When Mark Lester, a fourth-year directing student was sitting in one of his film classes last year, he was approached by a stranger who told him he had signed him up to work on a movie for Campus MovieFest together. Throughout the entire class, Lester thought of excuses not to join his project, but at the end of class, Lester hesitantly agreed.
That stranger, Jeff Bourg, also a fourth-year directing student, later became his friend and directing partner. The two student filmmakers now have four short films in the 17th annual Shorttakes, a film festival hosted by Campus Events Commission.
Their four shorts, along with five other film finalists, will be screened today at Ackerman Grand Ballroom at 7 p.m. The event will also include a brief question-and-answer panel with industry professionals. The panelists, who will also be judging the finalists, include Danny Pudi of “Community” and Nick Offerman of “Parks and Recreation,” as well as behind-the-scenes professionals such as Momita SenGupta, the senior vice president of production for MTV. The panel was created to increase interaction between the students and the judges and also provide more direct feedback.
The nine shorts fall into three categories: live-action drama, live-action comedy and animation and digital media.
Bourg said he wanted to direct live-action comedy shorts because he likes to entertain audiences, saying that laughter is a great indicator of how good his films are.
“I haven’t had a firstborn child or anything, but there’s nothing greater in life than watching your film with an audience. When people are laughing at all your jokes, and you’re sitting there with the audience, it feels so rewarding,” Bourg said. “All the hard work you put in, it pays off.”
Both Bourg and Lester mainly focus on comedies when it comes to directing. However, another one of their shorts, “Couples Therapy,” is more of a dramatic comedy.
“Most comedies we’ve done are very absurdist, and they don’t have meanings and the relationships aren’t real. With “˜Couples Therapy,’ it naturally evolved into something that was more relationship study,” Bourg said. “It hit more emotional beats, which gave it a dramatic edge.”
Lester also said that when making short films, comedy groups often get stereotyped as being limited to only parodies and sketches. However, he said he wants to break that stereotype and make more meaningful, original short films.
Bourg said that having a great story is a crucial component of a meaningful film. That way, audiences are more tied in with the characters, and the comedic moments have a greater effect.
Bourg and Lester’s shorts were made as a part of the comedy group The Wait List, which started at UCLA. The two filmmakers met the group through campus movie fests and have been working with them for a little over a year. The Wait List is mostly composed of UCLA graduates, who work together to produce shorts, sketches and also live performances.
“It’s an absolute collaboration. With comedy writing, it’s an interesting process because there’s no one writer. A joke or two is always written by five or 10 people,” Lester said.
Their last film, “Ice Cream and Apple Pie,” was shown at MTV’s comedy showcase in the Laugh Factory. Currently, they shoot online content for MTV, such as parodies of pop culture.
While Lester and Bourg focused on comedies, Noah Reich, a former Daily Bruin video contributor and fourth-year digital media student, chose to direct live-action drama and has two submissions in Shorttakes. “The M Word” is a documentary about one of his best friends growing up and follows her struggles as a little person.
Reich’s other short, “Mister Wednesday’s Playground,” is a two-minute horror film about a girl playing in an abandoned warehouse.
The film was chosen by horror film director Rob Zombie, and was screened at “Halloween Horror Nights” at Universal Studios last Halloween.
Reich said because he has attended Shorttakes for the past 10 years, the film festival has a special place in his heart: Shorttakes was the reason he came to UCLA.
“Myself, along with Mark (Lester) and Jeff (Bourg), we’ve been on this collective journey over the past two years. I can’t think of a better way to leave UCLA than with this event,” Reich said.
“Seeing this energy that is indescribable when you’re there, it’s an absolute party where everyone wants to have a good time and is also receptive of everyone’s work.”