Arts & Culture

Olympia Film Collective takes on challenge to make a film that’s a tweet, not a novel

On location of “Checkmate,” with Team Adobe. left to right: Brendon Thompson, Leo King, director Misael Martinez, actor Jon Lee, actor Garrett Sheldon, and Jacob Elliett.
On location of “Checkmate,” with Team Adobe. left to right: Brendon Thompson, Leo King, director Misael Martinez, actor Jon Lee, actor Garrett Sheldon, and Jacob Elliett. Courtesy of the Olympia Film Collective

You can see Olympia on the big screen Friday night — in Tacoma.

Since 2013, filmmakers from the Olympia Film Collective have been teaming up to enter the Grand Cinema’s annual 253 Short Film Competition — and two of the 29 teams with films in this year’s competition are part of the collective, a nonprofit working to support South Sound film and increase the representation of women and people of color in film making.

The 253 — a number inspired by Tacoma’s zip code — gives filmmakers 72 hours to make a film running no more than 253 seconds.

“We have a time limitation so it’s like a Twitter post rather than a novel,” Grand Cinema assistant executive director Wade Neal told The Olympian.

The party draws a big crowd with the films — which are often impressive and often hilarious —and multiple intermissions during which to discuss your faves, eat, drink, be merry, etc.

“Everybody loves a contest,” Neal said, adding that the best part is that some novice 253 directors have gone on to film school and become pros.

To guarantee filmmakers spend only 72 hours on the films, the non-profit theater specifies certain elements that all entries must include. That information is released to the registered teams just 72 hours ahead of the submission deadline.

This year’s elements are a white dress, a scene from a well-known movie, fake news and the line of dialogue “back to square one.”

“I think that’s the most fun part,” said Grand spokesperson Tanya Tran.

“We got involved to raise the profile of the Olympia Film Collective in South Sound, because there isn’t a film competition here,” collective founder Jeff Barehand told The Olympian. “Independent film making is a small community, and it’s good to know one another.”

The collective’s first film for the 253, 2013’s “S.O.S.,” a romantic comedy, was the judge’s choice for best film that year.

This year’s OFC entries are “Checkmate,” directed by Misael Martinez, and “Smile From My Face,” directed by James Clark.

The group tackles the projects together, talking about ideas when the prompts are released, Barehand said. The prompts are announced on a Thursday night (this year on April 25), and final films are due in Tacoma by 7 p.m. the Sunday after.

The writers begin work on scripts immediately, with collective writers submitting them online by 5 a.m.

The next day, the producers and directors meet to choose the scripts they’ll film. “It really comes down to the story and what can be done in such a short amount of time,” Barehand said.

It’s a weekend of all-nighters, he said, with writers typically staying up Thursday night, most shooting happening Saturday and editors going sleepless Saturday night.

Not everyone makes the deadline. The Grand allows the first 32 teams to sign up, and this year, just 29 of them turned in films, Neal said.

After that, entrants wait for judgment day — aka the party — when the awards are announced. There’s an audience choice award along with a judges’ award for best film and prizes for films that make the best use of each required element.

“If the audience responds, that’s great,” Barehand said.

253 Short Film Party

  • What: The Grand Cinema’s 253 film competition culminates in a screening of locally made films, each running 253 seconds or less. There are food and beverages for purchase, prizes for audience members as well as filmmakers and multiple intermissions.
  • When: 5:30 p.m. Friday, with films beginning at 7
  • Where: Urban Grace, 902 Market St., Tacoma
  • Tickets: $15 in advance, $18 the day of the event
  • More information: 253-593-4474,

Watch all about it

Get in the mood for the party — or have your own at home — with these 253-related videos:

“S.O.S.”: The film collective’s first 253 entry follows a woman whose secret admirer finds a clever way to get in touch — and features footage of the Procession of the Species. Directed by Jeff Barehand, it won two awards, including best film.

“Matthew”: Directed by the collective’s Marena Teixeira for the 2017 festival, this heartwarming story about a robot won best use of a flashback. the climactic scene happens in Sylvester Park.

253 Pre-Production Time Lapses: This video uses timed photography to document the process of making a film in 72 hours.

“4Real”: This 2018 comedy about a middle-aged “boy band,” directed by Bryan Johnson, was not made by the collective, but it’s well worth a watch. It won the audience choice award and best use of the line “cut to the chase.”