Stealing Shots

The 253 Second Challenge comes around again to test amateur filmmakers’ mettle

By Rev. Adam McKinney on May 3, 2018

It's a baked-in factor of independent film for directors to "steal" shots. Lacking the budget that would allow for a production to get permits and shut down a city street, for instance, a small crew would run out, shoot a couple takes with their actors, and get out before cops would show up and shoo them away. Midnight Cowboy is the classic example of this, with Dustin Hoffman almost getting run over by a taxi, his shout of, "I'm walking here!" being a spontaneous ad lib in response to an uncontrolled situation.

This frenzied, ramshackle approach to making small movies has never really gone away, especially with the increased accessibility to filmmaking equipment. Once a year, the Grand Cinema assembles around 30 teams of filmmakers, and sets them out on the streets to steal every shot they can, in the hope of crafting a short film in just three days for the 253 Seconds Challenge. As if that task weren't daunting enough, these teams were also given elements that they were required to include in their finished product; this year, it was line of dialogue ("Cut to the chase!"), a prop (some sort of sign), and two more vague prompts (a dream, and some representation of recycling). None of these movies must be longer than 253 seconds.

Over this past weekend, 29 of 30 teams managed to successfully turn in their films by the deadline. Along the way, they faced the same sort of roadblocks and catastrophes that have befallen filmmakers before them, since the notion of making movies independently caught traction.

"One of our teams shared on social media that one of their main actors got hurt three quarters of the way through," says Darcy Nelson, director of marketing and communications for the Grand Cinema. "They ended up having to reshoot everything and got it done in eight hours. They lost their primary actor, and had to revamp everything. That'll be very impressive to see how they did that. ... It's kind of a bummer. You imagine being so invested in an idea and having almost all your work done, and then having to go do these reshoots."

Setbacks aside, there are some filmmakers who regularly compete in the 253 Seconds Challenge that seem to make this harder on themselves than need be. Every year, for instance, Nick Butler challenges himself to make an animated film. Over the life of the 253 Seconds Challenge -- and its earlier existence, as the 72-Hour Film Festival -- there would occasionally pop up an animated film, but it was always a risky proposition to animate a movie in such a short period of time.

Regardless of the difficulties posed to these filmmakers -- a couple of whom are young middle schoolers -- the films have been created and submitted. All that's left is to view them, which a whole lot of people will May 11 at Urban Grace. The audience will vote on their favorite, while a panel of judges will award prizes to those who fare best in incorporating this year's requirements, as well as the best film overall. Fantastic catering and a grand time will be enjoyed by all.

As Nelson says, though, the highlight of the party is about embracing our local artists.

"We're expecting to have some really high quality stuff, and to celebrate some up-and-coming creatives out there in our community," said Nelson. "It takes a lot of courage and chutzpah to want to compete and have your work out there to see. I'm very excited that we've got a diversity of ages and groups competing this year."

Tickets to the 253 Seconds party tend to sell quick. Get yours at

253 SHORT FILM PARTY, doors at 5:30 p.m., show at 7 p.m., Friday, May 11, Urban Grace, 902 Market St., Tacoma, $13-$18, 253.593.4474,