INTERVIEW WITH… JAMES MCNALLY OF SHORTS THAT ARE NOT PANTS
Film festivals come in all shapes and sizes and there’s always got to be someone behind it all to kick it off. So we’re always happy to hear from people who run regular nights focusing on short films because we know their heart is in the right place. And they want people to see great films! We caught up with James McNally of Shorts That Are Not Pants to find out how his film screening series came about, and punchlines. The festival has a rolling submission deadline which you can submit to via FilmFreeway.
Tell us a bit about your job, and what you do…
For a long time it was just me, but last year I added a programmer and earlier this year a group of interns, so I had to come up with a grandiose title for myself. Director of Programming sounds pretty good, but the truth is that I still have my hands all over most areas of Shorts That Are Not Pants. I watch the majority of the submissions, book the cinema, take care of the website and all the social media channels, deal with the money, and do a large part of the promotion of each screening. The truth is that I’m so busy that I’m still trying to figure out how best to use each of our volunteers.
Toronto seems to be a hub for filmmakers and festivals, your festival included. Why do you think that is?
Well, certainly it’s in large part because of TIFF. Each year, nearly half a million people see a film at TIFF, and Toronto audiences are known far and wide for being knowledgeable but also friendly to filmmakers. It’s really a great place to live if you love film. I’m not sure if it’s been scientifically proven, but I did hear that we have the largest number of film festivals of any city in the world!
The origins of Shorts That Are Not Pants emerged from you sharing shorts with friends in your apartment in 2009. Fast forward to 2014 and it’s now a fully fledged screening series. Why do you think the medium of short film is still thriving?
I think that other people love shorts for some of the same reasons that I do. Short films let the filmmaker experiment, to play with form and duration, and the cost is manageable. You also don’t need a huge team of people, so you often find filmmakers are able to present very specific and individual perspectives in their films. Plus, a short film programme contains lots of variety, and people are willing to take a chance on these programmes, especially if they’re curated by someone they know and trust.
Is there one thing you wished filmmakers did more of?
Sorry to turn this around, but I think I can more easily tell you what I wish they did less of. I’m not a huge fan of the “punch line” short film, which is where the film ends with a very distinct twist. They can be done well, but I see a lot of filmmakers treating the short form as if they’re telling a joke at a party. It’s just a very narrow way of looking at the limited canvas of a short film.
What’s your advice to someone who gets a rejection from a festival?
Just to keep trying. I hope that filmmakers take a little time to look at what other films we’ve programmed in the past, but I know that many just submit to as many festivals as they can. Your film might not be right for our programme, but that doesn’t mean it’s no good.
Tell us the best and worst part of your job.
I love almost everything about my job. It’s why I started Shorts That Are Not Pants in the first place. My favourite thing is hearing feedback from the audience on the films we’ve programmed. I also love giving filmmakers a chance to put their films in front of audiences. When we’re able to host filmmakers and do Q&As, it’s great to see the filmmakers interacting directly with the people who came to see their work.
If I had to pick my least favourite thing, it would be trying to keep track of our finances. Lots of small amounts coming in and going out, sometimes in multiple currencies.
Share with us one of your favourite films and tell us why you like it…
I know I might look like I’m going against the “no punchline” advice I gave earlier, but Riley Stearns does such a good job with his twist, and accomplishes so much more, in his short film “The Cub” that I can’t resist sharing it. The staging is really simple, and he lets the spare dialogue and some great performances by his actors do most of the work. I’m also proud that we hosted the World Premiere of this film in October 2012, which went on to compete at Sundance the following January.
Thanks to James for taking the time to speak to us. With a rolling deadline you’d be a foolish filmmaker to not submit to Shorts That Are Not Pants.
James McNally launched Shorts That Are Not Pants in December 2009, showing a program of shorts in his apartment to a small group of friends. Several other editions followed, and he soon felt it was time to share the wealth of short film talent with the rest of the city, so he took things public in January 2012. When he’s not doing short film stuff, he works for some of Toronto’s other film festivals, including programming for Hot Docs and working as a venue liaison for TIFF.