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To these stars, short is sweet

Name actors take chances on both sides of the camera in ShortFest fare.

August 23, 2007|Lisa Rosen | Special to The Times

The name is longer than some of the entries. Today marks opening day of the 2007 Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films & Short Film Market, also known as ShortFest. Running until Aug. 29, the fest features more than 300 shorts from 40 countries, and 50 programs with themes ranging from romance to horror.

An additional theme that runs throughout the array of offerings is that of celebrity. Apparently, short films aren't just the place where new talent can be discovered -- previously discovered talent can find a new outlet. In 23 of the selected shorts, such stars as Jennifer Aniston, Robin Wright Penn, James Gandolfini, Louis Gossett Jr., Patrick Stewart and Bryce Dallas Howard can be found both in front and behind the cameras.

So what's the appeal of starring in a film that lasts, at most, 40 minutes? Not fame or fortune, but rather camaraderie, and the chance to try something new. "I've never played a man before," said Wendie Malick, laughing, "and I'm always looking for ways to stretch however I can." In "Waiting for Yvette," she plays a transsexual about to go under the knife.

Jane Lynch appears in two shorts at the fest, including "Love Is Love," directed by her friend Anne Renton, and "The Frank Anderson." "It's kind of like back to the day where you just went out and did something just to see how it felt, to exercise a different muscle," said Lynch ("The 40 Year-Old Virgin"). "So that's why I love them."

When branching out into directing, actors have enviable casting options, thanks to friendships they've made along the way. Bryce Dallas Howard ("Spider-Man 3") tapped Alfred Molina for her directorial debut, "Orchids," which she co-wrote with Dane Charbeneau. "I remember when she couched it to me, I said it sounds like the perfect gig," said Molina, who had met Howard on the set of "As You Like It." "One day's rehearsal, one day's shooting, and all the bagels you can eat -- it's like an actor's dream."

Jennifer Aniston, who co-directed "Room 10," approached Robin Wright Penn through their mutual talent agency. "And I instantly wanted to do something with her, not ever having met her," Penn said. "I just always loved her from the show." (That would be "Friends," in case anyone's forgotten.)

The other draw of shorts are that they're, well, short, usually taking only a few days to shoot.

"From an actor's point of view, it's actually easier in a way, because there's very little downtime, so you're either working all the time or you do your bit and you're done," said Molina, adding that the experience was "great fun -- you get treated like the crown jewels."

"Everything just flowed, there was no on-set tension," Penn said. "Mind you, we only shot for three days, but it's still pretty rare to not have that. It felt really sweet and warm."

The actors agreed that the work itself didn't differ much from other jobs. "Outside of the size of the trailer, the process is exactly the same," said Joe Mantegna, who performed in his friend Paul Carafotes' short "Club Soda," along with James Gandolfini and Louis Gossett Jr. "The director says 'action' and he says 'cut.' For everything in between, I don't do anything differently if I'm making a movie that's shot in a day for 10 cents or a movie that's shot over six months for a hundred million dollars."

And while a star's participation certainly raises a short's profile, festival director Darryl Macdonald insists it really doesn't influence festival programmers.

"I won't deny that it captures our attention," he said, "but we're not going to book a bad short film simply because it has a name actor in it."

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weekend@latimes.com

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Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films

Where: Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs

When: Today through Aug. 29

Cost: Opening night, $25; general admission, $10; matinees, $9

Info: (800) 898-7256; www.psfilmfest.org

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