Monday, August 17, 2009

"I'm Not Married To It:" Filming in 48 Hours

This year's 48 Hour Film Project was the most exciting yet, and not because everything went wrong. Oh, things went wrong, sure. Lots of things. But many, many more things went oh so right. Won't you join me on a recap of the madness?

Friday 6:00 p.m.

I'm at the starting line with a few members of Cane Toad Productions. We are joined by Tyler, a business associate of David's who has flown in from Seattle for the weekend. Remember his name: it will be important later. Everyone is milling around, eager for the kickoff. Finally, it's time for Shelley's son, Joey, to draw our genre out of the hat (an actual hat, worn by festival organizer Duane's actual dad in an actual movie.) I'm so nervous. Will we finally get Musical? Will we get Fantasy AGAIN? It's official, we have...Detective/Cop! Well, I'm not sure how to feel about that. It's the most specific genre we've ever gotten, that's for sure. The three elements follow shortly:

Character: Amy or Amos Belanger, Historian
Prop: A crayon
Line of Dialogue: "That's not what I meant."

We are off to Denny's to discuss our fate.

7:30 Friday

There's a massive crowd in the back room at Denny's, as big as last year, but except for me, David, Craig and Robyn, everyone is new. We have seven people from my theater group, and I'm excited about that, though also nervous I will have a total meltdown and the theater will become all kinds of awkward. No time to worry about that now. We order some bad food and start discussing our options. Shelley, Robyn and I have already begun leaning towards film noir. We like the idea of '40s-era dialogue and a really stylized look. I am really determined to incorporate crowd scenes, since we have so many actors this year.

8:30 Friday

Things start to get chaotic, as they always do. But this year, Shelley is on it. She suggests we divide into groups, brainstorm, and then present a story idea to the rest. It's so crazy it just might work. Amazingly, all three groups produce a coherent plot in about 30 minutes. I'm in group 3, and I think we have the most ingenious idea ever. A private eye's assistant poses as his boss for an alluring new client, then tells her a wild lie about a case he solved involving a giant bunny. We all go nuts at the image of a pep rally screaming as an empty bunny head goes sailing over the crowd in the gym. I think it will be the best thing ever. So imagine my surprise when the other groups are just as married to their own ideas. One of them is about a woman who thinks her husband is having an affair, but actually he's trying to hide that he's become a quilter. Another is about a girl who persecutes a professor for giving her a "B." I'm sure these ideas have their, um, charms, but giant bunny suit, hello??? I'm shocked and appalled we don't get the most votes.

9:30 Friday

There's a bit of squabbling about which way to go. Things get a bit tense for a minute or two. I go to pee and Eva actually comes in to check on me, to make sure I'm not crying. I have warned the new team that I never make it through the weekend without bursting into tears. The problem is that I am bossy and always end up in a position of authority, but I'm also a marshmallow and get my feelings hurt easily. It's not a great combo. When I come back, the conversation has returned to the giant bunny, which surprises me. We end up agreeing to go the bunny route, but with elements of the other concepts mixed in.

11:00 Friday

Everyone is gone but Calvin and me, and we're sitting with my netbook trying to get started on the dialogue. I keep wondering what the waiter thinks we're doing, sitting in a Denny's in the middle of the night, typing. He probably could care less. We don't get much done. My writing style is to pound out a burst of text without a thought in my head, and then edit it back to something workable. Though he is polite, I think this is bizarre to Calvin, who seems slightly panicked every time I commit a lousy line to the screen.

12:00 a.m. Saturday

I'm so tired, it's making my stomach hurt. I'm noticing that every time words come out of my mouth, they don't seem in any way connected to my brain.

2:00 a.m. Saturday

We have maybe a page and a half of outliney-type stuff when my battery dies in a blaze of glory and we are--by default--done for the night.

3:00 Saturday

David is asleep when I get home, but I can't seem to stop myself from waking him up and then slowly torturing him by asking him question after question. At one point, he says weakly, "I really need you to stop talking." Is this effective? Unfortunately for him, no. He admits that he's been to the store, shopping for batteries and carrots. And he watered the yard. At midnight.

4:00 Saturday

I am nodding off when I suddenly bolt awake, convinced I need to do some internet research on film noir. I Google a bunch of stuff, making a big file of incredibly complicated film analysis crapcake, including suggestions for Dutch angles and chiaroscuro lighting. I highly doubt anyone ever read it. I know I didn't.

5:00 Saturday


7:00 Saturday

David is up, so I'm up. We barely acknowledge each other, running around and gathering bags of stuff. I have "hippie" clothing, makeup, hair products, jewelry. He has our bedroom fan and office desk light. He leaves before I do. Rachel has already called from Vons, wondering how many bagels to get. When I call her back, my voice sounds like Betty Davis. I can't believe I'm so wrecked already.

8:00 Saturday

Call-time at CineForm. David's work. We're here because we couldn't think of where else to go--all our location ideas have fallen through. CineForm has lots of rooms, and no danger of the equipment losing power. Those are pluses. I'm amazed to see that almost everyone is already there. My writing partner, however, is not. I sequester myself and a donut in an empty office and try to concentrate on the script notes, which are looking paltry in the light of day.

9:00 Saturday

Calvin and I are finally back to the script. Strangely, we are a bit snappier, even though neither of us are morning people. It starts coming along. Shelley arrives, with triumphant news: she's secured permission and keys to a high school gym, which is the one set we absolutely have to have.

10:30 Saturday

I hit a wall. So tired, eyes stinging, too many stale bear claws. I ask Calvin how he feels about bringing in a relief pitcher. He's cool with it. I open the door (everyone has been avoiding us, though we can feel the seething expectation through the laminate) and call out for Robyn. She becomes writer Number Three. And not a moment too soon. Now we're really pounding it out at a brisk clip.

11:00 Saturday

We come out to peek at the "set," which is someone's office. I really am impressed. There's an old phone, an antique globe, gold letters on the "detective's" window, shutter shadows on the wall. Our set decorators have hung certificates on the walls, and a wanted poster (of an actually wanted guy.) This could actually work.

12:00 Saturday

We emerge, triumphant, with a completed draft. I'm very proud, I tell Calvin and Robyn, because we've never had a completed script with a beginning, middle and end so early in the day before. I know that sounds bizarre, but the structure of the competition doesn't lend itself to anything else. Trust me on that. I'm sort of in awe because I have a sense that the script is actually VERY funny, with no filler. David assembles everyone in the conference room for a table read. I read with elation, since everyone laughs, and a lot. I figure we are in for some serious back-patting afterward. Instead, David's immediate response is that it's way too long. Tyler gently backs him up, saying he thinks we have a nine-minute script (and seven minutes is the max.) I'm kind of childishly furious, but later I will realize that Tyler was right on the nose. In the moment, though, I still yell at David for not telling us how awesome we are.

12:30 Saturday

We are furiously cutting. It's not that hard, actually--we're in the zone now. We lose a page in 15 minutes. The three of us are like a dream team.

1:00 Saturday

First shots being set up. This is where we wait...and wait. All told, it must be close to an hour just to shoot the opening sequence with no dialogue. Later, it ends up on the cutting room floor anyway. Such is the nature of the biz. It's clear that we have some beautiful subjects when I see Greg--as our detective--and Rachel--as our femme fatale--all lit up. I love the fedora, and the red dress.

3:00 Saturday

There was a brief period of giddiness with the finished script, but that's been replaced by anxiety about how little we've shot. I've been the director the previous two years, but this year I am co-directing with Shelley, and she has been dutifully watching the monitor and recording our time code for every shot. Ultimately, this makes Tyler the editor's job so much easier. I've never been patient enough to do it myself. My directing style is getting up in the actor's faces and telling them I want more, then making them do it again. I'm a multiple-take kind of gal. The kind of director that editors hate.

4:00 Saturday

The natives are getting restless. Those who are new to the film world seem gobsmacked by all the lolling about. Those of us who have done this before know this is why movie stars have trailers and get involved in tempestuous affairs with co-stars. There's just not that much to do when the tech is happening, unless of course, you are tech.

5:00 Saturday

Deep into shooting the detective office scenes with Greg and Rachel. Eight of us are crammed into the tiny office--one on lights, two on sound, one on camera, one on monitor, and a couple of us just to be nosy. I shout out "helpful" suggestions to the actors between takes. So does Shelley. It occurs to me later in the weekend that we probably should have fought about how we both did that, but luckily, we never do. The scenes are looking good.

6:00 Saturday

Taking a break at "craft services" (a long table covered with candy and cookies from Costco) when a roar goes up from the office...they have captured the perfect shot of a live bunny emerging from the leading lady's purse, right on cue.

6:30 Saturday

I really can't believe we haven't left for the gym yet, especially since it's on the other side of the county. Sigh. We will be shooting late this year. No time to fret about that now. Time to pack everything and everyone up for the trip. I talk to Lisa on the phone--she and Eva have been driving around getting props, and have gotten to the gym early. Lisa warms my heart when she reassures me that it's "nice and sunny" down there.

7:00 Saturday

I'm in the car with Robyn, Steve (Robyn's boyfriend) and Calvin, driving to Linda Vista. We are screaming with laughter about everything, but now I can't remember most of it. More's the pity, because it was an especially hilarity-filled shoot. We get lost trying to find the high school, and it's a while before everyone is found.

7:30 Saturday

The gym looks amazing. It's going to be perfect. Lisa and Eva are dolled up like the cheerleaders from hell, in tight sweaters and giant pigtails. I "direct" the cheerleaders and Robyn in the bunny costume in a little choreography. Amusingly, Lisa asks me to give them a cheer, but luckily someone else remembers that she's the former cheerleader, and soon they're yelling about cookies and crumbs. It's fabulous. Robyn is sweating like the lead singer in a rhumba band in that suit, but she's a trooper, as always.

8:30 Saturday

Shooting the "big" scene between the detective and the lady reporter, played by Marie, who is also our composer. Marie is having trouble remembering her lines, and keeps looking at her clipboard. I don't like it. It breaks the energy; the spark between the two of them is lost every time she looks down. After about 10 takes, I tell her to put the script down. She tells me she can't. I say do it anyway. She does it--it's almost perfect. The next take is slow again, and I realize she has her script. "Did you pick up that script after I asked you to put it down?" I bellow in a dangerous tone, like I'm talking to Jarrah after she's covered the walls in pudding. I can feel my heart pounding out of my chest. But that's as close as I come to losing it. We get what we need on the 18th take, but it's still not as lively as I'd like. Only later does it occur to me that Greg has given us 18 perfect takes without a peep of protest, with the last as fresh as the first. That's why he's the Golden Boy.

9:30 Saturday

Shooting the bloody bunny head flying through the air. This is the money shot, people. David has brewed up some fake blood with corn syrup and food coloring, and it's nasty, viscous stuff, but luckily, doesn't stain. We pour it over the poor bunny head, and shoot Greg snapping photos of it, reaching out a finger to take a taste. It's hysterical--all his idea. We get footage of the cheerleaders hurling their bodies over the remains of their mascot friend. We shoot the lot of us in the bleachers, screaming, first in spirit, then in horror. And finally, punchy as all get-out, we shoot all of us in the bleachers shaking our "bunny tails" at the camera. I am a big believer in the wacky impulse shots--they always make it in somewhere.

10:00 Saturday

By some miracle, we've gotten everything we need in the gym (which was a lot) and are ready to clean up and move out. Some people ask to go home. I feel like a bitch, but I say no. I try to explain up front that once we're on the clock, I can't waste time looking for people if we have a need. It's why I like people to come in on Sunday even if they're not tech. It just feels fair and right to me, and the convenience factor in the event of the unexpected is high.

10:30 Saturday

Time to shoot the interrogation scenes in the conference room at CineForm, under a single bare bulb. There are a few of these, but at least they're all in one place. I'm annoyed that we all spend another hour waiting around while David and Tyler do a data transfer and check our earlier footage, plus take forever getting the light correct in the conference room. I realize that stuff has to be done, but it's getting so late, and some people have to work in the morning. Like, all of us.

11:30 Saturday

We start with the cheerleader interview, which is so dementedly funny. Lisa and Eva are ON. The best bit is unscripted--Eva reaches for a donut in the middle of the table, and Greg smacks her hand before she can get to it. Then there's a show-down between Greg and Steve, playing a football player. Shelley is our school historian, and hilarious, getting it just right in a couple of takes. Finally, it's my turn--Robyn and I are animal activists. Just to be wacky, I am wearing a big white mink coat that Calvin brought in (he seems to have a vast collection of vintage women's clothing. He also brought feather boas, and when someone says "You brought your boas?" he whips back "Not my good boas. Just my everyday boas.") For some reason, I decide to play my character sort of crazy, and I make Greg lose his concentration. Soon we are all laughing so much that we have to do shot/reverse shot not looking at each other. It comes out pretty funny, I think, but my voice is so demented I don't even recognize it as mine in the finished film.

12:00 Sunday

Tyler returns! He's been at the Seahawks game, and I'm so relieved that the Seahawks won. He's clearly in fine spirits, and announces that he will edit all night and have a rough cut for us in the morning. Wow. We've never had dedication like that before.

2:00 Sunday

A series of voiceovers, mostly for Greg. I watch him read, and see how pink his eyes are. I realize he's been acting for over 12 hours with hardly a break. What a champ.

2:30 Sunday

It's a wrap! Everyone leaves except for David, Tyler and me. I give Tyler some notes about script changes and preferred takes and finally peel myself away. David says he'll be along presently. It's only when I get outside and am alone in the courtyard, elevator and parking lot at 2:30 in the morning that I start to get skeeved out. But I make it home okay.

4:00 Sunday

I head to bed. Strangely, I'm still pretty pumped up. David is not home.

8:00 Sunday

I'm awakened by a gasp, which I realize is David. I don't know when he came in. He's out the door within 30 minutes. I sit stupidly over some coffee and the paper for another 30, and then follow. I bring all my supplies just in case. And a good thing, too.

10:00 Sunday

Shelley has actually beaten me there. A few others are already there, too. We end up having more than half of our 16 crew members for part or all of the day Sunday. Which is really nice, because the editors need that support.

10:30 Sunday

We review the rough cut. Parts of it look great--really tight, fast, funny. But the opening and closing shots are baggy and slow. Shelley and I decide--reluctantly--that we need to call Greg and Rachel back in to reshoot. And re-do the voiceovers while we're at it, which have "noise artifacts." That's my new favorite techie-speak. Greg is clearly fast asleep when I call, but replies "I'll be there in 20 minutes." Rachel is at church, but she is prompt, too.

11:30 Sunday

Selfishly, I am glad to have Greg and Rachel back. It's cheerier with more of us around. I curl Rachel's hair and Shelley takes an order for Mexican from Fidel's. That makes me even cheerier.

12:30 Sunday

Re-shoots. We do an opening montage, new voiceovers, and re-do the ending. Our team member Craig appeared in the original footage, but someone realizes it would be more noir-like if we only saw that character in shadow on the door. When we change it, we get Editor Tyler to record a voiceover in his fabulous booming voice. Combined with new reaction shots from Greg and Rachel, the ending is way punchier.

1:30 Sunday

Most of us are lolling about. Cookies, chocolate and Coke are going fast. Somewhere in here Tyler tells us we are 26 seconds over the limit, and Shelley and I have the hard conversation about what has to go. Shelley has three ideas. The first is Steve's footballer, which makes Greg sad, but it will save us re-shoots. With vast irony, I call Greg a diva and tell everyone he is pouting. The second is where Rachel prompts Greg about his investigation. I say okay, but then Tyler says no way--he likes it. The last idea is Eva's cheerleader, which makes me wonder if Shelley is on crack--it might be the funniest line in the whole thing, and not because of how I wrote it. In the end, we make the time by less than a second by omitting part of the football sequence, but keeping the part that Greg likes. The timing is key, because last year we were a minute over and didn't realize until it was too late. I'm glad Tyler is on it. In fact, Tyler is on everything. The man is a national treasure. I keep wanting to hug him.

3:00 Sunday

Some of this is blurry. Calvin comes in after work. Eva comes in, briefly, and says she'll be back later, and she is. Rachel stays, but goes for a walk. Greg lies down to read. Most of us can only contribute our physical presence at this stage. I do think I save the day a little when Marie says she wants to go home to work on music because her laptop's not working, and I promise her David's instead. She doesn't have a cell phone, and we are way behind on music as it is. In fact, music is the only thing panicking me at this point. Tyler has been showing us decent rough cuts all day.

4:00 Sunday

The whole gang goes into an office to record ourselves screaming. First in pep rally delight, and then in abject horror (that's how I direct it--"abject horror") since we will be watching the flying bunny head. The screaming sounds great; no one holds back. The things we do for art.

5:00 Sunday

This is usually when everything starts "breaking" or "getting corrupted." Things inexplicably disappear or jam or refuse to come out. The sync is off; the sound is missing. None of that is happening. Yet. I refuse to celebrate. There is talk that, no matter what, we won't be late, because we have a music-free version ready to turn in. I harumph at that. I don't want a music-free version. That says "amateur" to me. Music makes the mise-en-scene.

6:00 Sunday

I can see Marie and Tyler sitting together, which seems promising. I'm trying not to bug Marie too much, because I can see it's upsetting her. Marie is a kind of famous local singer-pianist, so I know we're in good hands, if we can just get her stuff into the show.

6:30 Sunday

We are twiddling our thumbs. I'm nervous. Everyone is wondering if I'll cry. I say I might, if we don't get the music in. Tyler is a champ. He has his head down and is powering the soundtrack into the film. He and Marie play it for us--amazing. He still needs to fix the levels, and export it to the original version. No telling how long that will take. In one hour, our film will be late. David tells him he has 25 minutes. I tell him he has 15 and then I don't care about levels. He is awesome about it. When I give him a 5-minute warning, he actually says "thank you."

6:45 Sunday

We send Shelley to the finish line with the no-music version and all the documents. We cheer as she goes, knowing that at least this version will be in before we can be disqualified.

6:55 Sunday

I can hear David chattering and laughing during the final render. I'm too afraid to go in there, but that seems like a good sign. Usually by now, David is pounding around the corner in his giant Skechers, waving his hands in alarm and shouting "Well, there's nothing to be done." That hasn't happened. And the laughing. That can't be bad, can it?

7:00 Sunday

It's not bad. The render will be done in 90 seconds. It is done. It comes out of the machine. David runs for the door, all of us cheering. We start calling Shelley.

7:15 Sunday

Message from Shelley. Where is the finish line? No one is there. ACK! Run for the web site. The finish line has been moved. David calls. He is half-way there. Thinks he'll make it.

7:28 Sunday

Everyone sits together, wringing our hands. Well, I'm wringing mine, anyway. My phone chooses this opportune moment to jam up. I can see all the calls and texts I'm getting, but can't check them or call anyone. I'm ready to throw it across the room. Everyone is frantically dialing David and Shelley to make sure they know about the new finish line, but no one answers. Craig says that David is dialing his phone, unaware Craig is on it. Craig can hear David, and Shelley, and a massive crowd of rowdy people. So they are together. And the massive crowd means...

7:35 Sunday

They are there! They've just heard the countdown, and they're in. We're in. With the good version. We all scream. I want to call and text people, but I can't. Damn.

7:40 Sunday

We clean up. People have to use the office in the morning, and it's covered in clothes and food and props. We do a decent job. I can feel exhaustion wrap around me like a polyester quilt, now that the adrenaline is ebbing. I feel like I could lie down on the all-weather carpet and stay there until morning. But it's time to get the gear to the car and go pick up Jarrah.

8:00 Sunday

At Paul and Mary's. David is on the phone, wondering why he can't reach me. Jarrah isn't really speaking to me. I get her to the car, and she falls asleep almost instantly. I drive home, wishing I had toothpicks to prop my eyes open, looking forward to the dinner David is picking up, to getting in my pajamas and watching TV, to sleep, sleep, sleep. And for the first time in three years, I feel that golden glow of achievement, knowing we did everything we wanted to do and more. Can't wait to see us on the big screen this Wednesday.


The Wades said...

My heart is pounding! Unbelievably exciting, even for a girl that is so far removed from anything having to do w/ this!

Congrats on getting it in on time. Well done to you all, you crazy people! :)

Caroline said...

This was so much fun to read. I can't wait to hear how it goes and see the final product.

Mrs. Chapman's 2nd Grade Class said...

Yeaaaaa!!! How exciting!! It sounds like such a fantastic yet stressful weekend. It definitely sounds like things went near perfect this year. Good luck!

Stephanie said...

Whoa, what a weekend and what a team! Congratulations, can't wait to see the end product. What time is the big showing?

LunaMoonbeam said...

Good job, Mama. :-) Sorry I'm so late to this party - I gave this week over entirely to reading the Pellinor series and not maiming my children.

(It's Wednesday night, and I'm 2 for 2! Woohoo!)

erin said...

That was tiring just reading it. Super exciting though. Congrats and Good Luck!