Open Projector Night Gives Short Filmmakers Two Minutes To Shine

(Photo Credit Brian Welk/Neon Tommy)

As a filmmaker, you have just two minutes to hook your audience or they’re out. In front of the audience at the Hammer Museum, failing that could be brutal.

“It’s a little hair raising, said filmmaker Adam Papagan. “It’s a tough crowd, but if your stuff even goes through, it’s a bit of a vindication.”

Held every three to four months for the past seven years, Hammer is home to Open Projector Night as hosted by comedians and commentators The Sklar Brothers, or the identical twins Jason and Randy. Like an unholy mash-up of “YouTube and the ‘Gong Show,’” as Hammer’s Director of Public Programs Claudia Bestor put it, filmmakers are invited to exhibit any short film up to 10 minutes in length to a room of complete strangers. As with every Open Projector Night, Tuesday evening’s event was uncensored, unpredictable and unwieldy.

“I’m expecting the unexpected,” said audience member Elle.

“The crowd is raucous,” said Hammer’s Public Programs Associate Darin. “The rowdier the better.”

The rules are simple: a film is screened for just two minutes, then stopped. The Sklars take an informal round of applause to determine if the movie should continue, or if we’ve seen enough. And if something is really bad, the audience can boo it off screen even before it has hit its two-minute threshold. Winners get a Hammer tote bag, and everyone gets free popcorn.

(Photo Credit Brian Welk/Neon Tommy)

“What still surprises me is how many people submit incredibly horrible films, and how many people make really great films,” Bestor said. “It’s an art form that people really excel at. And then someone will have a video they shot on their cell phone when they were drunk, and you’re wondering why they’re submitting it. In a way it’s kind of awesome because they have a lot of guts and a thick skin to see what people really think of it.”

Just how weird are some of these videos? “Some things you see tonight will haunt you till the day you die,” Randy Sklar said. Sure enough, during filmmaker Michael Frost’s black and white, experimental noir film “Creatures of the Dark”, audiences sat through maggots crawling out of a human skull. “Knew we’d see that at some point,” the Sklars said.

While some films were disturbingly weird and incurred the wrath of the audience quickly, others like the story of a young Asian girl scout exacting fatal revenge on her parents’ killer, were welcomed with enthusiastic applause. To kick off the evening, what else could get things going but puppetry? Incorporating action figure stormtroopers and Frozen dolls in front of mounds of cocaine, the DIY and award winning “Lili Trooperwas a hilarious and neon-lit music video to the tune of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights.”

(Photo Credit Brian Welk/Neon Tommy)

“We have no idea what comedy will come out of it, but we know it will be a wealth of comedy in every movie, be it intentional or unintentional,” Randy Sklar said. “It’s just so much great fodder for us to play off of. We try not to be mean, but we try to have fun.”

31 films in all were screened Tuesday, many of them partially, and when one vertical video shot aimlessly on a cellphone called “I Was Hungry” earned horrendous booing, the Sklars echoed the crowd’s sentiment by admitting that even two minutes can be a long time.

“We hope we can make it funny,” Jason Sklar said. “We fill in the gaps so that if it’s not a great movie, we’re going to make it funny by literally having fun with every aspect of it.”

Open Projector Night is something of a marathon, but not unlike an Open Mic Night for up-and-coming comedians and artists, there are plenty of surprises to be had amidst the messes.

“Even the people who are amazing, you see where it’s rough around the edges,” Jason Sklar said. “This show proves that you’ve got just two minutes to catch this audience. You can’t just be okay. The value of a night like this is, as a filmmaker, you get a real honest reaction to your film. Not your friends, not your family, but you put it out in the marketplace.”

(Photo Credit Brian Welk/Neon Tommy)

Reach Staff Reporter Brian Welk here.