Watch an Inventive Short Film From an Obama Ad Producer

10:37 AM PST 08/18/2014 by Chris O'Falt

Plus, Sundance winner 'Rich Hill' gets a spinoff in this week's rundown of the best shorts on the web

ShortBeat is a weekly roundup of news from the world of short filmmaking, spotlighting up-and-coming talent and some of the best content on the web.

From Democratic Ad Man to Short Film Auteur

Premiering online this week is Silo, a comedy about a lonely nuclear engineer, which drew an enthusiastic response from a large crowd at the Brooklyn Bridge as part of BAM’s Movies with a View series back in July.

So how do you go about shooting in a real-life Cold War-era missile silo?

Based on his experience on the military doc Full Battle Rattle, executive producer Jesse Moss, had hoped his small production would be granted access to one of the preserved silos now operating as a military museum. When that effort failed, producer Andy Widmann’s extensive research pointed the Silo team toward a group of privately owned silos in the Adirondacks. When they were decommissioned, the Air Force simply removed the missiles and pumped out the fuel. Forty years later, these silos remained perfectly intact, except that they were filled with 150 feet of water and looked like shipwrecks.

“One of the silos had been recently purchased by Alexander Michael, an Australian architect who was slowly restoring the living quarters as a hobby,” explains writer-director David Soll. “He'd done a nice job on those adjacent rooms, but the main space — the huge cylindrical silo with the missile shaft — was still a total mess.”

Michael accepted a small location fee and granted the production unfettered access. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Soll and his crew worked for months converting the silo into a movie set.

“Since we couldn't pump the water out of the entire missile shaft," explains Soll, “we just built the top 45 feet of the missile, placed a green-screen platform across the shaft a couple decks down, and resigned ourselves to extend the set with CG.” After three months of underground pressure-washing, scraping and dozens of cans of Rust-Oleum, the silo soon looked like a period set on a big-budget movie.

Soll, whose day job is producing and editing TV ads for top Democrats like Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, is now developing a feature project with producer Jared Goldman (Skeleton TwinsAnd So It Goes). Soll admits that this next endeavor probably won’t get his full attention until late November, as “trying to help Democrats hold on to the Senate is seriously eating into my schedule.”

Back to 'Rich Hill'

Rich Hill, the Sundance winner for best doc, tells the story of three boys growing up in a small Missouri town, but co-director Tracy Droz Tragos was always fascinated by Sarah, the cousin of one of her main subjects, Andrew Jewell.

“Sarah was really smart, and I couldn't get her out of my mind,” Tragos tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Our relationship was a bit of a slow burn, but I kept coming back to her and sometimes our conversations were pretty intense. I'd longed to cover the experience of a girl, but she was more reserved than the boys.”

Then last summer Tragos learned the 15-year-old was pregnant. When co-director Andrew Droz Palermo returned to Rich Hill to grab some pickup shots, Tragos asked him to shoot some additional footage of Sarah. That footage, along with the earlier material, was turned into this short, Sarah’s Uncertain Path

Inspired by the longer-form approach of documentaries like Hoop Dreams and the Seven Up series, and more recently the narrative film Boyhood, Tragos plans to chronicle Sarah’s first five years of being a mother. Last month she spent a week shooting with Sarah and found the teen mom wanting to return to 10th grade, but not knowing what to do with her now 6-month-old son, A.J.

“This is just the first chapter in many hard choices and challenges she will face in the coming years,” reflects Tragos.

Rich Hill is playing at the Laemmle NoHo.

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