Stop us if you've heard this one before: A dozen Portland filmmakers walk into a bar and grumble about the scant opportunities for comedy-trending indie auteurs to show their work. The city of open mics offered no blank screens whatsoever before Curious Comedy Theater began the hunt for Portland's Funniest Videos.
Co-founders Luke Zwanziger and Dusty McCord launched the showcase four weeks ago with the hope of eventually screening every locally produced short worth a giggle so long as the submitted work meets a few basic requirements. Entries need to be shorter than 7 minutes, contain material appropriate for the all-ages venue and come accompanied by a designated representative residing within a 50-mile radius. Despite titular similarities to ABC TV's injury-filled found-footage cavalcade, a certain degree of artistry is expected.
"No home videos," says Zwanziger. "They don't have to be scripted, necessarily, but we want original content. We're not looking for someone falling off a trampoline."
The event is structured as an audience-graded competition (absent, alas, any prizes beyond exposure at this early stage) that crowns victors en route to an eventual celebrity judge-blessed contest of champions held in March. But it's also a way to bolster the underserved community of comedic filmmakers whose talents were on display with October's opening slate of shorts.
Brian Hanna, owner of training-video company House Broken Productions, brought a leprechaun-hunting mockumentary he'd made as a student at the Art Institute of Portland, but had previously shown only via social media posts each St. Patrick's Day. As a side gig to a successful career at Laika in the end-of-production role of compositor, Nick Childs crafts effects-laden shorts like October finalist Trionyx (man dressed as softshell turtle tries to fight Godzilla) or November's hopeful Space Fence (a fence, in outer space).
"Some ideas demand to be short," Childs explains. "Sometimes you just need to put a short, weird thing out into the world."
Inaugural video champ The Proxy, a rollicking, beautifully shot farce detailing a billionaire hermit's attempts at vicarious romance, was produced three years ago as part of the Portland 48 Hour Film Project. Brian Sutherland, an acting vet (Grimm, Z Nation, a Pepsi ad) and improv instructor, made the film with a team stocked with industry pros. He stresses the value of ensuring shorts "look as beautiful as possible. I think it helps throw people off when we do our absurd approach. There's a tendency to relax on the cinematic when making comedy, but I think it's just as important to make the film beautiful as it is hilarious."
Both McCord, past organizer of Clinton Street Theater's Attack of the Flix program, and Zwanziger, former co-director of Eastern Oregon's acclaimed Ruby Peak Film Festival, knew from experience there was a wealth of unheralded local talent. While Portland has always cultivated DIY passion projects, the showcase demonstrates the leaps forward in sophistication technological advancements have afforded amateur cineastes. Publicly funded media center Open Signal offers professional gear for rent at minimal expense just down the street from Curious Comedy, which itself boasts a state-of-the-art production studio. Though the professional sheen readily applied to homemade movies may render them more palatable to modern audiences, McCord believes the heightened availability of resources comes at an unexpected cost.
"The general quality level has improved," he says. "Filmmakers have greater ability to make something that looks good and sounds good, but because of the ease of access, the community gets watered down. Film is a team sport. It takes a lot of effort to gather people together. We need a place for people to meet up and cross-pollinate and go, 'Let's make something together.'"
SEE IT: Portland's Funniest Videos play at Curious Comedy Theater, 5225 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., curiouscomedy.org, on Wednesday, Nov. 21. 7:30 pm. $5.