Sunday, July 15, 2007

Set Diary

This weekend was the 48 Hour Film Project, our fourth year of entering the contest. In the citywide race, each competing team has exactly 48 hours from drawing their genre out of a hat to submit a short film of 3-7 minutes. All writing, shooting and editing must be completed within the 48 hours, and all participants must be volunteers. Other than that, all bets are off.

This year, in a reprise of Year One, we drew Fantasy as our genre. For required elements, our prop was a spoon, our character was Alex Gomm, County Employee, and our line of dialogue was "Keep that thing away from me!"

If you are local, please come see our film (and nine others in our screening group) on Wednesday, July 18 at 7:30 p.m. at the Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas.

Friday, July 13

6:30 p.m. After Nia, I make my way to the Starbucks upstairs to await the news from the kick-off. I am shortly joined by Jessica, who is participating for the first time, but is an old hand at film production. I'm anxious. Once the clock starts ticking, it's a freefall to the finish line, whatever happens.

7:05 p.m. David calls on my cell. We got Fantasy again. I am a bit bummed but still grateful not to have Western or Horror. They are on their way to Walter's for the planning meeting, and we'll meet them there.

7:30 p.m. We pull up at Walter's and are joined by Paul and Mary. This is their first year participating, too, and I'm excited for them to see what it's like, even though I know Friday night can be a bit haggard-making.

7:35 p.m. Mingling and pizza-ordering at Walter's as the team arrives. We found Walter on Craigslist the first year we competed--he's a great actor, but also loves writing and directing. We've been friends ever since. It's nice to be back at his house. The team gathers in a circle of chairs outside and I'm amazed how big it is this year.

8:00 p.m. We get into discussing ideas. We start in a kind of orderly progression around the circle, but it falls apart pretty quickly with a lot of cross-talk, shouting and tangents. Not that there's anything wrong with that--it's part of the process. In this time frame, "script-writing by committee" is only going to happen by sifting through a sieve of chaos. Most of our ideas need fleshing out, but Jessica's magic Fortune Cookies sound promising. So does Adam's Renaissance man with amnesia. Jake is excited about Fantasy and wants to go full-throttle in the direction of Lord of the Rings-style storylines. I am resistant because I saw one of those movies, and it's three hours of my life I can't get back. He starts getting a little adamant. I start getting a little shrill and dismissive. It degenerates from there. Suffice to say we end up apologizing to each other later, and that Tara got some juicy footage for her "making of" documentary, in which we will begin to see certain trends about my collaboration style.

10:00 p.m. Lots of mosquito bites, I'm falling asleep, and we still don't have a story. Jesus the sound guy announces that he is going home, and that he has faith that the writers will produce an amazing script. Gulp. We start discussing casting and call-times for the next day. Somehow it ends up that I am going to act this time. I've acted before, but I didn't last year. I am not the ingenue, of course. I never am. The ingenue is always someone who is 21. This year's candidate is Eva, from Bulgaria, and she is a sweetheart. No offense to ingenues, but it rankles that I never get to be the ingenue just because I am old.

11:00 p.m. We are sort of going with Adam's Renaissance knight and sort of Lord of the Rings. But...there's no story. We have an eager new writer, Ashton, who asks if we are going to stay up and write the whole script. He is really sweet, but I announce that I am going to bed and will write as we shoot in the morning. This concept seems horrifying to several people, but it's what we've done before, and I have no intention of getting exhausted this early in the game. "I have a two-year-old," I tell anyone who will listen. "I need my rest." I also repeat often that everyone is to contribute to the "Chow Kitty" this year, which is an actual jar that I've labeled "Chow Kitty," because "I have a two-year-old, and she eats a lot and goes to school."

Saturday, Saturday 14

2:00 a.m. David and I are lying in the dark. We are not sleeping. We are whining about our anemic story. "I don't want Renaissance man to speak in Middle English! It's too much!" I yell into my husband's two-inches-away ear. "Also, why is our main character always a man? What's up with that?"

7:00 a.m. I pack a bag with a black top and skirt, because I'm supposed to look like a boss but also a witch. I then get Jarrah ready for her playdate with Nicole, so I don't eat any breakfast. We send them off to the Aquarium--she'll drop Jarrah at the set later. We stop at Einstein's to pick up stuff for the team and I get an egg sandwich, thinking I'll need the protein.

9:00 a.m. We were supposed to meet on set at 8:00, but...oops. The location is a trailer office at a construction site at UCSD, because Walter works there and has keys to most of the school. I am amazed to see Jessica already there, and she quickly sets up our first real Craft Services on a long table--this year, we have coolers full of water, juice and soda, and terrifying amounts of chips, chocolate and Red Vines. Olivia is also there, and she soon becomes the set mascot.

9:30 a.m. Walter offers to show me and others the "forest" that he's scouted for some of our scenes. He has the keys to two golf carts, and we get to whiz through the center of campus. I am elated at this precarious ride, marveling that I spent 12 years at UCSD and have never before seen it from this perspective. Before we know it, we're off-roading into the trees behind Warren College. In a clearing of white eucalyptus, there is a mysterious "nest" of twigs, big enough for Walter to climb inside. He demonstrates how he is going to leap out of this twig pile on film.

10:30 a.m. Back at the trailer, it's time to get serious about the script. Ashton and Tim have an outline, which is a fair sight more than I thought we had. Ashton and I huddle with his lap top, fleshing out the dialogue. I am plagued by the knowledge that we still have no clue how to end the thing.

11:00 a.m. Still in the middle of dialogue, I'm called to dress, hair and makeup for an upcoming office scene. Jessica fixes my hair and pretties me up; she does the same for Eva, who is also in this scene. While Jake, David, Kevin and Jesus fiddle with the camera and sound, I dash back and forth between the interior office, where Ashton and I are writing dialogue, and the shot location, where I'm coaching Eva how to deliver the "brilliant" lines I've written for her. I go back and forth for an hour or so, and finally tell Ashton to finish what he can and I'll catch up with him later. I spend a lot of time turning on my heel and storming out of the room, but it's for the scene, not because I'm difficult.

12:00 p.m. Mike, aka "Boom Mike," has returned from picking up our free lunch at Three Squares, all the way down in Del Cerro. I almost cry when I see the incredible spread of neatly labeled sandwiches, the huge salad, and the veritable crate of just-baked cookies that Clyde has donated to our project. We take a little break to fuel up.

12:30 p.m. Nicole and Jarrah return from the Aquarium. Mary and Joy have been playing with Yea-Yea outside the trailer. Mary takes Jarrah and Joy back to their place for a nap. Yea-Yea is sad to see them go, but she has made a lot of other new friends on the set.

1:00 p.m. We keep shooting office scenes in the trailer. It's getting really steamy in there because we have to turn off the AC, since it interferes with the sound. Ashton is still holed up in the interior office, typing away. Now he has Jessica and Paul helping him. I dash in and brainstorm when I'm not "encouraging" the actors. The afternoon slides by. We still don't have a completed script, but they're shooting what they can. Some time around 3:30, the four of us figure out the ending.

2:00 p.m. Kanda arrives. She has just driven to Julian and back, per instructions from her brother Jake, to pick up several boxes of Lord of the Rings costumes. Because she's awesome, she's also stopped at Party City to procure some fake armor and a witchy broom.

3:00 p.m. I walk across the street to the bathroom for the first time all day. As I do, I am almost run down by the two golf carts careening down the lane. One contains Tim, holding a laptop. The other contains several grinning guys and a camera mount.

4:00 p.m. We print a script and Ashton writes "FINAL" on it in red pen. This marks the first year that we've had an official script, one that is actually in Final Draft, with numbered shots and lots of "INT" and "EXT."

4:30 p.m. A bunch of us drape ourselves in the costumes. Tim looks quite knightly, and Eva is downright ethereal in white lace and a huge mane courtesy of Jessica's curling iron.

5:00 p.m. It's finally time to leave for the forest. The whole team goes, and much of our food is outside, so Walter closes the gate. People pile into the golf carts and the rest of us take whichever cars are nearby.

5:30 p.m. The marine layer rolls in, and we are losing the light more quickly than anticipated. As some of the boys start filming Tim, now dressed as a knight, running through the trees, I start barking orders for a "second unit" to shoot Eva, now dressed as a princess, shackled to a tree. The second unit consists of me, Paul and David, who is almost pitching over from the weight of all the equipment he's juggling. We spend a good 15 minutes just experimenting with different ways to shackle Eva, with chains that are made of styrofoam.

6:00 p.m. I found a witch costume in Kanda's box, and have worn it to the woods. I make David shoot me making witchy jazz hands behind a tree because I think it will look funny, and who knows? Maybe we'll need something like that.

6:30 p.m. I'm getting frantic. We need several more forest shots and no one seems to know what's going on. I discern this because a lot of people keep yelling, "I have no idea what I'm supposed to be doing!" This is probably because the script has only been finished for a couple hours, and because only Ashton, Jessica, Paul and myself have seen it. I rev into frenzy. Walter is confused by my direction when we get to the pile of sticks. He keeps insisting he has dialogue in this scene. I am holding the script, and I assure him he does not. He keeps saying, "Don't you even remember what we talked about this morning?" I am sweaty and my head is pounding. I take a few seconds to search my memory, then suddenly freak out. "I may remember it. I may not remember it. That's not important right now. What's important is we are losing the light, the scene needs to be shot, and I don't want to argue about it. So go stand in your nest right now!!!" He does, but he's mad. I am beyond caring about anything, because that's what it gets like on the Saturday when it starts to get dark. We shoot the scene, Walter and I hug and apologize to each other. I really love that guy.

7:00 p.m. About 20 Asian people have gathered to watch us, and are snapping photos. I approach them, smiling, and whisper "Where are you from?" "Los Angeles," a man whispers back. Tim is standing in the golf cart as it races along, pretending to be galloping a horse. It's hilarious.

8:00 p.m. We finish the outdoor shoot, and head back to the trailer, pumped. Adam and Kanda have brought us dinner from Lightning Jack's BBQ, another one of our sponsors. Adam is sweet even though he's wearing a different outfit because the first one got a sauce bath. The hot food is comforting, and we're feeling pretty good about the forest footage.

9:00 p.m. We start shooting a couple remaining scenes in the trailer. Eva and I get back into our office garb. Jessica patiently redoes our hair and makeup. It takes forever to shoot two seconds of footage in which Eva opens her laptop and makes a relieved face, because the lighting has to be just so. Interspersed, the natives are getting restless. Jesus leads several members of cast and crew in an impromptu dance that involves slapping one's own behind and shouting "Slap that thing!" Jessica says, "Now we're starting to get silly."

11:00 p.m. We move all the gear across the road to the Visual Arts building, where Walter has the keys to an IT guy's office that has so much junk in it, there's barely room for a camera. We're trying to find something that Walter as Earl can be eating with a spoon when Tim knocks on the door. The IT guy has a couple yogurt containers, so we grab those, only to discover they are filled with mold. Walter pretends to eat from one anyway.

12:00 a.m. We're done shooting. Only because some sound mixer has just exploded, so we couldn't get any more takes if we wanted them. Jesus gives the camera the finger when Jake says "It's a wrap!" We spend a half-hour cleaning our junk out of the trailer and stowing the food and gear in various trunks. I am dopey with exhaustion as David drives me home. He tells me he liked my acting, and that Jake thinks I should be the director this year. That is flattering to hear because Jake was the director last year.

Sunday, July 15

2:0o a.m. David and I finally wind down enough to fall asleep, having just eaten a huge salad left over from the BBQ, perhaps to compensate for an entire day's diet of chocolate and soda.

8:00 a.m. David is whispering that he's leaving, and I tell him I'll bring more food and water when I follow. I want to go back to sleep (Jarrah stayed with Mary and Paul) but now that I'm up my head hurts so bad that even turning over is agony. I get up and zombie-walk to the kettle.

9:00 a.m. I call David to check in and he says all the IT Wizard footage is missing, so he's racing back to UCSD to meet Tim and Walter and re-shoot. Not one of us, until Paul hears about it hours later, thinks to suggest filming in David's office (where everyone is going to edit anyway) since there will no continuity loss. Oh, well.

11:00 a.m. I meet Paul, Mary, Joy and Jarrah at Flower Hill Mall in Del Mar, where they're watching a Hullabaloo concert at a toy store called Thinker Things. The Kid Kraziness level is elevated, and while I feel guilty that my child hasn't seen me in two days and that Paul and Mary are wrangling two toddlers, my mind is definitively elsewhere. I don't stay long.

12:00 p.m. I arrive at CineForm with water and more food. It's pretty subdued in there; Jessica and Jake are hunched over his computer, and Adam is composing next door. A few minutes later, David comes in with Tim, followed shortly by Tara and Kevin. I am wary of what I say around Tara at this point, since she gets it all on film.

1:00 p.m. I organize the liability release forms and write the credits on a yellow pad. By the time I see them on Tim's screen two hours later, they look completely different. For one thing, I've been listed as director. That feels very weird, since what I've mostly done is make sandwiches and act bossy.

3:00 p.m. David is fuming. There is a synch problem with most of the early scenes, apparently caused by a "firmware failure" in the borrowed camera equipment. I don't know what that is, but it doesn't sound good. He calls a team meeting, tells everyone that there's no way we'll make the finish line on time, and perhaps we should plan to stay until midnight (the final deadline for screening) and just do a really good job. Jake says he doesn't want to decide something like that until 5:00 or 6:00, and I agree with him. I order David to go back to work and quit his kvetching. I can do that because I am married to him.

3:30 p.m. I call Mary from the hallway, and learn that both girls are asleep. Thank goodness. I tell her that David thinks we won't finish on time. "Do you really think that's true?" she asks. "Well," I say, inspecting my purple toenails. "He does say that every year."

4:00 p.m. I sit at the desk nearest the door and knit my "Ribbed For Her Pleasure" scarf. Periodically, I stick my head in people's doors and ask if they need a snack or some help. Everyone says no. I feel kind of helpless. I always feel helpless on the Sunday afternoon, because I don't know how to edit. Revise that: I am good at editing, but I don't know how to use computers.

4:15 p.m. I hear Jake shouting and go running towards his office. Something about Tim has his costumes with him, so let's get him outside and just reshoot. "What's going on?" I moan. I run back to where David is, and he tells me that every bit of footage shot after 7:00 p.m. is missing. "Meaning most of the forest scenes?" I ask, icy dread gripping my heart. "Right," he says, but as he says it, I realize it sounds wrong. For one thing, there hasn't been a year when someone hasn't announced that crucial footage is lost, and it always turns up. For another, I was there when David was transferring it the night before, and I remember seeing it. I start yelling and waving my arms that everyone just has to calm down and find the damn thing, and sure enough, someone remembers that a "fire wire" or somesuch had a second file or whoseit and that it's probably on another drive or whatnot. And that is what comes to pass. Wouldn't it be rad if I could wrap this up by saying that my cool head saved the day?

4:30 p.m. Adam lets me (actually, he very kindly asks me) to listen to the music he's composed for a couple of scenes. It is so awesome I get really, really excited. It jazzes up the pace of all the footage that's been edited so far, and creates a whole new layer of humor, too. I decide he is a genius and I tell him so. He's very modest about it. Emboldened, I sit down in Jake's office and start offering unsolicited advice about transitions, which is what I usually do. Jake never loses his cool, though, and somewhat bizaarely seems to know what I mean before I've even finished speaking, so the fixes happen fast.

5:00 p.m. Suddenly, a wave of optimism sweeps through the office. Everyone is running around; my heart is pounding. Jessica tells me they have a complete rough cut except for the opening scene, and it's been exported to Adam for scoring. Tim is completing the credits. The paperwork is done. If they can whip out that opening scene and get the thing rendered, we might just make it.

5:30 p.m. Opening scene not synching. Will. Not. Synch. More running and yelling. David and Jake start rendering on separate computers. It's going to take a full hour to render! AAAAHHH! Can we cut the time in half with two computers? CAN WE? Well, maybe if they both didn't keep crashing every two seconds.

6:30 p.m. More crashing. Less synching. Missing scene. Music not complete. Confusion over what will go over the credits. Tara choosing doc photos for a "picture in picture" outtakes session. Meanwhile, I'm insisting that the credits should consist entirely of me, dressed as a witch, snarling "Raaaar!" into the camera. Hey, they don't talk about directors' "Vanity Projects" for nothing.

7:00 p.m. I am mad. Not sure at who. I think I'm mad at the computers. The damn things do crash so. Always at the worst time. I've seen most of the film and it looks very funny, very tight. Every time I think about not being eligible for prizes after all this insanity I want to punch a wall. Instead, I thank everyone through gritted teeth and leave to go pick up my child. I was going to have to do that no matter whether we made it on time or not.

7:30 p.m. It's official. We didn't make it. I thank Paul and Mary and get Jarrah in the car for the long drive home. I am exhausted--that always happens--but also numb, and that is new. The usual feeling is a kind of light-headed elation, the thrill of both winning a race and creating a piece of art all wrapped up in one 48 hour package. I tell Mary how sad and angry I feel and she says something smart: "Well, you still finished a movie in a weekend, and you'll always be able to say that." Very true. It's not like we'd go through everything we did without the contest. And we still get to see it on the big screen. And we're eligible for the Audience Award. So come on down and vote!


David said...

A fun look on this weekend that is almost hard for me to remember, as there are so many things happening at once. For those who want to see our movie on the big screen -- the only time this will ever happen -- please buy tickets on-line, as the screening for last night's screening groups (there are 5 groups for the 47 films) sold out.

Our movie is first up at 7.30pm, so don't be late.

Anonymous said...

I wanna go!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Can't wait for you to post a link to the film, so I can at least see it sitting here in Maine.

What a rollicking, crazy read your post was, Sam! Congrats to all of you for finishing it. (Too bad Jarrah won't be in it this year, though! ;-)

Miss J

Anonymous said...


I'm also sort of going to miss the toaster.

Miss J

Cheri said...

My heart was pounding all the way to the end as I read! Great story once again. I would never have guessed the ending, but Mary is right. Mary is always right, by the way. And, I'm dying to know, just what color is the "Ribbed for Her Pleasure" sweater? I'm imaging something glow-in-the-dark. LOL!

Jennifer said...

I almost peaked ahead to see how it ended. ha! It sounds like you all had a wonderful weekend. I wish I didn't live so far it would be great to see it. Have a great week!

Jennifer said...

I read one of the other comments after I posted mine and realized that the movie will be posted on the this true? If so I would love to watch it. Let us all know when it is available!


Rosa said...

Yes, Tab...I would love to see your film if you have it on the internet. It was very exciting reading your blog on how you put the movie together!

Anonymous said...

Your movie was the best one!!! I SO voted for it!!!! Of course!

We were happy to help out this year. I was great seeing how it all comes together!

You were a terrific actor!



David said...

We made it into the Best-Of San Diego! Awesome!