Somehow, I got talked into doing a film in 48 hours. The conversation went like this:
Jennifer: Have you heard of the 48 Hour Film Project?
Ok, so there wasn’t much convincing involved. I’ve been looking for an excuse to make a film, and the insane constraints of the 48 Hour Film Project seemed like just the ticket. No time to second guess, freak out, second guess again (is that third guessing?) and end up with no film at all. I’d have a time limit and a few restrictions to work through.
For those who know me well, my waning energy for film is obvious. It’s been difficult for me to put my finger on it, but getting the motivation and energy to go through with filming has become more and more difficult over the years. At first I attributed it to a temporary desire to write mote prose, but as things went on it’s become clear that I was moving away from film, not toward anything else.
So I went for it.
And it was good.
This was my first project with Dave Lucci as a co-pilot. I don’t think anyone’s been riding me harder than him to get back into film, so when the 48 Hour project came up he seemed the natural choice to drag into deadline hell with me.
That, also, was good.
For those who’ve never heard of it, here’s how the 48 works: On Friday night you pull a genre. It can be anything from the oh-so-generic “Drama” to the what-the-hell-are-you-kidding-me specificity of “Western.” And when I say pull I mean, literally, you pull a genre from a hat. Then everyone shooting in your city gets the same three elements. A character, a line of dialogue and a prop, which everyone has to use in their film. If you pull a genre you hate, you can go for a second drawing of one of the wild card genres.
We showed up fearing only one genre choice: Musical or Western. That’s on one card, so they’re aware that neither of them are possible to pull off in 48 hours unless you already have a composer or dress up like the Man with No Name in your off time. Of all the genres, this was the only one we decided we’d drop for a wild card.
We pulled Musical or Western.
At that point we had to wait while the elements were given out, then after everyone was done we would be given our wild card. The wild card genres were far, far sketchier. Things like silent film and family film and historical drama/period piece. Half of the wild cards possible were crap, and after failing the 15:1 chance of success, we’d be getting the equivalent of a coin flip. But first, the elements:
- Character: Alan Beaumont, a Phony
- Line of Dialogue: “That’s never happened before.”
- The Prop: “A present” (that did not have to be wrapped)
All pretty easy to work into any script, so no problems there. By now half of the teams were leaving, secure in their genre choice while the suckers like me stood around hoping for something they could shoot. As I waited for a wild card pull, I asked some of the others what they had.
“Drama,” one filmmaker said.
Another said, “Comedy.”
Are you kidding me? I pulled frakking musical or western and these guys are trading in gimmie genres like drama and comedy? What were you hoping for, exactly?
They lined us up by which screening group were in, pulled out five envelops and got to work. If you were first in any of the lines, you got envelope 1. That was me. I saw an “s” on the slip of paper and feared for a second that we had pulled silent film.
I was wrong. We got surprise ending. Now that I can do.
After everything is pulled, you’re on your own until the turn-in deadline of Sunday at 7:30. We headed out the door, hoping we’d have an idea by the time we got home so we could get writing immediately. We brainstormed through a few ideas before I got into my head a couple people at a dinner table and someone saying something that stops everything dead, and Dave took that and came up with the surprise.
And once you get the idea, it becomes like every other writing and filming process you’d go through, only with less resting in between steps. You outline the idea, then you’re immediately writing dialogue, then you’re immediately sending it out and planning shots in your head. I’ve been trying to decide if the 48 was more like a sprint or a marathon and I’ve decided it’s the worst of both. 48 hours is long enough to really wear you down, but you have no extra time on any individual step, so everything you do feels like a mini-sprint.
Saturday was shooting day at Dave’s apartment, the most echo prone location I’ve ever filmed in. Concrete walls plus wood floors equals microphone hell. The boom mic was next to useless. Luckily, I purchased 2 wireless lapel microphones last year. I hadn’t used them yet, but now seemed to be the time. The problem filming with untested sound equipment, though, is that you spend the entire shoot hoping you didn’t just bomb the film by screwing something up or using your equipment wrong. I recorded the whole thing with the boom just in case; if nothing else, I’d have a film.
Shooting was, hands down, the best experience I’ve had filming in years. It was a giant remind of everything that I’d loved about the process and somehow lost. The energy was great, I had an amazing cast and crew, and things came together in ways I hadn’t expected.
It was a joy to shoot. The only downside is you start worrying that if you screwed it up, it’s going to be hard to look everyone from the set in the face and tell them that all their hard work was for naught. On a crappy set, you come away not caring anymore. On a good set, you don’t want to disappoint anyone.
So Sunday was editing day, and there is little I can say about that but this: this was one of the easiest times editing I’ve ever had. The footage was great, I ended up with a bunch of little unscripted moments that fleshed out the feel of the scene and the sound from the lapel mics was better than I had hoped. It was, at least from a purely film technique point of view, the best film I had ever shot. Other than that, just imagine one long tea-fueled run through Final Cut Pro, ending in a lot of swearing and freaking out at the inevitable last minute video-output problems.
But, we did it. The film got turned in and will screen at 7:00 PM at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty. And, for the first time in a long time – maybe ever – I am totally satisfied with one of my films. It may not be for everyone. Hell, I can’t promise the audience will like it at all.
Me? I couldn’t be happier.