Today our 15th annual Halloween Short Film launched here on ArieScope.com. ”HALLOWEEN HUGS” may just be the most ridiculous Halloween short that we’ve done in the decade and a half that we’ve been making these shorts but it certainly was the most fun we’ve had shooting one yet. With the self-imposed rule of “one night, no budget, and just for fun”, these annual Halloween short films have become not only a pivotal fan-favorite aspect of ArieScope but also a key component to our longevity and success as a feature film and television production company. A common question I get in interviews and at appearances is “Why do you still make short films now that you have a career making feature films and television shows?” To be honest there certainly have been years where I’ve asked myself that same question. Like when we’ve been in the middle of a “real” production and taken our one day off to shoot the annual Halloween short film or dedicated the 3 or 4 hours a night that we’re allotted for sleep during a shoot to use editing and finishing post-production on one of these shorts each night around our shooting schedule. No one is getting paid to work on them, they aren’t used for financial gain of any kind, and everyone is already run ragged working on whatever the “real” project is that we are in production on. So why still do it? Why not skip a year every now and then?
The obvious answer is that there is now an expectation from our fans where, come October each year, they look forward to seeing what kind of Halloween treat we’ll cook up. The Halloween shorts have been a great way to give something back to those that support our film and television work and a very fun way to stay connected with fans while they’re patiently waiting for the next movie or season of a show to come out. But as easy as it would be to say “we do it for the fans” and leave it at that, the truth is that we do these shorts for ourselves just as much as we do them for the fans. There is no obligation behind doing these annual short films. In fact, in many ways we kind of NEED to do these Halloween shorts because they serve as a reset button for us each year. The toll that working in this industry takes on you is massive. The highs may be really high, but the lows are far more abundant and really, really low. For every major success, every victory, and every premiere night spent celebrating an achievement, there are years of extremely hard work that go into making each project a reality, loads of dreams that don’t come true, plus countless amounts of hurdles, set-backs, disappointments, politics, and struggles that are collectively known as “the bullshit” in Hollywood. But when you get to gather up your friends, go back in time to when you didn’t have any kind of budget or executives to answer to, and make something that has absolutely no consequences whatsoever… you remember exactly why you fell in love with doing this in the first place. More importantly, you re-ignite that fire inside to want to keep doing it no matter what it takes. To anyone out there finding themselves disenchanted or beaten down by the machine, I highly recommend you take a page out of our book and do something that’s just for you. Give yourself major limitations, make something just like you would have made when you were first starting out- warts and all. Re-live the beginning again once a year and don’t care what anyone else thinks. I promise that you will be happy you did it.
A great example of just what lengths we’ve gone to keep these Halloween shorts our own and to protect the sanctity of what they mean for us is 2010′s “JUST TAKE ONE”. We were coming off of ”JACK CHOP” the year before. A short that, like always, we made just for us because WE thought it was funny. Little did we know that “JACK CHOP” would become an internet phenomenon and explode on Youtube, be used as sound bytes on major Boston radio stations for years to come, spawn parodies galore on-line, and have people dressing up as the short’s main character “Nicolo” for Halloween that year. Our friend Joe Lynch recently shot his new film EVERLY in Belgrade, Serbia and discovered that one of the local crew members on his set was a “JACK CHOP” fan. I’ve done appearances in London and Munich and had fans wait in line for an autograph wearing a “JACK CHOP” T-shirt. Originally “JACK CHOP” had a fake phone number at the end of the short that had too many digits to possibly be a real phone number. But by the end of the short film’s first week on-line and after 900,000+ hits in just 6 days, people were actually calling the first 10 digits of the number, reaching a small family owned window treatment company in Minnesota, and literally shutting down their business as they could no longer use their phone for anything other than taking calls demanding the “free fahkin’ glow stick, kid”. Needless to say we were contacted by the FCC with a demand to take the short down immediately. So the short was removed from the internet, the fake phone number was changed, and we had to put it back up and start over again back at zero hits. ”JACK CHOP” was so popular that there were people on Youtube that would flag ours as “inappropriate” (making it so that unless a user is logged in to an account proving they are over 18 years old, the short won’t even come up in searches), copy and paste it on to their own page (even going so far as to CHANGE THE END CREDITS to add their own names as the people who made it) and then re-post it as their own just to steal hits and make a few bucks by adding advertisements to their page. Yes, that really happened. A few people actually did that and are totally OK with it, going to sleep each night with no remorse whatsoever. Our legal team has been mostly successful in getting those taken down as soon as they pop up, but the point is, “JACK CHOP” was huge. So when the following year rolled around, the obvious thing to do would have been a sequel to “JACK CHOP”. Fans were demanding it and if we even remotely cared about hits/views whatsoever, making another “JACK CHOP” would have been a no-brainer. So what did we do? We made a short that (while it may have had a nod to “JACK CHOP” with a cameo of “Nicolo” in the end) was completely different and all but guaranteed to NOT become a huge hit. ”JUST TAKE ONE” was a short exploring the concept of the “honor bowl” – a Trick Or Treating faux-paus where a household not wanting to actually participate in the time honored tradition of tricks or treats places a bowl of candy on their doorstep as a way of saying “we don’t care”. The only thing worse than “honor bowl” houses are the houses that simply shut off all of their lights in the hopes that kids won’t even approach them. For someone who loves Halloween more than anything (Rileah and I always give out full-size candy bars to our Trick Or Treaters and had a record 127 children come to our doorstep last year alone), I find the “honor bowl” to be completely un-American and a Halloween crime. But at the end of the day, “JUST TAKE ONE” was “cute” at best. It was never going to blow up and become an internet phenomenon. But it set us free from “JACK CHOP”. It set us free of having to cave to pressure or having to start caring about competing with hits/views each year. Had we let ourselves get caught up in all of that we not only would have betrayed the idea that each year’s short needs to be completely unique, but we would have turned our sacred yearly event into an obligation and a production that was no longer for us. In reality, whether a Halloween short gets 7 million hits or 700 hits, we don’t care. It’s just not about that. So while we got plenty of feedback from people that were angry that they didn’t get another “JACK CHOP”, we couldn’t have been happier. The Halloween Shorts were still ours and we retained our freedom to do whatever we felt like doing each year.
So how did this tradition get started? The short story is that way back in 1998, Will Barratt and I made a short film called “COLUMBUS DAY WEEKEND” for an upcoming Hallloween party. It was never meant to be seen professionally anywhere (if you’ve ever watched it, that much is obvious) and it was just something we were going to show a small group of friends. Keep in mind this was before streaming video on-line or sites like Youtube even existed. The short could only be passed around and shared on VHS tapes. The opening credits of “COLUMBUS DAY WEEKEND” were spoofing a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie so we needed a production company name to stick in. Somehow we came up with the word “ArieScope” because both Will and I are Aries (Adam- March 31st, Will – April 2nd) and the word “scope” sounded “film-y”. I wish there was a better story but that was it. Perhaps if we had known that it would stick as the name of our company and maybe if we known what was to eventually come we would have toiled over a name for a few more minutes, but in a matter of seconds we came up with a word that would forever be synonymous with what we do professionally. If you’ve watched the early shorts, you may have noticed that our original logo was incredibly similar to the Dodge logo… because it was the Dodge logo. Classy, right? But here we are, 15 years later, and wow- what a trip it has been. Even better… today (October 14, 2013) is Columbus Day. ”HALLOWEEN HUGS” is launching exactly 15 years after we started all of this. I wish I could say I planned that, but it’s just coincidence. How long will we continue this tradition? We’ve discussed ending the Halloween shorts when we hit #20 and we’ve talked about going all the way to #31 in honor of Hallloween, but the truth is… we don’t know. Just like the short films themselves, we’ll keep making it up as we go. The only thing we know for sure is that as long as they don’t feel like an obligation, we’ll keep enjoying making them.
In closing, to answer the original question of “why make short films with no budget even though we’re already established and working on bigger things?” ”Why take the risk of putting something out each year that could be perceived as amateur due to the self-imposed budget and time restrictions we put on ourselves?” Because we love it, that’s why. To quote Will Barratt who shot all night long this year only to go directly to a “real” gig (i.e. a paid, professional shoot) and work another 12 hour day on a television show on absolutely no sleep; “I needed that.” Doing these shorts re-infuses all of us with that original spark that started it all off. It doesn’t matter how many hits/views they get or if everyone who watches them thinks that each year is “our best one yet”. All that matters is that we’re having fun, we’re enjoying what we do, and after all of these years working together, we still haven’t had to grow up. And at the end of the day, isn’t that exactly why we chose this profession in the first place? To quote Linus in IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN, “Look around. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see!”
We hope you enjoy “HALLOWEEN HUGS” and on behalf of all of us who have been part of this family and who have ever worked on something brandishing the ArieScope logo… have a safe and happy Halloween! Let’s hug!