the festival for fund raising."

Barnett's film, along with another student effort spotlighting Charlotte non-profit RAIN (Regional Aids Interfaith Network), will be screening at the festival.

In addition, writer/director Anna Christopher (MTV's Awkward), actress Regina Taufen (Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian) and filmmaker Peter Vandall (The History Channel's Chasing Tail) will be on hand at the McGlohon to screen their submissions to the festival. 

The festival's industry attendees also include editor Mark Pruett (Kenny Chesney: Summer in 3D), cinematographer Greg Matthews (The X Factor) and actor MacKenzie Astin (Scandal, Wyatt Earp).

"Most of the filmmakers will be there," too, says Galloway. "That's a great thing about this festival. You get to meet the people who created what you've just seen. And they get the opportunity to speak about the filmmaking process — what motivated them, and the challenges they faced."

How well the filmmakers surmount the challenge of limiting themselves to 100 words will be judged by a three-judge panel comprised of Charlotte Observer Film Critic Lawrence Toppman, Creative Loafing Film Critic Matt Brunson, and veteran actor Tim Ross. Entrants will be vying for a total prize pool of $8,500, and winners will receive a personal consultation with Ken Eisen, owner of Shadow Distribution (Weather Underground, Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill).

Yet for Galloway, the most important aspect of the 100 Words Film Festival, and of filmmaking in general, is the supremacy of story — a value that is evident in his independent films, including the 2006 Heartland Film Festival's Best Documentary A Man Named Pearl.  

Growing up the son of a Presbyterian minister, Galloway was fascinated with how his father crafted his sermons. "He always told a story and that's what made me lock in," Galloway recalls. "Whether it's your parents telling you that what they did in the past, or a parable, people tend to remember stories. We're programmed that way."

For Galloway, the power of storytelling is amplified by succinctness and brevity, qualities that extend to both the 100 Words Film Festival, and his own mission as a filmmaker.

"I want to tell important stories well."

When complimented on the concision of his description, Galloway laughs.

"I still have 93 words left."

 This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance, with support from the Wells Fargo Foundation.


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