Charlie Anderson only smoked for two years, but when he made up his mind to quit, the habit was hard to shake. So he talked about his problems — to the cigarettes themselves.
"I would put a cigarette out there, right in front of me in plain sight, and every time I got the urge, I would sometimes pick it up and act like I was, you know, I would threaten the cigarette," Anderson said. "'I'm in control here, not you.'"
That image stayed in Anderson's mind, even as he neared two decades without a smoke. So when he met the actors who would go on to play the leads in his short film "We Could Be Your Parents," the long-ago nicotine struggles provided the seed for a storyline.
"Parents," which stars Alex Karpovsky and Alycia Delmore as a married couple hoping to conceive a child, devotes much of its length to the husband's smoking ordeal, which includes him talking tough to the cigarette in his hand. Anderson, who has submitted in the past to the Newport Beach Film Festival, made the program this year — and through a programming sleight of hand, his characters will share the bill with a miserable working woman, a grieving writer, a sheep shearer and a man who befriends an otherworldly girl.
The program, titled "Time for a Short Change," is one of 41 short-film segments on the 2014 schedule. A total of 271 shorts made the cut for the festival, giving organizers the challenge of which films to group with which.
In the case of "Short Change," the 10-member programming team hit on a simple unifying theme: Each of the six films in the group deals with a life transition of some kind. That may sound like a broad topic, but volunteer Dennis Baker, a member of the shorts team, said he and his cohorts often have to be creative to fit in all the accepted films.
"It's very organic," Baker said. "It really evolves. I could never sit down and write a set of instructions for this. You just couldn't do it. There's a huge amount of intuitiveness and a huge amount of art to it."
So how does that artistic process work? According to Baker, it starts around August, when the reviewers begin looking at submitted shorts. Even before festival organizers have decided on the final schedule, the shorts team members begin laying out potential categories, with the aim of fitting all shorts into approximately 90-minute installments.
In March, with the lineup of films finalized, the team goes through what Baker calls the "final crunch" — a weekend in which the members sift through shorts that don't readily fit into categories and find places to insert them. In some cases, that means slightly altering a category's theme to accommodate a film that connects only marginally to the others.
"Maybe you've got six or seven titles and you haven't placed them yet," Baker said. "This is where the art comes in. Now they actually go back and try to find a collection of movies that's been made and is maybe a little short on time."
Among the groupings on the 2014 schedule are "Taking Short Care of Dad" (father-daughter stories), "Making History — Shortly" (world-changing events), "Rising Out of Ashes Shortly" (true stories of triumph) and "Short Vibes" (films that focus on sounds, rhythms and vibrations).
With the schedule heavy on features, the shorts programs offer viewers a different type of filmmaking craft: one in which a single shot can accomplish what an entire scene can in a longer work. Chris King, whose "Happiness" is on the "Short Change" program, told the story of a stressed corporate woman dealing with a coworker's departure in just over 15 minutes.
"You've got to know 100 times more about your character and your story than you'll actually be showing in the film, mainly because all of that information and all of that back story and subtlety of characterization — that feeds the story, and it lends itself to a greater depth," King said.
If You Go
What: "Time for a Short Change"
Where: Island Cinema, 999 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach
When: 2:45 p.m. May 1
Information: (949) 253-2880 or http://www.newportbeachfilmfest.comhttp://www.newportbeachfilmfest.com