Wednesday, May 05, 2010

HollyShorts interviews David Dean Bottrell, 2010 HollyShorts Judge

David Dean Bottrell co-wrote the screenplay for the 2001 Fox Searchlight release KINGDOM COME. A former off-Broadway playwright and sometime TV actor, he is probably best known these days for his reoccurring role as the creepy “Lincoln Meyer” on “Boston Legal.” Over the past twelve years, he has written scripts for Fox Searchlight, MTV Films, Paramount and Disney Feature Animation among others. His first short film, AVAILABLE MEN premiered in March 2006 at the HBO US Comedy Arts Festival and has since screened in over 130 film festivals, winning 17 “Best Short Film” awards. His weekly blog, PARTS AND LABOR (a serio-comic look at being middle-class in Hollywood) has quickly gained a dedicated following. David just finished writing a musical for Fox Searchlight and is currently appearing in the underground sketch comedy hit, STREEP TEASE at the Bang Comedy Theater in Hollywood.

Discuss the adventure that was your short Available Men. What it was that brought you to the decision to create your own film?

The idea for "Available Men" came to me on one of the darkest days of my life. I had just gone through a major break-up. I was broke and felt like my career was basically over. Somehow, out of that despair, this idea for a little mistaken identity comedy bubbled up from my subconscious. As soon as I had the idea, I laughed out loud. I remember thinking "If this idea can make me laugh today, it must be good." So, I decided to at least try to write it.

What roles did you play in the development of the project? What were some of the unique challenges and rewards of writing/directing/producing your own film vs. writing/acting for someone else?

I had never directed anything in my life, but I'd certainly seen it done -- both beautifully and horribly. I managed to scrape together a minuscule budget and began begging favors from every human being I knew. Luckily for me, everybody liked the script and before I knew it, we were actually making the film. Directing, is on the one hand, a very fun job because you're sort of "God." Everyone is turning to you for answers and they pretty much have to do your bidding. On the other hand, it's a tremendous amount of pressure. You get hit with a lot of gnarly decisions and sometime you just have to guess. You have to act confident, even when you're not. And you can't have a meltdown. Everybody's looking to you to keep the film on track.

What impact did Available Men have on your career/life?

It totally changed my career. I had been sort of pigeon-holed after the success of KINGDOM COME and could only get work on African-American projects. Sort of ironic considering how "white" I am. The short got me a lot of attention and a new manager. I began to get jobs adapting books and for a while I was even in the running for a few directing jobs. On a personal level, it restored my confidence that I could write funny material. I had taken quite a beating in the studio system and had sort of lost my edge. The short gave it back to me. It was an invaluable lesson.

You created Available Men in 2006, in 2010 it seems more and more actors/writers/directors are looking to produce their own shorts, what advice might you have for others looking to create/promote their own short films.

Do it. That's my advice in a nutshell. A short film may not necessarily advance your career, but the process of making one is going to teach you a hell of a lot. It will sharpen your skills. When you make a short, you're the boss. If it's a mess, you can't blame anybody but yourself. Experience gives knowledge and knowledge builds confidence.

You are a judge at this year’s HollyShorts Short Film Festival, what will you be looking for in these shorts?

When I judge shorts, I pay particular attention to content. Film students often get obsessed with production value at the expense of engaging material. I personally like shorts that take the audience on a quick trip from point A to point B. That's all that's really required. I'm not fond of shorts where the filmmakers seem to be asleep at the wheel. It's fine to tell a personal story, but you've got to remember that you're making this for an audience that doesn't live inside your head. I also really admire young filmmakers who know how to edit. It's really tough to watch a one-joke movie that goes on for about ten minutes after the joke stopped being funny.

You’ve written both features and shorts - are there some less obvious differences between the short medium and the feature medium?

Features are very structured. You have to keep an audience engaged for 100 or more minutes and a layered story structure is the only way to do that. Shorts are different in that you are asking for a much smaller time commitment from them. That can free filmmakers to tell their stories in a more instinctual way.

Again, so many people look to create their own shorts for myriad reasons - what are some of the common pitfalls writers/directors/ fall into when creating shorts?

The biggest pitfall is usually the script. If writing is not your strong suit, then find somebody who can write and either let them write it for you or listen to their advice. No matter what the length or genre, all film is about story. Whatever kind of story you're telling, make sure you start it in one place and end it in another. And I'm not talking about multiple locations! Even if your film has no dialogue, there needs to be some sort of clear struggle; some movement that creates a real change in your characters. If that doesn't happen, your audience will walking out of the theater saying "What the hell was that about?" You don't want that.

What are some of the best short films you’ve seen recently and why?

Since I don't want to get into any trouble, I think I'll pass on actually naming any specific titles. I'm just glad people are making them. I advise both my acting and writing students to make shorts, just for the experience of it. Oddly enough, I just gave a friend of mine notes on his short the other day, but happily they were minor. It was actually very good. Funny, but I just wrote a column back in January about my experience (and the aftermath) of making AVAILABLE MEN. If anybody's interested, you can read it here: And you can watch the actual film at:

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