'OCC Shorts' Stands Tall

Newport Beach Film Festival's (NBFF) Collegiate Showcase—to be held in the Studio at Sage Hill School—presents short films from UCLA, USC and Saddleback on Sunday; CalArts and Chapman on Monday; and Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Long Beach on Tuesday.

Noticeably missing from that 14th-annual NBFF lineup above is Orange Coast College, but that's only because the private Newport Beach high school's 300-seat theater is too small for the Costa Mesa community college's Film/Video Department. As with festivals past, Sunday's 10th-anniversary run of “OCC Shorts” is in the historic, 622-seat Lido Theatre.

“OCC stands way above the others,” says Dennis Baker, NBFF's director of short-film programming. “OCC will be in the Lido because [it] can fill it. [It] gets the people out. And they are all good movies.”

“This is a vocational program,” explains Bob Lazarus, a longtime Film/Video instructor, who notes many OCC students do go on to university film schools. But the college trains a sizable number of enrollees who jump right into the industry. Some only take the department's classes to gain experience without pursuing associate degrees or certificates.

They also pursue industry contacts, and alumni return to mingle. A wall in OCC's Film/Video Department is lined with posters from major motion pictures representing those who have been through the program and now work in Hollywood—including Claudia Huerta, an editing assistant on Avatar who also works on other James Cameron projects; Joel Griffen, who worked in the editorial department on Super 8; and Steve Franks, the writer of Big Daddy and creator of the USA network show Psych.

“We have no Spielbergs,” Lazarus jokes. “We keep waiting.”

Perhaps he'll be Nathan Laolagi, a 20-year-old from Cypress who has been making films for fun since seventh grade and began seriously considering it as a career as a high-school sophomore. He was attending Cypress College when his brother gave him a tour of OCC's Film/Video Department. “I could not believe the type of technology they had at a community college,” Laolagi remembers. “I was really excited.” So much so he transferred to OCC. A Revenge Story, the first film he opened his wallet to make, made this year's “OCC Shorts” program.

Another first-timer is Huntington Beach's Matthew Caponi, who has been making films since age 9. He wrote, produced and directed 72 Beats during his first semester at OCC; the drama was selected for NBFF 2013. “I am honored,” Caponi says. “I did not expect to make it.” He came to OCC to keep making movies, and he's already looking for paid director-of-photography gigs this summer. “Ultimately,” he says, “I want to be a writer and director of my own stuff.”

Lily Young and Minerva Alvarado's first-ever film also made the cut. “It hasn't set in,” Young said of her surf documentary Sweet Escape screening in the Lido. “Is this for real? I just entered on a whim.” She fears she'll “go numb” at the festival, adding, “It's a great opportunity. It'll be the first time I've seen it on a screen that big.”

Lazarus credits Scott Broberg, the college's veteran Film/Video coordinator, with getting OCC into the festival. And Broberg passes that credit along to Erik Forssell, the festival's director of operations and part-time OCC film instructor. In 2003, Forssell was an OCC film student and festival volunteer who noticed USC had a shorts program, so why not OCC? He lobbied the faculty, and Broberg and others met with Gregg Schwenck, the festival's CEO and co-founder. In 2004, OCC joined USC and, thanks to similar lobbying by East Coast transplants, Yale University at NBFF. (This year's 10th “Yale In Cinema” singles out 11 films in the regular NBFF lineup with contributions from 12 “Yalies,” including the fest-opening Broadway Idiot from director Doug Hamilton, a 1987 grad.)

College films are curated just as all the others in the festival, with submissions made to judging panels that decide what's in and what's out. But in January, before selections are announced, meetings are held within the department about marketing the April “OCC Shorts” program.

“In the beginning, we used post cards and fliers and, mostly, word-of-mouth,” Broberg recalls. Now the school has a class that emphasizes social-media marketing of films, using “OCC Shorts” and its individual films as class projects. Meanwhile, a competition is held among OCC graphic-arts students to come up with the poster for the festival. This year's was made by Hannah Melde.

The OCC filmmakers get badges for entry into festival screenings and events other than their own, and the faculty encourages them to attend and network with the pros. Film/Video forces the issue by inviting visiting filmmakers to private parties, which have often been brunches catered by OCC's culinary program aboard a cruising yacht from the OCC Sailing Center at Newport Harbor.

“Scott is pretty adamant” that students mingle with filmmakers at the parties to ensure the budding cineastes realize “how important this event is to their careers,” Lazarus says. “You have filmmakers from all walks of the industry, from all over the country and the world. It's a great opportunity. They can't go anywhere. It's a very slow cruise.”

“The filmmakers are not that far removed from the students,” observes Baker, who has attended many OCC parties. “The students learn about what it takes to make a film on their own, but the filmmakers get something out of it, too. They get to recapture that enthusiasm they had for the industry when they were students.”

Because it's the 10th anniversary (and a boat was not available), the Film/Video Department hosts a post-showcase party on campus, with plans for shuttles from Newport Beach to Costa Mesa and back.

The faculty members are amazed at how NBFF has grown in the past decade. “It started small, and every year, it just gets bigger and bigger,” Lazarus says. “It's internationally recognized as a top film festival.”

Adds Broberg: “It's five minutes away, and it's like Sundance.”


Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.

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