Shortsfest 2018: Alfred Molina dead and loving it in ‘Sam Did It’

Shortsfest 2018: Alfred Molina dead and loving it in ‘Sam Did It’

Alfred Molina is dead and his biggest fan in the morgue is delighted and devastated to meet him in “Sam Did It.”

This mad-cap 10-minute short film — written and directed by and starring Dominic Burgess alongside Molina as himself — is one of seven short films in the opening-night program for Aspen Shortsfest today. The festival runs through Sunday with screenings at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen and at the Crystal Theatre in Carbondale.

“Sam Did It” opens with mortician Sam dancing and listening to music on his earbuds, ready to work on a body under a sheet. He’s shocked to find the man on his slab is his hero, Molina.

“You are my No. 1 celebrity!” Sam yells at the corpse.

Things get a little creepy, and absurdly funny, from there as Sam recounts his love for Molina as Doc Ock in “Spider-Man 2” and in iconic films like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” before some selfies and some surprising plot twists.

The film marks Burgess’ directorial debut. The British actor recently co-starred with Molina on the television series “Feud.” On the set, the countrymen discussed their mutual desire to write and direct, so Burgess followed up, “very sheepishly” as he recalled, with a Facebook message to Molina asking if he’d be willing to play dead in “Sam Did It.”

“He was excited and completely game to not speak on a table for a lot of the film,” Burgess, who will be on hand for a Q&A at the Carbondale screening of his film, said in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles.

Burgess was inspired to make “Sam Did It” following the wave of prominent celebrity deaths in 2017 — from Prince and David Bowie to Alan Rickman and Carrie Fisher — and the outpouring of grief and love that followed from fans.

“I think it’s fascinating the way that people can affect other people’s lives like that,” he said.

His short film goes over the top to explore fandom and the power of celebrity.

“I always think it’s good to find comedy in tragedy and tragedy in comedy,” Burgess said. “It’s a tightrope you walk in the writing, asking, ‘Are we going too far?'”

Burgess, 35, has been plugging away on writing and directing projects in recent years for film and television. But he hasn’t gotten a project off the ground. “Sam Did It” was born, in part, out of his desire to complete something to use as a calling card for behind-the-camera work. He filmed it in a one-day, 12-hour shoot in Los Angeles last April at a morgue that has an in-house film set. Burgess currently has a World War II film in development.

“I reached a point where I wanted to make something tangible, take it from beginning to end and have a product that I could show people,” he said.

And though Burgess has landed parts on popular shows like “The Flash,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “The Leftovers,” he said he hasn’t witnessed many personal run-ins with extreme or obsessive fans in Hollywood. He warns, however: “Personally if I was to meet Gillian Anderson or Cate Blanchett, I would have a hard time stopping myself from freaking out.”

atravers@aspentimes.com