Thanks to Mary and Paul, I’m chillaxing at home, saving my energy for the weekend, and doing important stuff like buying soda and napping. I feel quite serene because we have an amazing, eager team and I keep reminding myself it’s all for fun.
I start receiving texts from the Kick-Off event at Liberty Station. One from Mark Perino is particularly enigmatic: “I have one green chair in the shade.” Later, he tells me that he knows I hate to wait in the sun, which is just a typical example of his thoughtfulness. David says, “Ate some street tacos. Pretty good.” I wish I were there, but I’m conserving my energy. I make a sandwich and put tomorrow’s snacks, some Advil, baby wipes, Band-Aids and sunscreen by the door. Since this is the first shoot in years that happens out of the sun, the kit won’t end up being that necessary, but as I learned in Girl Scouts: “Be Prepared.”
Driving to our Brainstorming location at North Park Vaudeville Theatre (huge shout-out to Jeff and Summer for letting us assemble here!) when the calls and texts start rolling in: We’ve got Film de Femme! This is sort of a made-up 48 Hour Film Project genre which is intended to feature strong women. It’s often interpreted as “Let’s put them in bathing suits and then give them guns!” but I’m psyched because we have a lot of women acting this year and I know we’ll come up with something different.
Opening the theatre, switching on lights and A/C, and I hear our elements: Character: Alice or Alex Downing, Coach. Prop: a flashlight . Line of dialogue: “Sometimes that’s all you need.” The ideas begin to surge through my brain like a very insistent drug, or maybe that’s just the heat.
A moment of reflection before the storm. I relax in front of the stage, making notes on Film de Femme in my phone. I write “Badass Moms” and “What if women’s mags had opposite messages, like eat whatever you want and sit around all day and be general bitches? “Going back to high school no longer a nerd but a badass?” We don’t end up using any of these.
My illustrious AD, Eva-Maria, has arrived. A moment while I bow down in her temple. She’s still a teenager, but she was sheer awesomeness all weekend. Completely my “I’m right on top of it, Rose!” (Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead shout-out, anyone? Anyone?) doppelganger, even remembering to hand me coffee at appropriate intervals. She’s even in film school so I could count on her for editing ideas, too. Heck, we could have made a badass “Film de Femme” just about this girl. She quickly proposes a Fight Club parody that gets everyone excited, but is ultimately abandoned. Part of the problem is I don’t remember the movie, except for Brad Pitt and some soap, so I’m not much help.
Almost everyone has arrived and the room is humming with productivity. We have some new Toads this year, including the amazing Angelina as our first-ever dedicated Craft Services babe (seriously, no one was ever hungry for a second on her watch) Kris, a GoPro colleague of David’s on second camera who can rival Mark for the Ray o’ Sunshine award, and Sam, a member of the Becky Shaw cast, who is the nicest guy around but played Daryl Hammar expertly because he’s just that good. With our fabu returnees from 2014’s also delightful shoot (including Will, Eva, Kam, Dan, Benjamin and Mark Petersen) and rounded out by the old guard (Rachel, Tracy, Kate, Mike, Marie, Benji, Mark, Julianna, Cheryl and, of course, yours truly and David) we are very much the fortunate Toads.
Brainstorming in full swing. The Fight Club idea is going strong, along with some others that I no longer recall. I do remember scheming to get all the men in loincloths, which seems to be an annual quest—see how power corrupts? I call the meeting to order by going over our policies and plans for the weekend, which puts me in my happy place. Speaking of which, the Rehm family is back onboard, and true to form, they are movers and shakers. Kam has lined up several very alluring-sounding locations and my relief is palpable since even two days ago I figured we’d be filming in our house.
We huddle in break-out groups, fleshing out ideas. I am sitting with Grace and Julianna (who have just raced over from a concert), Kate and Angelina (I think?) We toss ideas back and forth, getting progressively discouraged because we can’t exactly find the plot line. I have been referring to our previous three films as our trio of gorgeous-looking films which people watch intently and then wrinkle their brows and say “Wait…what happened at the end?” I am determined that won’t happen this time even if I have to bludgeon people over the head with my plot structure.
OMG. Something happens. I don’t remember how or why or exactly when. But we have this idea about an office, and some women, and a boss who is a douche-y art collector who is scammed in a con that ends up benefitting a foundation for women in the arts. By Jove, it could work.
All the break-out groups are sharing. There are a lot of good ideas, but everyone (grudgingly or otherwise) concedes that ours is the most fleshed-out. So we are ready to rock with writing. Kate, Kam, Julianna and I have already discussed working back at my house, and Eva is going to manage the business end (messaging about props and costumes, and whatever needs to be fetched from Wal-Mart.)
“Who has a hideous painting in their garage?” About 10 hands go up. It appears to be a little-understood societal ill. But that’s our good fortune, because we need a bunch of ‘em.
We’ve arrived at the house and there’s some guinea-pig cuddling, chocolate-eating and chia-seed debating that must be done before we settle down around the kitchen table with our various writing implements. The men are doing their impenetrable tech-talk in the garage. Someone is on my laptop so I go look up “how to critique art” on my computer in the office. I have this hankering to make jokes about “naïve art” and want them to be accurate. Those never happen.
Friday nights are always blurry. Julianna is typing away, doing a great job capturing the spirit of our intended scenes. This year I don’t want a “tight” script with precise dialogue, because I’m freakin’ wordy and then we have a hard time cutting it. This year, we’re going to storyboard a general plot arc, with some humorous elements, and then improv the hell out of it. Poor Eva is gamely attempting these storyboards, but the plan falls apart when we can’t even agree what’s happening in the first one. Still, the loose structure and improv dialogue plan remains.
I send everyone home, except Kate who had volunteered to be my writing partner, and Julianna, who is spending the night on account of not yet having a license. Too many people, and fun gets in the way of art. I nudge Kate once her dad is sort of obviously snoozing next to us, and they depart. Julianna and I plug away for another couple hours until I just hit a wall.
Don’t know what really happened in that two hours, except a general ennui about life. I announce that we’re done. Julianna is understandably shocked by this assessment, since there isn’t actually a story yet. I tell her that I swore I’d sleep longer than an hour this year, and that the whole idea was to improv and change it up, right? It doesn’t sound that convincing to me as I say it, and she’s skeptical but exhausted, so we both retreat to our sleeping corners and call it a night. David is snoring like a lumberjack but I kick him and pull the covers over my head.
I need to wake up in an hour, but I already feel anxious and alert and, for tradition’s sake, like bloody hell. I doze off again just in time for…
horrible Apple harp noise what was I thinking
Standing in the shower, brain furiously churning to match my stomach.
Whisper to Julianna that her dad is here. Carl has arrived bearing a painting that will become “the Mushka Saccarin.” I guess we never name it. Oops. It’s wonderfully hideous and will lend itself brilliantly to my crash course in art criticism.
Eva is here, and I ask David to drive her to our first location--Dan’s office in Mira Mesa--while I take another pass at the script-in-progress. This is actually a cover story, since I need to be alone for a few minutes in case I barf. I drink some coffee and stare. Then I feed the piggies. In the couple minutes of silence before I hit the road, I say to them, “Boys, I wish we could make the entire movie about you. Then we would win all the prizes. ALL THE PRIZES!!!” They stare silently in the face of this effusive gushing. Perhaps modest. Perhaps wondering where their carrot is.
Almost to Mira Mesa, brain a washing-machine of ideas. I careen into a parking space and type furiously into my phone, the first thing handy. When I look at these after the weekend, my drive-time scribbles have become intrinsic to the final script.
Angelina is smiling and setting up bagels in what I will come to call “The Green Room.” She is a national treasure, not only procuring and setting up food all weekend, but taking the initiative to clean up, bring people coffee and—be still my heart—actively pursue any craving whim I happen to mention out loud.
The talent is cheerful and amped, turning the dressing room into a fashion show, with outfits, wigs, makeup and jewelry everywhere. I am so happy to see Tracy, mistress of the perfect Incredulous Face and the whip-smart comic timing. It’s been a while and I’ve missed her. All the ladies have been informed that they’ll need both “corporate smart” and “fashion-forward formal” wear for this shoot, though none of them have any idea who they are playing. That’s because I don’t know, either. Sssshhh.
The building is hot. Start-sweating-instantly hot. For a moment, I am terrified that we’ve scored an air-conditioned building for this year’s shoot but will end up sweaty anyway, but Dan and Benjamin to the rescue. The office is beautiful and spacious and provides several perfect vantages for our scenes, but the comedy of its layout persists throughout the day. At least five times, I wander in the direction of the bathroom, only to return to the same spot five minutes later without finding it. I also have trouble remembering if we are upstairs or down, right or left. I feel sort of dangerously tired and then Eva gently presses a cup of coffee into my hand, and just the gesture starts me feeling better.
We’ve decided to shoot Daryl’s office scenes first, and have chosen a swank corner office on the second floor for this purpose. I tell Dan that my vision includes a completely bare desk, and he looks panicked since it’s currently covered in…well, desk stuff. Someone has the great idea to photograph it so we can return it to its original splendor. As I walk down the hall, my eye is caught by an office where the currently-absent occupant has decorated with a football helmet, a giant trophy with golf balls stuck to it, and a Coors Light sign. I announce that I want these things for Daryl’s office because “it will make him look more douchey.” I suddenly realize that there are actual employees in the office and I should keep my voice down. Which is why it’s extra-hilarious later in the day when Dan tells us, “Wow, the guy whose stuff that is…is actually kinda like Daryl.” I am truly amazing.
As is typical, there are about 4 million things to set up before shooting a single frame. While this is going on, I realize that we should block the scene in which Daryl displays his “Mushka Saccarin” to his secretary. I don’t really want to make a thing of the fact that I have no idea who is playing the secretary, nor what either of them might, oh, SAY, during such an exchange. I end up “auditioning” all the ladies present, since they’ve all been obliging enough to change into corporate wear, and it helps me figure out the blocking. They’re all awesome but Tracy has this face she makes, like she’s just smelled something not exactly terrible, but like she might shortly DECIDE it’s terrible, that I find irresistible.
What happens during the shooting of this scene is new-ish to me for a few reasons. For one thing, I’m looking through the camera, (don’t laugh—as a director, I realize I should do that more often, but the theater is burned in my brain) which enables me to see the many angles we are getting that I don’t want. For another, I’m sketching out a scene without specific dialogue, which reveals that both Sam and Tracy are crack shots at improv, and that it’s really funny when he calls her by about five different names in one scene. The name-confusion thing is one of many- spendored things that emerge out of thin air during filming, and one of the many reasons I love this competition. I feel like I’m better at recognizing gold than I am at creating it. I’m not an alchemist—I’m a prospector, and a damn good one.
Two office scenes in the can and I’ve been notified that our lunch wagon has arrived. This is actually the Rupperts plus Jarrah, who have so kindly brought us a sandwich bar, chips and cookies, taking time out of their weekend just because they’re that awesome. It’s really lovely to see them, and we are all refreshed.
All the ladies in the cubicle for some bonding before the scene I’ve dubbed “Daryl Hammer’s Douche Walk.” Somehow my comment that they might be discussing the tragic departure of Zayn Malik from One Direction has come to fore and there are even some broody portraits displayed on the cubicle walls. Cheryl, Rachel, Tracy and Kate start improv-ing and eventually we hit on what I believe to be the core issue: “The Viability of Man Buns.” Sam has become our graphics guy, and in addition to creating a flyer for National Foundation for Women in the Arts (NiFWA, yo!) and an invitation to a “Chrissaby’s” auction for an “Odin Ziggurat” (I get that from a name generator in which I’ve entered “Norse”) he’s making a sketch of Tracy so that we can start the movie with aspiring art student Rachel sketching. The sketch bears a vague resemblance to Weird Al Yankovic, but it’ll do, and hey, not everyone can draw Weird Al.
Sam as Daryl Hammar creates havoc in the cubicle by storming in and disrupting their peace with his boorish comments. It’s really funny when Sam flings the art foundation brochure and it perfectly bounces off Rachel’s nose while we’re filming. I’m a little startled when he comes up with “flower vaginas,” but I take a moment and realize it makes sense. He also unwittingly hits on our catch phrase when he exits with “Flip it up and flip it down, ladies.” I have no idea what this means, or if it’s something the youth of today are saying in the streets, but it works and becomes a sort of motif.
Filming Sam strutting down the hallway, looking into cubicles, a bit that I’ve dubbed “the douche walk.” He’s surprisingly good at it. I guess he must be an actor.
I announce that the entire team is moving to the break room, where we will be filming an emotional encounter between the ladies. I refrain from mentioning that this “emotional encounter” was never written, lo, never even discussed, so I’m going to have to wing it. Luckily, my mad winging-it skillz improve tremendously after two hours of sleep. Also, all four of the ladies really bring it acting-wise in this segment. As the camera boys set up angles, Rachel, Tracy, Kate and Cheryl enter one by one to pour themselves a cup of coffee (in the spirit of the weekend, there is probably week-old sludge in the cups they’ve found in the cupboards.)
I have been agitating for a song and dance number this year, and this seems as good a time as any. We have a small box of vanilla-frosted donuts procured by the wondrous Angelina (I later taste one and pronounce it “an insulin coma with a hole in it.”) Now, the Cane Toads have a long and illustrious history with donuts, and I realize I’m looking at four singers (I have, in fact, sung in musicals with all but one of them) so, like diving off a cliff, I suddenly belt “WHAT TIME IS IT?” “DONUT TIME!” “EVERYBODY LOVES…” “DONUT TIME!” and they try it, and it sticks like glaze. Sam/Daryl enters and steals all the donuts, and blam! We have our perfect segue to what I call “the beating heart of the film.” Everyone seems a little uncertain, but that’s the beauty of being director—you can just talk a little louder and say “Do it! We don’t have time for discussion!”
Two quick pick-ups to provide transitions to other scenes. Kam and I have had much discussion of which grand home we should film in next—it’s an embarrassment of riches this year with her locations. While we’re thinking about it, we film Tracy/Casey leaving Daryl’s office (a scene that actually took place hours ago, on another floor, but that’s the magic of filmmaking) and Rachel/Beth teasing her about what she has to put up with from Daryl, including the name problem—as Tracy walks away, Rachel calls out “Spacey!” This never makes it into the film, but we have one of those “only during the 48” arguments about what situations are appropriate for a finger-heart, before we’re quite through.
One shot of all the ladies passing each other in the hallway (actually the lobby now) doing the “flip it up and flip it down” signal to indicate the successful implementation of the con. There’s always a moment around six p.m. when I space out and all the boys behind the cameras, lights and sound equipment make a decision to shoot a scene about 20 times when I’m fairly certain we can use the first one. This time, they want the sound of all the footsteps passing, even though I keep repeating, weakly, faintly, from my slumped position on the lobby couch, “We don’t need audio…this scene will have music over it…” No one is listening at the moment, and it’s a good reminder of how this job requires constant alertness. One minute of inattention and the entire direction can change.
Can we make it to Rancho Santa Fe in time for the sunset? This is asked more often than “Where are the Red Vines?” when we’re making a 48 Hour film. Luckily, this year I only want the sunset for mood, not a plot point. After some posting from Kam and Benjamin, we are packing up and shipping out. There are so many costumes this year that it takes a while to get everyone’s stuff together. But eventually, we are caravanning to the Hammar home, excited to have a few scenes in the can and a fresh start, even if it’s already alarmingly late…
Driving with Eva, who has been an amazing support system already, so articulate and thoughtful. Between her and Kam last year, I have been blessed with hyper-talented ADs, and it helps me more than they could know. We chat with Angelina, who is in the process of procuring Five Guys for the entire team of 20 members, just because I happened to mention I felt like burgers instead of pizza. It’s like a dream sequence, only it’s real.
Arriving at the Hammar home, we can see it’s lovely, and that we have probably missed our sunset shot. Ah well, I perk up when I see the gorgeous interior and the even-more-gorgeous tropical pool setting. After checking with our amazing technical crew—Kris, David, Mark, Mike, Benjamin and Will—I get the go-ahead for the ability to light it up. I then proclaim that our evening shoot will be entirely outside. I love when I’m decisive—such a rare occasion in real life.
The gals repair to a thoughtfully-provided green room to primp. I’m getting excited about all the wigs Rachel’s brought, and decide that most of the ladies will be in disguise during these scenes, not just with makeup, gowns and heels, but also hair not found in nature. The men have to clean up, too, but they are in line for food quicker than their feminine counterparts. I eat my burger at a table near the pool in the thickening twilight, my brain divided between a furious rolling boil of plans and a viscous soup of exhaustion, heat, and over-stimulation. For a few minutes, I just shut down, and for once in my life, eat a meal in almost complete silence while everyone cheerfully chats around me.
Okay, it’s not early by any stretch of the imagination, but the scene is looking very promising. The women look gorgeous and the men handsome, and they mill realistically around the stunningly lit palms and crystalline pool, in front of which there are ugly paintings displayed on stands. It really does look like a private art auction cocktail party! Not that I have even limited exposure to such a thing, but that’s my belief and I’m sticking to it! Will plays a cater-waiter with cheese and champagne grapes on a tray (David has cleverly nestled a GoPro in there, too, which makes for some hilarious perspective footage) and the ad-libbed party chatter is perfect. Kris begins to snake through the crowd with the hand-held, getting some atmospheric “B roll.” I am enamored of this expression and want to use it to refer to everything from now on, but the boys gently correct me at times—“Not everything is B roll, Sam. Sometimes we’re actually shooting the scenes.”
I had been quite nervous that the Hammars were going to boot us out when they realized how disruptive 20 people, two thousand pounds of equipment and a Five Guys dinner were going to be at their restful home, but they are amazingly cheerful and welcoming the entire evening. They continue to be just as cheerful and welcoming after their elderly dog leaves a trail of gifts around our set and David obliviously tracks a bunch of it across their white carpet. For the rest of the night, I start to inhale the refreshing night air and get an unpleasant surprise. “I never imagined Rancho Santa Fe would smell like this,” I whisper to Kam.
The women are cracking me up: the way Rachel cries “Odin Ziggurat is dead!” is comic gold. Also the way Julianna says “And I should know: I’m an art coach!” and the way Tracy says “I just want to slather myself in butter” and how Eva responds to Sam’s comment about “chiaroscuro” with a high, lilting, “Oh, silly, I don’t speak Spanish!” Everyone is having so much fun with their characters and the mood is infectious—I can’t remember a night shoot as smooth and happy as this one. We shoot a hilarious montage, where one after another our party guests contemplate the Odin Ziggurat and offer an “educated” opinion on its meaning. This is the stuff I live for. With the magic of editing, it ends up one of the funniest bits in the completed film.
A final burst of energy and inspiration hits me, and I start blocking the final auction scene like mad. I suddenly know exactly who should speak and what they should say. I make an impassioned speech to the troops, telling them I know we’re flagging, but that we must not show it in the completed film. We need to rally and give it all we’ve got so the auction scene looks genuinely suspenseful and not lame. Everyone seems to support this thesis. I can feel it in their silent vibes.
Can I just talk Sam Young for a moment? I have just spent three plus months staring at him being all sensitive and in touch with his feminine side and doing that VERY convincingly, and suddenly he’s playing this swaggity rich douche and KILLING IT. David tells me that Sam’s performance is the talk of the GoPro office, and I’m not surprised. He’s hilarious, and not just in finding the character—in his adlibs, too. I want to take credit for his lines, but a lot of them are a surprise to me!
The family remains casual and unconcerned about our presence, watching TV and chatting in the kitchen, but the wonderful ambient crickets mask their conversations. I keep noticing a person passed out asleep in a little corner of the family room couch, and as the hour grows later, I wonder why he doesn’t repair to a quieter room. After all, it’s his house. Only later do I realize this person is actually Steven, Mark’s teenage son, one of our crew members/actors. D’oh!
The mood is still ebullient, but we’re getting tired. The feet of all the fancy girls are really starting to kill in their stilettos. A bunch of the final scenes are shot from the knees up so they can be barefoot. I’m tired, but feeling really good about how these scenes look and sound. Kam is sitting with me, expertly taking notes on the best takes. She has no idea how much this helped the next day, when Benji and I were under the gun.
I believe we have what we need, but I make a stern boss-lady speech about how no one moves a muscle until Kris, David, Mark and Mike review the footage and sound. This is caution built on experience—one year we lost every bit of audio from a car chase and the resulting “fix” was totally lame. Also, I have a tingly spider-sense that we’re going to be able to avoid reshoots and “day time B-roll” (ha!) this year, and I don’t want that challenged. Everyone chillaxes in the living room, checking their phones for the first time all day, until we get the thumbs up. Martini time!
And by that, I don’t mean butlers appear with actual drinks for the weary masses. I mean Kris sets us up for a Cane Toad “last shot of the night” group photo, something I often mean to do and forget. The illustrious Angelina has efficiently packed up the mess hall and departed earlier, so she’s the only one who is absent from the this historic moment.
We clean up. I am determined that the Hammars, who are probably up in their beds at this moment rueing the day they let some rowdy filmmakers invade their domestic space, will not find us to be rude and thoughtless guests. We scour the house for trash and stray items, but we’re not entirely successful: a few phones and wallets and keys go missing. One unfortunately result is that poor Angelina ends up sleeping in her car. She assures me she slept like a baby. Who wouldn’t after a day like this?
Eva has departed with Cheryl, so I’m without my co-pilot for the first time in a while. It’s a lonely feeling. I drive away from the house and am suddenly…plunged into total blackness? The headlights cannot penetrate the murky depths of this neighborhood. It’s like we’re off the grid. I drive about 10 miles an hour so I don’t hit a bear.
Make it to the freeway, and need some rowdy ‘80s New Wave to keep me awake. I try to sing but my voice comes out like a croak. I guess I’ve been talking a lot? Imagine that.
Finally home. I feel like I’m floating in a dream space. The first order of business is our neglected piggies. They stare at me balefully as I fake some cheery banter about how they must be looking forward to dinner. “Yeah, we were, about eight hours ago, yo.”
For the first time in years, I am not wearing my fashion-forward “48 Hour Dirt Socks” (thank you, Kam, Dan, and the Hammars!) nor do I have the intellectual capacity for US Weekly, so I set the alarm and pass out. Eva will be here at 7:30, and something tells me she’ll be prompt.
Must. Change. Ringtone. Worst sound ever. Stumble to shower. Water feels like foreign, unrecognizable substance slashing at my skin.
Ah, the smell of freshly brewed “Donut Shop” with Hazelnut creamer. I feel way too sick to contemplate any food.
Feed piggies. Forgive me, piggies. I will pay attention to you during the week.
The beautiful, daisy-fresh Eva-Maria alights on my doorstep. I offer her coffee. She is thrilled. Before long, we’re talking a mile a minute, and I am ready to face the day.
Off to GoPro! No word from anyone. I tell Eva this is pretty par for the course. They work all night and pass out around 6:00, usually stirring when we show up with donuts. This time, the Amazing Angelina has already been in touch to confirm she will be bringing the donuts. Seriously, is she some kind of 48 Hour Fairy Godmother? On the drive, Eva and I listen to some sound files we’ve received from Marie. I love every single thing I hear. Truly, Marie is a visionary. Once again, she’s composed (and sung!) a variety of tunes just based on my vague “something for the douche strut” and “Kiki the Khaleesi meets the office girls segment.” She ends up scoring the entire film having never seen a rough cut, just the two short scenes I finally have the presence of mind to send her. The thing that really wakes us up is a little ditty with a ‘70s beat and a husky vocal refrain I can’t quite make out at first. “OMG.” I marvel. “Is she actually saying ‘Boobs to the wall???’” Yes, methinks she is. TOO MUCH LOVE.
We arrive. Angelina is there but the place is otherwise silent. She warns me that David has been up all night. This does not sound good, or advisable in any way. She bought me a Bear Claw because I was craving one yesterday. THERE ARE NO WORDS.
I say good morning to my hard-working husband. He looks pretty wrecked. He also tells me that they’ve been plagued by software crashes and not much has happened yet. Eesh. Not a happy thing to hear.
I dash around the corner to greet…BENJI! It’s so good to see our editing ninja, who has recently arrived, having been at a bachelor party the previous evening. Lucky for us, he doesn’t drink, so although he’s tired, his brain remains unpickled. I explain that there’s not really a script this year, so I’m going to make a list of all the scenes, in order, to help him assemble a rough cut. I have the invaluable assistance of Kam’s notes.
People are starting to arrive, and everyone is in a good mood after the fun of yesterday’s shoot. No one is that worried about the crashes…yet. Mike is here, and ack, I can’t remember what order people show up. Before the day is over, we have Mark, Lindsay, Eva, Angelina, Mike, Benji, Cheryl, Rachel, Kam, Benjamin, Mark Petersen (hi Mark! Thanks so much!) and forgive me if I’ve left you out. One of the things that brings me such naches about the Cane Toads is the support they offer to one another throughout the weekend. Many of these dear hearts call ahead to see if they can bring coffee and food, which is so amazing.
I’m happily working with Benji, switching out with Eva, so we can get the scenes in while making sure that other tasks are being seen to. Truthfully, I don’t have as much to worry about this year, because Eva took copious notes about what needs to be handled on Sunday and she stays on top of the list. For instance, I never even see the on-line form, because she and others figure it out and even come up with the title, based on the great song Marie composes for our credit sequence. She and Benjamin, with the assistance of Angelina and a painter friend of hers, design the concept for the credits, and do all the fact-checking with Mark Perino’s help.
Things are humming along. I’m feeling good about what we’ve edited so far, and I’m once again dazzled by Benji’s combination of surgical skill and sweet, calm demeanor, which makes him an absolute dream to work with. We’re working chronologically, and the office scenes are looking very funny.
Taking a little break. We have more music from Marie to review, and many more people have arrived and are looking for ways to help. Eva is scurrying around keeping everyone in touch and on task. I tell David we need a big room next year with all the computers in it, so there isn’t so much sprinting between offices.
Kris stops by with one of his daughters, and tells us that he’ll be back “late tonight” to help. “What time is the film due on Monday?” he asks the bewildered team members leaning on the kitchen table. “Um,” I say gently. “It’s due tonight. At 7:30.” “7:30…” he looks crushed. “Of course. What part of ’48 Hours’ did I not understand?”
“Men and math…” Benjamin lobs back expertly, paraphrasing Daryl Hammar, “am I right?” My favorite laugh of the day!
Angelina gets pizza from across the street, and Cheryl brings Subway for the editors and Rachel brings me a much-needed jumbo iced latte that I suck down in about five minutes. I have an interesting few minutes bonding with Angelina about how we’re both reverends, her for real and me on the internet. We discuss having a wedding business together, with a website. How fun would that be?
The details of the day are hazier than usual. I think it’s because I had much less sleep than I normally do on the Saturday night. After being up virtually all Friday night and then working a 20-hour day on Saturday (22 hours this year!) I generally indulge in about 5-6 hours sleep Saturday night while the boys are editing. But this year, I had 3, and I’m feeling it. I’m also getting worried, because the system keeps freezing and crashing, and David is spending a lot of his secondary editing time trying to reboot for us, and we’re spending a lot of time….well, spending time. Chatting and catching up, waiting interminable tens of minutes for the system to reboot.
I vaguely remember this being a problem about seven or eight years ago, but we really haven’t been plagued with editing or rendering problems in a long time. And now I’m getting worried. Because it would be one thing if the rough cut was the movie, but the past three years, the rough cut has been a 14-minute totally unusable assemblage of scenes that require pain and sweating to hack into the required 7-minute form. How are we going to find time for that if we can’t even do the first step?
I’m getting really flabbergasted and upset. And there are four big scenes yet to be edited. David takes two off our plate—the montage and the “meeting Kiki” scene. Thank goodness. But we still have the “con reveal” (that one I’m not worried about) and—the toughest scene in the whole movie—the auction. The problem with the auction is it’s been filmed a million times, from about 18 different angles, and it’s the rare scene when a very large group (about 10 people) are all talking at once, and we have to find the takes where a particular person is actually SEEN while they’re speaking. I mean, how lame would it be if we didn’t??? But the system is crashing and crashing and my head is about to explode.
I ban everyone from the room. People keep rushing in (dude, of course they do, it’s the 48!) with questions about titles, credits, music, etc.) and I’m yelling for them to get out. Benji is in Buddha-focus mode, trembling ever so slightly, a light sheen of sweat beading his forehead. I picture the auction scene like one of those animal hedges in front of “It’s a Small World,” and Benji is poised with a clipper, shearing and shaping with a satisfying metallic swishing sound while leaves and branches spray out behind him. It’s exciting to watch and contemplate, except now I’m genuinely scared. The music isn’t in. I don’t think there’s been any sound correction. Not sure where the credits and titles are. And we need to walk out the door in one hour.
I stumble out of Benji’s cubicle and encounter Rachel in the hallway. She asks how I’m doing. I open my mouth to say “Not good” and instead I start sobbing and shaking. I know some of you might wonder how on earth I can get so emotionally involved in a 7-minute film every year, but I think the issue is really about the creation of a microcosm. When your every waking thought (and they’re ALL waking thoughts) for three days is focused on a single thing, and all you do during that time is related to that thing, the thing takes on a peculiarly towering importance. In a perverse way, it’s kind of relaxing, because all the actual stuff of life falls away like so many cookie crumbs from your lap when you stand up. But it also means that the highs and lows that would seem to be neither to the general populace feel HELLA extreme. I crumple into Rachel’s shoulder and she says, in her inimitable Mama Bear voice, “Oh honey. It’s going to be okay.” I’m pretty sure a gang of other people came over to pile on the comfort at this point. I cry for a while, and try to stop shaking, as I attempt to explain thus: “We have to walk out the door in 30 minutes. We’re not done editing. And we don’t even have a rough cut.”
Like some sort of clarion call from the heavens, the news is trumpeted from Benji’s office that we are ready to time the rough cut. And when we do, a miracle occurs that is on a scale with the oil lasting for eight days: The rough cut (and hell, all we’re going to have is a rough cut at this point) is 7:36. Only 36 measly seconds over the limit. With the blood pounding so noisily in my ears I can barely hear myself, I shout, “Well, that won’t stop us. Quick: cut that. Cut that. And cut them walking away. Done.” Benji and I are smiling at each other in wonderment while the assorted Cane Toads gather round to whoop and cheer.
David comes sailing around the corner, shouting that something is wrong with the sound. It’s like playing operator. We’re getting multiple news bulletins passed along the chain but it comes down to this: something bad is going to happen when we render and it has to do with synching the camera microphones. Right now I don’t really care, since I’ve just gotten the news that for the first time in Cane Toad history, we have no need of what Tyler once dubbed “Death by a Thousand Cuts” since, O Holy of Film Holys, the Rough Cut IS the edited version. Now I’m just wondering how we’re going to get all the music in there in ten minutes.
We’re not. David assures us he completed the color correction and we are going to render. But there is one of those “it’s just so wacky it might work” plans in action, which involves sending Mark to the finish line with the film while we complete the sound here, which will then be uploaded via computer. WHAT? But a bunch of people are saying it will work, and there isn’t time to argue anyway.
The usual heart-pounding, foot-stomping, chorus-shouting, corner-tearing-around business of waiting for the render. And testing the render. On which the color correction did not “take.” “WHAT? WHAT? WHAT? Didn’t TAKE???” This is my Sunday afternoon banshee-wailing director self. No time to philosophize. It didn’t take, we don’t know why, Mark has to go. As he gathers up the paperwork and runs for the door, I shout, “Do we have credits? OR A TITLE???”
Mark is only just leaving. There’s no way in hell he can cross the finish line in time. And what about this sound via email scheme? Someone softly says, “I can’t imagine there’s still time for that?” Oh right. Normally, the first team to the finish line actually leaves early. This year, there’s no need for a second team, since the first team probably won’t even make it.
I am incredibly stressed. I keep texting Mark, “Text me when you know! Post when it’s in!” I can’t yet focus on my disappointment about the technical problems when I don’t even know if we have an eligible film. It would be beyond depressing if we turn in an incomplete film that doesn’t even qualify when we could have used the extra few hours to make it perfect but late. But that’s not an option now.
ARGHGGGH! But Mark finally posts on Facebook: “Film is in on time.” Poor guy had to sprint to the finish line during the countdown. Because Benjamin had already sprinted. But without the paperwork. And the car wasn’t going to park itself.
Benjamin has produced a tiny miracle, though: he managed to attach our credits to the film via thumb drive…WHILE MARK WAS TEARING DOWN THE I-5. Even in my cocoon of sadness, I take a moment to gleefully marvel at this Hollywood-like timing.
The few remaining folks gather in David’s office to watch the film, wincing each time there’s a weird color shift or jarring, echoey vampire sound from the microphone glitch. The film has no title and no credits and barely any music. I can see everyone around the room sag in disappointment, which is devastating. Usually, this final viewing is triumphant, with cheers and gasps of delighted disbelief when a certain line or transition or scene proves even cooler than we imagined. Not today. It’s a sad day in Mudville.
We’re cleaning up, dragging our quickly fading bodies through the dim halls of GoPro, sweeping dirty cups into the trash. The inimitable Angelina has already done so much tidying that there isn’t nearly as much to do as usual. But offices must be restored, and equipment distributed and packed, and boxes carried to cars. I stand in the doorway of Jeff’s office (only minutes before, Benji’s editing suite) and survey the now-empty desktop and generic corporate look of the computer, the carpet, the chair. If these walls could talk…. I switch off the light.
David and I share goodnight hugs with Kam and Benjamin and Angelina, the last Cane Toad stragglers remaining. And then it’s just us. I sit down in a comfy chair, staring straight ahead. “Well.” “Well.” “Another year.” “I guess we should get some dinner.” “Yeah.” Jarrah is spending another night at the Rupperts, so we are going home to a quiet house. David has some things to take care of, so I volunteer to pick up Thai on my drive home.
I dash into the Thai place, blinking my dry eyes in the fluorescents, just before they close. A woman smiles and bags up my food while she surveys my disheveled appearance, my ashy skin and dark circles. “Just getting off work?” she asks, and then quickly changes her mind, “Oh, been doing housework all day?”
That did it. I muster the last bit of my directorial chutzpah and proclaim, “Actually, I’ve been making a movie all day. All weekend, in fact. So I’m pretty tired.”
“Oh!” she exclaims. “My son wants to make a movie!” She calls out and the son appears. “This lady makes movies.” “I have an idea for a movie!” he says. “It will have lots of guns and car chases!”
“Sounds awesome,” I say, gathering up the fragrant food that David and I will fall asleep before even touching. “Our movie was a little different.”
CODA: We didn't win anything. But we had a blast at our premiere. There is now a prettified "Director's Cut" of the film, "We Got This," on our Vimeo page. Go to www.vimeo.com/channels/canetoad to check out this and all our films!