Wednesday, July 18, 2007


The tenth annual Chicago Short Comedy Video and Film Festival adds TV to its regularly scheduled programming

by Olivia Ware

As the birthplace of Second City and as Vince Vaughn's current playground, Chicago holds its own as a hotspot for comedy. This weekend, local filmmakers are showcasing their gut-busting talents at the annual Chicago Short Comedy Video and Film Festival, which runs three shows on both July 20 and 21.

And since 2007 marks the 10th anniversary of the festival, producers are celebrating by adding a new item to their repertoire: a TV pilot competition. "Over the years, we'd had a few TV pilots submitted to the shorts fest," says Marion Sours, the festival's founder and producer. "While they were too long to screen in the event, at least we knew some Chicago filmmakers were developing them."

In fact, Sours received so many submissions to the pilot contest this year that she had to cut back on appearances by celebrity guest speakers, which have been a feature of past festivals. Only the 8:45 p.m. TV pilot screenings will include speakers. "As it turned out, we had so many more pilots than we anticipated that we had to add two more shows that we didn't originally plan," Sours says. "When we started counting the number of minutes available, we found we couldn't accommodate any more speakers."

But think quality, not quantity—these speakers are sure to get some laughs out of the audience with their credentials. Eight-time Emmy Award winner Ben Hollis, who produces Wild Chicago and has taught and performed improv, will speak on Friday. On Saturday, Mike Schmiedeler, who is VP of production at Towers Productions, will make an appearance along with Second City alumni Al Samuels and Kevin Fleming, who star in their own comedy show on NBC called Sports Action Team.

Even aside from the new TV competition, the comedy festival has grown considerably since its debut in 1998, when submissions came almost entirely from word of mouth. Now, producers receive between 80 and 90 short film submissions, and this year they are showing 21 films per show. "We didn't even have an entry form," Sours says. "But by the second year we were more formalized in our calls for submissions, and since then, increasingly, people know of us locally, either from having attended, or from seeing items in the media."

And what's the fun of a festival without a competitive edge? A different panel of judges—composed of directors, editors, producers and actors—will present awards to the winners of both the short film and TV pilot competitions. While the film jury is live and native to Chicago, the TV pilot judges hail from outside the Windy City, mainly from the hubs of the medium, Los Angeles and New York.

There's also an added bonus for TV prize winners: a $5,000 cash prize, courtesy of the Alberto-Culver Company. (The film winners go home with just a trophy, but hey, it's not about the money, right? Yeah, right.)

This year's Chicago Short Comedy Video and Film Festival takes place at the Music Box Theatre (3733 N. Southport, 773/871-6604) July 19-21;