Monday, July 17, 2006

Burnin' Love

The title of this post is stolen from a short film that David and I, together with a merry band of friends and strangers collectively known as Cane Toad Productions, created for The 48 Hour Film Project this past weekend.

David and I have been gluttons for punishment three years in a row, but this year the gluttony was exponentially greater with a 1-year-old to wrangle in addition to a film crew in our house. Yes, that's right: our house. It always seems like it will be "easier" to use our house as the location, but that means that we are buried under cables and lights and boom mikes and the sundry crapcake of a dozen people the entire weekend. Ugh.

So, here's how The 48 Hour Film Project works. It's an international contest, taking place in cities around the world. An organizer "kicks off" the contest in a given city at 7:00 p.m. Friday by asking the teams to draw their film genre out of a hat. The genres range from expected categories like Comedy and Action, to wackier ones like Musical and Superhero and Mockumentary. Whatever you pull, that's what you're making. Before the teams depart, three "elements" are drawn by the organizer, and films for that city must contain all three: a prop, a character and a line of dialogue. This year, the prop was a beach towel, the character was Sally Brown, Event Planner, and the line of dialogue was "What would Elvis do?" The films must run between four and eight minutes. And they must be delivered to the finish line by 7:00 Sunday--if you're late, you're disqualified.

After the kickoff, the teams dash off somewhere, preferably with booze, to brainstorm, and theoretically, to write a script before Friday ends. Saturday is devoted to set-up and shooting, and Sunday to editing and post-production.

Sound simple? Consider that a single shot might take 1-2 hours to arrange, light, shoot and then re-shoot in endless retakes. Consider that there hasn't been time to write an actual script, or even to block the scenes and shots in order. Consider that most of the time the participants are non-actors, and have had no time to rehearse or learn their lines. Consider that all music has to be original, and each sound and special effect has to be found or created.

And then consider that 48 hours is still just that: 48 hours. Generally, people like to do things like, let's say, sleep during a weekend. Or eat. Or attend to other bodily functions. Sometimes people like to get really kooky and shower. But this is not the weekend for any of those things.

So, this year I was opposed to the whole business. Absolutely not, are you crazy? I asked David. We have a baby. Who is going to watch her while we're running around town and jumping out of moving cars? (We may have done that last year.) But David really loves it. And because I love him, I could not deny him the fulfillment of his filmmaking passion.

This year, David and I did agree to step back a bit. The past two years, he's directed and I've acted and written--we're a veritable husband-and-wife entertainment industry. This year, he decided to produce, and I...well, I shouted lines from the sidelines, and reprised my role as "acting coach," a self-created position that the cast probably considers more nuisance than anything else. I also had one voiceover. What can I say? I was a highschool drama freak.

Friday night found David and I at home, waiting for that all-important call with the genre and elements. We do have that baby I mentioned earlier, and this year the kick-off was in Carmel Valley. My friend Renee was there, having driven in from Riverside to join the team, and lucky us because she is a composer. Already, there were two guys I didn't know; one of them stayed just long enough to eat our pizza and take enough cell phone calls "outside" that I wondered if he was a secret agent, and then vanished into the night. The other, Kevin, became the sound guy, and he was very sweet. Within the hour, we also welcomed Matt and his friend Carly, who were there to act and anything else we needed.

Now, Matt is an interesting story. The first year, David put an ad in Craigslist for actors who would be willing to come to his office and audition for him, and Matt happened to answer it. Since then, he's been our lucky charm, starring in all three of the films we've made for the contest. Matt is like Santa Claus. He's very jolly, and we see him once a year. We have never seen Matt in a bad mood, nor in any state other than cooperative and enthusiastic. He also does his own stunts. I'm the president of the Matt fan club. And this year, he brought Carly, and I'll be needing to start a club for her, too. Not only did she act in the film, but she played with Jarrah, and even helped me cook!

This year, the kickoff was delayed. Apparently, the organizer was stuck in traffic on her way from LA. We were all getting antsy by the time the call came: we'd pulled "Comedy." Our first reaction was "Ugh!" Let's face it--even the people who pull "Horror" are trying to be funny. So "Comedy" just seems like unnecessary pressure. The early ideas ranged from the tale of a bumbling serial killer, to a woman who dates vegetables. But then Tim and Jake arrived--they'd been at the kickoff--and Tim described his idea about a toaster and blender in love who are tragically separated by a garage sale. Tantalizing images of utterly cooperative appliances danced in our heads, and we were sold. But there was a catch: in Tim's story, the only person who can help the toaster is a baby, and that baby is Jarrah. As it happens, Jarrah is already a total diva. More on that later. Suddenly, David and I found that we had agreed to film the whole she-bang at our house, and within minutes of that decision, our house started looking like Circuit City. If they made movies at Circuit City.

Saturday morning dawned bright and HOT, with our neighborhood simmering in the Palm Springs ranges. Of course, the first scenes were outside, at the garage sale. At one point I went out to get something and there were two women I'd never seen before arranging junk I'd never seen before on a tarp on our lawn. This was Kanda and Lauren, sister and friend to Kevin, and also to Jake, the director. This year's shoot was quite the family affair.

An aside about the teams: every year our team has been comprised of equal parts friends and folks I've never met, and each time the process is incredibly bonding. For some reason, flying high on adrenaline and caffeine while rigging a piece of toast with sewing thread brings people together. While I am ready to kiss the walls with thankfulness when we get our house back at the end of the weekend, I feel a bit forlorn saying goodbye to the cast and crew. We become an instant, albeit highly dysfunctional, family unit.

Saturday is a bit of a blur. There was a lot of sweating, a lot of takes, and a lot of Jarrah wailing because no one was paying attention to her. I alternated between "helpfully" shouting dialogue and scene advice from under a tree, arranging food for the hungry horde, and trying to keep Jarrah hydrated, fed, napped and quiet. Jarrah was quite willing to be adorable and get caught on film doing it, but not so much willing to do anything she thought we expressly wanted her to do. A lot hinged on getting her to say "Uh-Oh," just once, not even in context, but my previously foolproof method of eliciting this reaction with a poorly fastened sandal was instead producing only suspicious looks. I will say we were able to persuade her to do one stunt with very little encouragement that could probably garner us a call from Child Protective Services.

Something happens by Saturday night where I am haggard with exhaustion but unable to calm down. I don't think it's coffee because I don't ever drink that much, but I lay there both nights blinking, my mind racing in the dark. David experiences the same problem. We are completely wired from start to finish. Not that we're in bed for very long. The luxury of eight hours of sleep is anathema to this weekend.

Previously, Sunday has been incredibly frustrating for me, because on Saturdays I'm in the thick of it, performing, writing, supervising, and Sunday the men (it's almost always men) hunker down around the monitors with their headphones and their Red Bull and do nothing but edit all day. Since I don't actually know anything about editing, my contribution is limited to leaning over their shoulders and reporting, with increasing urgency, on how slow or fast or boring or choppy or incoherent something looks. This does not tend to endear me to any of the editors, not even my own husband, and often I'm officially banished for long periods. But this year, our director maintained a preternatural calm throughout the day, and actually seemed interested and--dare I say?--responsive when I offered my "constructive" criticism. In fact, a couple of times I even ventured to suggest that an entire shot needed to be added or removed, and my suggestion was honored. At one point, I was even responsible for setting up a shot we didn't have yet so we could insert it. I got a little giddy with power, I must confess. In the past, I've watched in desperation as someone chose to use what I deemed to be an inferior take and was gruffly told, "Well, it's the only one that got audio, so cool your jets." This year, I still felt like I was in the game on Sunday.

We had a little last-minute stress over inserting the score in time to render a disc, but in the end, Tim valiantly sped our entry to La Jolla in record time. As the sun went down, we relaxed for the first time in 48 hours by sitting outside and watching Jarrah, in a grubby dress she'd worn all weekend in case we needed more footage, stacking some rocks from our garden. There was a house to clean, laundry to do and equipment to put away, but there was also a sense of accomplishment all around.

So, if you've made it through this saga, you happen to be local, and you feel like seeing the finished product on the big screen, drop me a line. The screening is Tuesday, July 18 at 9:00 p.m. (I know, I know, it's late--there were over 40 entries this year so they split us up into four screenings.) If enough people vote for us at the theatre, we could win the Audience Award!


Alleen said...

How cool is that!!!! Sounds like Jarrah was quite the trooper through all the hubbub.

I assume somewhere down the line those of us not lucky enough to be local will be able to see the finished product??

David said...

Yes we will be putting the movie online after its theatrical premiere. :) Jarrah comes off completely adorable, with her own sound track and slick editing (thanks to Jake the director), it is hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Samantha and I hope a few get to see it on the big screen (tonight), but we understand it is very last minute of many.

Cheri said...

Hooray for you! Hooray for the great post about it! It sounds like you and David were totally channeling the comedy production force that was Lucy and Desi, with the difference being you're Australian/American rather than Cuban/American. ;) I cannot wait to see this film. And I hope Laura and I can come and "help" next year. It sounds Very Fun and since I was once a Beverly Hills divorce lawyer, you know that high-stress situations with dysfunctional people ain't gonna bother me none. Also, I have had enough therapy to know, and to be able to admit, that I am one too.

Trish said...

What a great post. I think I had told you that when my son was in a little indie film last year the makers of that film did their 48 hour thing too. A pencil sharpener and... I can't remember the rest. I did see your's from last year too back when I was a lurker and I checked David's work blog.

Anyway, Cool, Cool, Cool and I can't wait to see it and Jarrah in her acting debut.

Anonymous said...

And so, Jarrah begins her movie career - seems appropriate for one so photogenic! ;)

Best, Gail

Anonymous said...

Well, rock on, you three--you remarkable family of art-makers. I can't wait to see the film.


suebdo said...

Yay! Good for you keeping the excitement and creativty of this endeavor in your life - bigger kudos for creatively integrating family in the process. "The Kid Stays In The Picture" It sounds like a blast and I cannot wait to see the final piece! SueB