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Measuring Up

Slamdance to show Evan Roberts' '33 Teeth'

By Toshio Meronek, Fri., Jan. 13, 2012

33 Teeth
"33 Teeth"

Austinite Evan Roberts still has a couple semesters before finishing up his film degree at the University of Texas, but his short "33 Teeth" already picked up the award for Best LGBT short at the New York City Short Film Festival in September 2011. Later this month, it will be a contender at the Slamdance Film Festival, also known as the Sundance for movies with budgets less than $1 million, which happens at the same time, same place as its fancier, more famous counterpart.

Filmed around Hyde Park and South Congress using all local actors, the movie focuses on Eddie, a 14-year-old (played by McNeil High student Spencer Siegel) who creeps on his neighbor Chad while he's in the bathroom measuring himself with a comb. Austin's cornered the market on kids-behaving-badly films this year – "33 Teeth" plays Park City, Utah, at the same time as fellow Austin born-and-made entries "Hellion," Kat Candler's short about kid brothers on a rampage, as well as the Zellner Brothers' Kid-Thing, whose main character is a girl whose "existence is devoid of parental guidance" and "spends her time roaming the land, shoplifting, vandalizing and making prank phone calls." We talked to Roberts about moviemaking, teen angst, and size obsession.

Austin Chronicle: Are these characters based on real-life people?

Evan Roberts: Not at all, but it is based on a story from my teenage years. A group of friends were throwing around a basketball one night, and the subject of measuring came up. We were divided on the topic – some had measured, some hadn't measured, some didn't see a need. Off to the side, I heard one reply, meekly, "Well, I measured with a comb once." It really puzzled me. There's not a standard comb size or anything, so it left a lot to the imagination. I wasn't out to myself or my friends at that time, but I began having daydreams of looking for this comb at this friend's house. I never did find it. But the story just grew out of that and the idea of how certain objects can be infused with misplaced eroticism.

AC: In the movie, the main character comes dangerously close to being caught masturbating. Most of us can relate. Did you have any close calls when you were a teenager? 

ER: I had one unfortunate moment that I think my sister and I would probably like to forget. She dropped a bunch of folded laundry, and I refolded it for her, shamefully.

AC: And how about neighborly obsessions?

Evan Roberts
Evan Roberts

ER: None to speak of. But I'm open to it.

AC: What's the hardest part about making a film?

ER: The hardest parts of making "33 Teeth" were also the most thrilling – the moment where it seemed like we were going to lose our location the day of shooting, or when we were rushing to beat the clock to make use of the available light but we misplaced a lens adaptor. Did I say thrilling? I mean horrifying. 

AC: Who are some filmmakers who inspire you?

ER: I'm inspired by anyone who can get it together and make it happen. Filmmaking is so much hard work and relies on so many people pushing it through at each step that by the end it feels like you've accomplished some sort of miracle. But if you want me to name names, I'm looking forward to seeing what else Nicolas Winding Refn comes up with. And I'll always see an Almodóvar or P.T. Anderson movie in the theatre. 

AC: What are you working on right now? 

ER: I circled around a few ideas before landing back in the world of teenage sexuality and pubertal angst. My next film focuses on a late bloomer at a pool party, and it's about that period in your life when you desperately want to be more mature than you are. I think at this stage of the game, I'm focused on making the kinds of films that I would have wanted to see when I was young and falling in love with cinema at the age of 13. I'm really affected by the suicides of young gay teens like Billy Lucas and Tyler Clementi. I feel like I'm partly making these short films where the gay hero "wins" in the end in an effort to create some aspirational characters for them and for the kid I was. 

AC: Without giving away what the title is a reference to, have any strangers come up to you since the movie's been out and asked, "How many teeth?"

ER: Not yet, but again, I'm open to it.


"33 Teeth" screens Jan. 20 and Jan. 23 at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

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