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Interview: David Lilley talks Short Stack

10 April 16 words: Ashley Carter

We spoke to the man behind the regular short film screening event

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Design: Dan Lord

How did Short Stack get started?
Off the back of trying to show my own short films, and wanting to find somewhere for other people to screen theirs too. I’d been working with Steve Deery, who runs film networking night Shooters (which has also just relocated to Broadway) and wanted Short Stack to be social as well as screening films, with opportunities to network, bringing like-minded people together to make connections.

It started out very small at Nash Interiors, which was a furniture shop. I knew the owners and just asked to use their basement as a space to show some films. We just piled people in, some on chairs, some on beanbags – it was very ad hoc. Then I moved on from there after it closed, and we had an event at the Writer’s Studio during Scalarama a couple of years ago. That was only our third event, and it was great. At the start of 2015 we approached Rough Trade as they had just opened. I’d seen they were screening some features, and wondered if they’d be open to doing a short film night. They were really up for it.  We did one every other month throughout 2015. 

What made you leave Rough Trade as a venue?
They were always good to us, but I always wanted to have Short Stack at Broadway. It just felt like a natural home for it. Obviously it’s a cinema, a much bigger space – everything is already there for us. Rough Trade was fine for the time, but ultimately I wanted to move away because I want to move the audience into a more comfortable venue. Rough Trade gave us that space for free; they were very supportive, very collaborative – but you have to progress. And the natural progression was to Broadway.

How were Broadway when you approached them?
Since Bang! Short Film Festival closed, there’s been a big gap for short films at Broadway, and it seemed like the right time for me to rock up and say, “What about Short Stack?” I think I’ve built up enough of a reputation by proving repeatedly that the night was successful, and they were very open to us coming. 

How will relocating to Broadway change Short Stack?
Moving to Broadway means I’m definitely taking it all more seriously!  I’m inviting more of a panel to watch through the submissions, so it’s not just my opinion. But for me, choosing the films is no different to how you’d judge a film you’d see at the cinema: Do you enjoy it? Does it have something to say? Is it engaging and interesting? Has it got decent production values? I’m interested in variety, so I always try and mix up the nights with a combination of animation, music videos, experimental shorts and different genres of short films.

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What do you want the focus of Short Stack to be?
I want the focus to be local filmmakers. There are so many talented filmmakers in Nottingham and the surrounding areas, I don’t just want it to be from a one-mile radius of the city, but open it up a bit further to filmmakers from Derby, Leicester and other local areas. I just want to show good, quality local films. I love getting the filmmakers in to talk about their work too. I could show films from London, Brighton or from further afield in the UK or abroad, but it’s unlikely that the filmmakers will attend. It’s all about showing the films and getting the filmmakers talking to people afterwards. Engaging an audience with the directors is essential. It’s tough for independent filmmakers; being on your own is a hard thing. But if you’ve got a community around you, pulling together and looking at each other’s films, sharing crew, cast, ideas, opinions and feedback, it just helps everyone make better work. 

How important is it for filmmakers to watch the work of other filmmakers?
If you’re not watching other people’s films, how do you know what makes a good film, and how do you know what a not so good film? You’ve always got to have a benchmark. When I first started making short films, I used to get really frustrated because I’d get rejected from local film festivals a lot – but that’s a really important part of the process. You should never stop getting frustrated at the rejection, but if you’re always being accepted, and festivals are just showing anything, it’s not good. First of all, the screenings themselves aren’t going to be great, but mainly it’s bad because the filmmakers watching will never learn. 

How have audiences reacted to Short Stack since it started? 
We’ve had a lot of different nights, like Student Film, Female Filmmakers and Fan Film – and they’ve always been packed. It just feels like there’s a real buzz. There’s a lot of goodwill in the filmmaking community in Nottingham, people want events like Short Stack to succeed, and are willing to turn up and show their support. You see it with film networking events like Shooters and Tweet Up as well, there’s a really close-knit community that want to back each other and help each other succeed.

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Lilley by Lilley

Do you think there is an audience specifically for short film?
There’s not really a market for short films as an art form, and people don’t tend to sit and watch them unless they’re involved, directly or indirectly, with them. It’s a sad fact, and I wish it wasn’t the case, but I feel like it is that way. If the benchmark of a night is bums on seats, then it makes sense to show local short films. For every local filmmaker that can attend, they’ll bring their partners, friends, family, cast, and crew – and before you know it you’ve got ten or twenty people attending per film. So if you’re showing fifteen films in a night, it’s pretty easy to fill a screen. But if you’re showing  fifteen International short films, you might struggle with audience numbers. 

How long are the short film nights?
I always try to keep the screening as tight as possible. Anything longer than ninety minutes is asking too much of an audience, and it can become a bit of an endurance test. It’s a bit like DJ’ing in a way, you want to create a good flow. Having music videos is always good, because it can reinvigorate the audience after a challenging ten minute drama. 

How important is it for attendees to have the opportunity to network after the events?
The thing that has always been important for me during networking, is that people often want their work to speak for itself. If you show people what you do, they’ll engage with it far more than if you’re in a room explaining it to them. I’m not someone who can comfortably cold call people and pitch them me as a filmmaker. But if I can show you the films I’ve made, people can make their own minds up, and there’s the opportunity to talk about them with an audience afterwards. It’s about encouraging relationships to form more organically. That’s one of the biggest strengths with Broadway, and you see it at Mayhem [Film Festival], there’s a communal space with the Cafébar that allows people to talk to each comfortably other over a pint. 

How do people submit their short films to Short Stack?
Submissions are word of mouth at the moment.  People can email online links to [email protected] I need to expand, I know that, but it’s a balancing act. I obviously don’t want it to be a screening of films only from people that know me personally. But similarly, I’d hope that anybody who is trying to make a short film in the area would be engaged with what’s going on locally. I’m active in all of the short film areas in Nottingham and Derby, and I’m currently in the process of reaching out to Leicester for people to know Short Stack and what it’s about. I’m hoping that now we’re based at Broadway, our profile will just continue to grow. I definitely don’t want to go down the route of something like [online film festival submission platform] Film Freeway, whereby it’s an open submission on the internet, as I’d be swamped by short films that wouldn’t necessarily be relevant to the festival. There would be a lot of great shorts, but I really want to try and keep it as local as possible. And the only way to do to that is to go out, engage with the local community and encourage them to submit.

The next Short Stack will be taking place on Sunday 15 May 2016 at 6pm at Broadway Cinema. Tickets £3.50. Film submissions will be accepted until the end of April 2016.

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