I feel a little foolish that I complained about sleep deprivation in my last post. What a joke. That wasn’t sleep deprivation, this is sleep deprivation – while competing in the 48 Hour Film Contest this weekend, I stayed awake for 42 hours straight, not counting 30 minutes that I laid my head down on my desk. Drive until the wheels fall off, right?
For the contest, which takes place in cities all around the country, participating teams congregate on Friday night and are given a genre, a character, a line of dialog, and a prop. They then have 48 hours to produce a film from scratch which contains all of those elements. My team from church decided to take-up the challenge.
So, on Friday, Jim Shields and I went down to the studio downtown where teams would be given their elements. On the way to the studio we were discussing which genres we wanted and didn’t want. I was very afraid of comedy. Being funny is easy, but writing good comedy is very hard. I was also afraid of the musical genre, but our church is overrun with first-class, professional musicians and some of them were dying for us to draw the musical genre. After-all, for a 4-7 minute film (the limits of the contest), you are really only talking about one song with some setup. The only other one we were concerned about was holiday film. There is nothing hard about it, but a holiday film? Kill me. Yeah, that’s right, I work at a church and I just said kill me to making a holiday film.
Anyway, I remember saying to Jim, “I hope we get horror.” It’s not my favorite genre by far, but it’s just so easy to work with. This was our first contest, after all. I just felt like we could do the most with that genre, given our resources, which includes church property containing substantial wooded areas. To me, woods (at night) = scary. Well, against all probability, Jim drew horror as our genre! I was so excited, I think I made some sort of exclamation during the ceremony. Our other elements were as follows:
Genre – horror
Character – Zach or Zinnia Needham, take-out/delivery driver
Prop – a child’s block
Line of dialog – “That was a good one.”
I had a story immediately. I was coming out of my skin, because we weren’t allowed to call anybody, nor were we able to discuss any ideas until exactly 7pm. All I could tell Jim was, “I have the story. I have the story.” As soon as they released us, we jumped into Jim’s car, I told him my story and then I called the rest of our team, who were waiting for us back at the church offices. Then we rushed back to meet them.
Our team was a mix of church staff and volunteers. The staffers were the usual suspects: Tony Colvin (executive producer, craft services, and boom operator), Alex Jacobsen (gaffer, actor), Jim Shields (producer, director of photography, editor), Lane Fasetta (actress), and myself (writer, director, and actor). Joining us were Jenn Kovacs (camera operator and editor) and Amy Young (hair/make-up artist and actress).
Jim and Jenn get a killer time-lapse shot of a cloud formation on Friday
When we got to the office, we saw that Tony and Karen Colvin had setup an awesome craft services table to keep us fueled for the weekend. So, we grabbed some food and started brainstorming. I outlined my story to the group and everyone agreed that we should use it. One of the nice things about the story was that it utilized our resources almost perfectly. Most of the shooting could be done on our campus to save time and it took advantage of the actors that we had on hand.
Craft Services table at HQ: kettle chips, candy bars, and Red Bull (the really good stuff was in the kitchen)
After a couple of hours of fleshing-out ideas and strategizing for the long shoot on Saturday, some of the team went home to rest, Lane and Jen went shopping for fake blood supplies, Alex and Jim went to the event center to start work on the score, and I began punching-out a script. I was finished by 1 am, which now seems like such a luxurious time of night – plenty of time left to sleep, really not much later than I usually go to bed. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to sleep, so I just continued polishing the script and even managed to do some storyboard sketches.
Everyone arrived at the church offices on Saturday morning looking pretty haggard. Jim brought coffee and pastries for everyone, so we spent some time getting caffeinated, before heading out for our first shots, which would be out on Hwy 71 (which also happens to be the title of the movie). The shooting went well, but in our search for the perfect stretch of road, we almost ended-up all the way out to Marble Falls. So, we spent hours of our time shooting what would amount to being a few seconds of establishment footage. I was getting nervous.
A storyboard sketch and the finished shot.
We regrouped at our offices, picked-up Amy Young, our other actress, and drove to Tony and Karen Colvin’s house for interior shooting. Our office, which is an old stone house built in the 60’s was perfect for our characters’ country house. Unfortunately, it is completely filled with desks and cubicles and no longer looks like a lived-in house on the inside. It would have taken much more work to try to dress the house, so we had to do more remote location shooting. The driving was really taking a toll on our time. Next year, we might work harder to keep the shooting down to one location.
By the time we got to the Colvin home, we were starving. Luckily, the first scene was a dinner scene, so we got to eat, though it was only after an hour of setup and shooting, so the food was stone cold as we ate it. It was during this shoot that I started to unravel a little bit from the lack of sleep. Once the dinner scene was over, I wasn’t directly involved in any of the other shooting. Since these were interior shots, there was a lot of light setup, which just seemed to take forever. Then a thunderstorm rolled-through, which made me nervous because we weren’t filming in order and I was worried about continuity.
Setting up for an uncomfortable dinner.
The dinner scene.
Anyway, I was so tired that when shooting resumed, I felt myself allowing mediocre takes to slide by as good enough. I just didn’t have the energy to help the actors give me what I wanted. I feel awful that I just let them hang out there without proper direction. Next year, I need to ban myself from acting. It was just too much overhead.
Amy Young in another scene shot at the Colvin home.
After we finished at the Colvin’s, we drove out Parmer Ln. to look for a good “break-down” spot for our characters. On the way out there, I could feel myself falling asleep at the wheel, which is very dangerous. Next year, we need drivers. The break-down scene went well, although I was still in the mode of not having the energy to push for stronger takes. I was mostly walking in circles, trying to stay awake.
Amy Young as Zinnia Needham, coming to the rescue of…
Lane Fassetta and Alex Jacobsen, playing a hip, young couple in love.
Then we drove back to the office for the final push into the evening and night scenes. We took a little break to gather ourselves back together. Once evening came, I got some energy back. The last scenes would be my character’s introduction and the physically demanding final scene, both of which took place in the barn that we have on the church campus. The shots took a long time to setup, but they went well and except for an impressive, mood-setting shot of a cloud formation during sundown that Jim shot on Friday night, I think the barn shots are the best in the film.
A storyboard sketch and finished introductory shot of my character, Zach Needham.
Saturday was a killer 18-hour day of shooting, but the team held together and got the job done. I think it would have been really easy for us to get on each others’ nerves, but that never seemed to happen. There were some mood swings, but overall, everybody held it together and remained professional throughout the shoot. Even at our most exhausted, we were laughing and having fun up until the very end. It was mad fun.
At the very end, as most of us were leaving, Jim and Jenn were just sitting down to begin editing a basic cut of the film, which they accomplished by 3:30 am.
I finally slept on Sunday morning, so when I got up to be at a church event at noon, I was excited and awake. I felt great and I was telling anyone who would listen about the contest and how much fun we had filming. After the event ended around 1:30 pm or so, I helped record Alex and Ted Herring perform the original score for the film. Meanwhile, Jim and Jenn were recording ADR with Amy to loop some dialog that didn’t get properly recorded. They also recorded a scream that we didn’t want to do live at 1 am the night before, since the barn is only a few feet from some neighbors.
Anyway, we got the music to Jim by 3 pm and he began to mix it into the film. I had hoped to see a cut of the film, so that I could make suggestions for changes, but Jim said time was too short and that the cut was locked. He still had to mix the soundtrack, do some color correction, render the film and burn it to media. The film was due at Mangia Pizza on Guadalupe by 7:30 pm. So, Alex and I busied ourselves with the paperwork and release forms that were required to be turned-in with the film. When we had finished with that chore, Alex went home to get some well-deserved rest. I stayed behind to go with Jim to the drop-off party.
It was soon after that Jim walked-in to my office and said he didn’t know if we would make it. What? I told him that we had plenty of time. He explained how much there was left to do. I agreed that it would be close, but it should be fine. Also, we didn’t have to burn it to MiniDV (which is the best quality and preferred format of the contest), but we could just burn it to DVD, which wouldn’t take as long. He went back to work and I went and filled my car with gas, since it looked like we might be in a hurry to get downtown. And then the rendering process failed. That’s bad. That process was taking around 20-30 minutes a pop. Jim rebooted his computer and tried again. It would have to work this time for us to make the deadline. For awhile, I was considering going out to the parking lot and warming-up my tires and brakes, thinking it would have to be one of those kind of drives – a personal record to downtown. But even as the clock was ticking down to where even my most insane driving couldn’t get us there in time – the render failed again. It was over.
I lay down on the floor and stared at the ceiling, trying to keep it together as the bitter disappointment washed over me. I couldn’t believe it. Jim came into my office and after awhile, it occurred to him to try rendering the movie on my laptop. He brought his external drive and plugged it into my computer and started the render. It was agonizingly slow, but we just stared at the progress bar as it crawled along, showing the rendering happening frame by frame. Only 13,000 more frames to render. Sigh.
After about half an hour, the render actually completed! Jim burned the film to DVD, grabbed the paperwork, and we jumped in my car to see if we could catch the event organizers at Mangia. Jim managed to get someone on the phone and they said they would be there for another 15 minutes. So, I ended-up having to drive like a maniac after all. Traffic wasn’t as cooperative as I had hoped, but I know I blasted down the the 35th St exit at around 100 mph, so we still made good time. We caught the organizers at Mangia, but we were still an hour and 16 minutes late. Sherry Mills, the event producer said something about “at least you have closure by getting the film here” or something like that. Maybe she was right, but at the time, I just felt defeated. I hadn’t even seen the film!
After a day to reflect, I feel a little bit better. The film will be screened on Tuesday and Wednesday, so for the first time in my life, I will walk into a bona fide movie theater and watch a movie that I made. I’m sure the same thing can be said for most of those on my team. Also, hopefully, we will get some kind of critique, judgment, scoring, or feedback, even though we aren’t eligible for prizes. That would also be of substantial benefit to us and our education as we work to become better filmmakers. But no matter what, I am a very competitive person and to be a DNF just plain stings. Sigh. Builds character…I guess.
The 48 Hour Film Project really is a great event and we will be back next year. I want to thank the cast and crew this year for making it such a memorable and fun event. Jim, Alex, Tony, Jenn, Lane, and Amy – you guys are the best!
Addendum: We just got back from the first screening of our film and the films in our group. It was electric. I think we held our own against the other films, especially on a technical level, though I don’t think we had the best film. It was definitely one of the few films that didn’t take a humorous angle to its genre. In fact, it felt a little out of place. Afterwards, Jim said that next year we shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously. Maybe. But I think that sometimes, going for humor is just another way to cop-out of meeting the challenge of the genre. That being said, there was some very funny stuff in the other films tonight and it was great to laugh along with them. I was very impressed with a lot of the work that I saw.
Afterwards, the team had dinner at Chuy’s for a proper wrap party and to celebrate Amy’s birthday. It was a great night.
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