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Scream It Off Screen: A short-film competition for the bravest of filmmakers

What started as friends watching short films in their backyard has wound up a phenomenon for short-film creators worldwide.
Image by Terry Sommer
Courtesy photo from Scream it off Screen

Two local artists have created an amazing culture for film screening that allows various filmmakers — from local to international — to partake in a truly unforgettable experience.

Created by Terry Sommer and Natalie Koness, Scream It Off Screen is a live, unique short-film competition where people vote to “let it play” or “gong it” as they watch films from their computer screens on the first Friday of each month.

Sommer said it all began in 2018 when he and Koness hosted film events in their backyard with a projector. It has since evolved into a monthly competition where 15 short-filmmakers compete for a grand prize of $101.01.

Scream It Off Screen’s last show was on March 5, which they held online via YouTube, and the “ultimate winner!!!” was “Craigslisters – Story Time – Horny Fart,” created by Willie Maglothin.

A virtual crowd decides the winner by voting to “let it play,” allowing a film to continue playing, or they vote to “gong it,” which cuts a film short and disqualifies it from winning the cash prize. Gonged films aren’t permanently exiled from entering the competition, however.

“If you submit a film and it gets gonged, you have a chance to rework your film, which is a cool opportunity because I feel like we’re providing a platform for local filmmakers to improve their art through constructive criticism,” Sommer said.

Sommer — who also works as a musician — hosts and scores the entire competition himself.

“It’s special to see local filmmakers make independent films because they’re being watched by a captivated audience who’s reacting to these films while giving their honest opinions about these films,” Sommer said.  “It’s unfortunate that the shows are currently held virtually because the in-person experience was immersive and exciting.”

The Parkway Theater initially hosted this show, but due to COVID-19, they had to transition to YouTube screenings.

Koness edits clips of the live show and handles their social media, but her main job is to “spread the word about the competition so that new filmmakers can submit and audience members can watch,” she said. She also handles the live production behind the scenes.

For Koness, one of the coolest things about Scream It Off Screen is the lack of gatekeeping. It allows anybody to screen a film in front of an audience ready to give raw and unapologetically blunt feedback.

“This whole definition of what’s good and what isn’t good is really upsetting to me. One of the things I was most excited about was that Scream It Off Screen is creating a culture where everybody has the same opportunity,” Koness said.

While the majority of submissions are from Minnesotans, Scream It Off Screen has its fair share of global submissions — from places like New Zealand — pointing to the popularity of this competition.

One of the show’s featured filmmakers is Andrew Hunt, a former contestant on “On the Lot,” a reality show and online competition for filmmakers. Steven Spielberg picked him to be a contestant, according to Hunt.

Hunt, who’s been making professional films for 25 years, is a teacher at the Institute of Production and Recording – College of Creative Arts, where he teaches film production and screenwriting.

Before COVID-19, Hunt submitted three films and won three times at Scream It Off Screen. Despite his success as a filmmaker, the prospect of immediate, raw feedback that Scream It Off Screen entails terrified him.

“The first film I submitted was ‘Clean Cut,’ which is about a Roomba disposing of a dead body, and this film has won awards in the past, so I figured people would like it,” Hunt said. “However, you can have all the confidence in the world, but when I got there, I was terrified.”

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