This year’s winning live-action filmmakers represent a diverse group: a star feature film directing duo, a veteran commercial director, a pair of award-winning photojournalists, a Canadian writing/directing duo, and a young LA up and comer. What all these creators share is an ability to tell fantastic stories. These are the winners of our Live-Action category. Catch all SOTW Awards 2013 Winners: Animation + Q&A, Live-Action + Q&A, New Media + Q&A, and Short of the Year Winners!
Documentary Doug Nichol


An American advertising producer in Shanghai tries to sell fast food to the Chinese. An endearing portrait of a modern day "Mad Man."

Doug Nichol is an established voice in the commercial realm and voices like his are rare in the decidedly un-commercial world of short film. Indeed the film came about by accident, as the director was exploring the movie-function of his new Canon 5D camera while on location in China for a new McDonald’s ad. He turned it upon his surroundings, including his producer, Jon Benet, our nomination for 2012’s most interesting character. In strange contrast to the surface gloss of his profession, Nichol successfully interweaves two dynamite portraits into one film—the confessions of his jaded friend, and a snapshot of a country in the midst of rapid change. After premiering on Short of the Week, the film, amid controversy, became a flashpoint for discussion about the state of the advertising industry and its professionals. What the controversy ignored by and large, is what a complete and remarkable film Sunshine is. With Nichol’s background, the impeccable photography was expected, the insightful and complicated commentary was not.
Documentary Ariel Schulman & Henry Joost

A Brief History of John Baldessari

A towering figure in the art world, standing at 6'7", John Baldessari's epic career is crammed into 5 and a half frenzied minutes. Narrated by Tom Waits.

Still in the afterglow of Catfish, their surprisingly successful 2010 feature documentary, the directing duo of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, aka Henry & Rel, were commissioned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to create this charming profile of artist John Baldessari for the museum’s 2011 gala. The film, narrated with aplomb by Tom Waits, is a charmingly irreverent take on both the artist and the documentary form, highlighted by Max Joseph’s propulsively kinetic edit to accompany Rossini’s William Tell Overture. It is only fitting that such an iconoclastic figure in American art be treated to such an over-the-top homage. With both Catfish and this short, Henry and Rel have set themselves up as two of most innovative voices in contemporary documentary, which is why it is so fascinating that in 2011 they took over the Paranormal Activity franchise with its third installment. Documentary surely informs the found-footage feel of their horror films, we can only hope that their narrative experience has a chance to mutually inform more great documentaries.
Comedy Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart

Long Branch

On a cold winter's night, Lynn's quest for a one night stand is complicated when the guy she goes home with lives two hours away via public transit.

Placed on our radar via our submission process, Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart’s low-key, sometimes-awkward, always-wonderful, take on rom-com became an instant fan-favorite on the site. The amount of feedback from folks who empathized with the storyline or who, in a world of deeply cynical, battle-of-the-sexes crap entertainment, simply found relief in its honest, tender portrayal of fumbling, nascent love, was very satisfying to see. Hollywood is looking to short film for inspiration a lot nowadays, they could do worse than recognize an audience hunger for modest but magical tales such as this one.
Honorable Mentions
Best Cinematography—As I Am Alan Spearman and Mark Adams, along with Chris Dean, have crafted a documentary that is intensely heartfelt and poetic. While it visually spectacular, with upper-echelon DSLR camerawork, it really is the intimacy in their depiction of South Memphis that resonates. The level of filmic empathy on display in As I Am, through its cinematic subjectivity is rare in fiction and nearly unprecedented in documentary. Rather than engaging in talking head interviews, Chris and the filmmakers are able to touch a truth that words alone could not express. Launched seemingly out of the blue through the local paper’s website, As I Am was one of 2012’s most satisfying discoveries. Best Production—Moving Takahashi In our dreams this is what all LA short films look and feel like. So much talent heads to la-la land every single year in the hope of establishing a career in the hotbed of US production, yet getting a superstar team to partner up like they did for this short is sadly rare. Patrick James, former managing editor of Very Short List and the sadly-defunct GOOD magazine, is on the script, Rob Hauer, DP-extraordinaire, handles the gorgeous 35mm cinematography, and Josh Soskin is the creative leader, on hand to pull it all together, giving a deeply satisfying twist on a genre gone stale.