Seven years! Aren't you supposed to get some sort of itch? Well, the only itch I have is to do it again, and again. Now I have to wait, because 48 Hour Film Project 2010 is DONE. Read on, if you dare.
Restless. Anxious. Can't nap, like I've been ordered to (so I can stay up all night writing.) Just too amped. I bake oatmeal cookies for the team, sweating. Is there some sort of universal truth that a weekend in possession of a 48 Hour Film Project must be in want of a 90-degree heat wave?
Pick up Jarrah from camp and drive her to UTC, where we have the hand-off with Paul and Joy. It bears repeating that David and I could not hurl ourselves so majestically into this pit of masochism if it weren't for Mary and Paul and Joy, whom Jarrah is so excited to spend the weekend with she forgets to hug her Mama goodbye. I forlornly hit the highway. Off to Hazard Center (could it be more aptly named?) for the kick-off.
David and I are waiting at the starting line with Robyn, Mark, Eva, George, Calvin, John and Kacie. Very nervous and sweating like the lead singer in a rhumba band. What if, what if, what if? We cheer like mad when Duane and Jeff take the podium to announce it's almost time. Months of auditions, meetings, Facebook messages and three-hour phone discussions with Calvin come down to this moment...
...when Calvin (as our youngest member and esteemed director) steps up to the hat and pulls: FILM NOIR! Ugh!!!! Calvin and I rarely agree on anything, but this we have: we're not doing Film Noir two years in a row. We can't top ourselves.
Furious team negotiations ensue. Are we really up for the Wild Card draw for the FIRST TIME IN CANE TOAD HISTORY? The Wild Cards are harder: Period Piece. Foreign Film. Doppelganger. Eek. We decide to go for it. I am suddenly aware that a stranger's big video camera has been in our faces during the whole discussion.
We draw a Wild Card and it is...Dark Comedy! The three elements required of every team in San Diego:
Character: Dr. Rita or Rick Hernandez
Prop: A chair
Line of Dialogue: "I'm trying my best!"
We are off to Coco's to meet up with the rest of the team.
In the car, I call Robyn, and do a lot of frenetic yelling about the meaning of Dark Comedy. I can't remember what I was on about.
I swoop into the back room and forget to greet everyone, screaming and swearing a blue streak. Eventually, Robyn leans across the table and whispers: "We aren't alone in here." I suddenly notice the room is filled with grannies and children trying to eat their dinner. Oops. Perhaps they don't want to hear "It should have a total 'What the f@$%&*' quality!'" while they enjoy their chicken-fried steak. Our group has been rounded out by Shelley, Caleb, Barry, George, Eric (our new editor) and forgive me if I've left you out.
I'm really too excited to eat. But we go around the table and everyone presents their ideas. This is more or less orderly. Let's just say that some tensions are brewing between veterans and newbies. And that this is probably my fault. I mention all my ideas for "organic group scenarios," since we have a lot of actors. Group therapy seems to stick, and George has a fun idea about a court-ordered alcohol support group where they are totally remorseless, getting high and drinking during the meeting, with lots of insane rules. Or in which everyone lies for sport. I'm loving it. Some people think it's not dark enough. This darkness thing is a thorn in my side all weekend.
We're all trying to decide if people have to die horribly in order for our movie to be considered Dark Comedy. I go to the bathroom at one point and when I come back, David is saying "So they're carrying the body through the woods, but all you can see is their feet, and we have no idea whose body it is and what happened..." and I'm like "Um, I am not writing that, no matter whose body it is." There's another suggestion in which people have Hefty bags full of limbs that they're carrying around. A lot of ideas seem to feature spectacular deaths at the end, and I keep saying "But where's the comedy part?"
We split into smaller groups to flesh out (ha!) ideas. Our group is Eva, me, George and John. Let's just say we butt heads, shall we? And that I find it cute that Eva and I both order cherry pie, "hot, no ice cream." I remember that our idea involves someone picking up whores at Mt. Soledad, chicken pot pie, gay sex and drunk cops. I think I heard the word "outrageous" at one point and decided to run with it.
We share our ideas at the big table. Eric has a "true story" in which a woman spontaneously grows hair on her face and becomes a lesbian. Why this is cause-and-effect I didn't catch. I start feeling like it's time to let our actors rest and cull the group down to a more manageable size.
I knew Robyn and I (and probably Mark and Calvin) would meet up at our place after Coco's closes, but Eva agrees to come, too, and Lisa calls that she is off work and up for brainstorming. So (with David) we are a merry band of seven in our living room, drinking bottled Starbucks and getting wilder by the hour. The group therapy idea is sticking, and I suddenly remember an acting class I took where the teacher used to frantically squirt participants in the face with a water gun and yell "BO-RING!" which was hideously hilarious unless it was being done to you. This seems sufficiently disturbing to everyone, and sates our collective jones for guns to make an appearance in our film, sans actual maiming. We begin to build on this. What if this therapy group used all kinds of aggressive tactics to "help" people dig deeper into their psyches?
We're getting a little silly. I announce that I'd love to see "some sort of dance number at the end, with flowing dresses and fields of tulips." When people look confused, I say "People love that stuff. They eat it up. Trust me." Weirdly, no one argues with that logic, and before too much longer it's a done deal that we're going to be dancing in tulips over our credits. I'm glad I didn't insist on the ritual sacrifice of a goat over our credits. Who knew I had such power? (I should point out that the actual dance contains not one measly tulip, so perhaps I should shut up now.)
Eva and Lisa are FB-ing long lists of instructions and props to the rest of the team. My phone is lighting up with texts from George with stuff like "How about the Seven Dwarfs, but as murderers???" to which I reply "George, go to bed." I message Shelley: "Bring a change of clothes. You will be getting wet." My vagueness delights me.
I'm not even tired. I could freakin' think of brilliant stuff for another week without shutting my eyes. David heads to bed. Lisa and Eva take off. I hunker down at the table with Robyn over the lap top, with Mark and Calvin on the sidelines for moral support.
Or so it seemed. We are at a stalemate. Here's the problem: I am not a careful writer. I am a careful editor. By which I mean, I'm happy to write page after page of crapcake without even looking at it. Doesn't intimidate me at all. I will then fix it later. I'll fix the hell out of it. But Robyn doesn't work this way. Last year, when she was our pinch hitter, she was excellent at finessing the first draft because she didn't have to worry about how it got there. Now we're looking at a blank screen and every time I suggest a line, she and Calvin both moan "Nooooo. Not funny. Too funny. Too silly. Not dark. Too Sam." (That's a big one--I get that a lot.) Calvin is micromanaging, telling me he doesn't want any puns. "Puns? I've never written a @#$%&* pun in my life!" Suddenly, I'm in a petulant tantrum. "You do it!" I say, pushing the laptop at Robyn and stomping out of the room.
This doesn't last long. I come back. We regroup. I say I am going to put my head down and type some crappy stuff while they talk amongst themselves and then they can fix it. I do this, for about 20 minutes. Then I read it to them. They laugh. They laugh! Uh, okay. We have an outline and bare-bones dialogue for the entire thing. Must be time to call it a night.
"Are you sleeping?" I whisper as I get into bed. "Not at all," David says sadly. We whisper a bit until I remember no one else is in the house. Weird to be there without Jarrah. I think we're about to fall asleep when David yelps, "No one better wear stripes tomorrow! The lens doesn't like it!" "Better put it on FB," I say. He's out of bed like a shot.
My heart finally stops pounding like an incoming bullet train and I slip into sleep.
DAMN! Why didn't my alarm go off? Oh, I set it for PM. That was clever. I shower but don't have time to eat. I do remember my "flowy white and pastel garments" for the dance sequence, my laptop, my charger and a basket of coffee supplies. It's not a long drive to our first location--a beautiful house in Kensington owned by some friends of George's--but I manage to get lost anyway because my brain isn't quite keeping up with the accelerator.
Wow, this is a nice house. Can't believe these people are letting us tramp all over it at the crack of dawn while they sleep (!) It's hotter n' blazes already. The backyard is grassy and woodsy, just right for our purposes. Calvin and David are very efficient and no sooner have we all draped ourselves in gauzy finery but we are loping around as they film, to the ethereal strains of "Boom Boom Pow." Someone has the bright idea to have us repeatedly climb some very steep stone steps out of the woods, while holding hands, dancing and grinning like maniacs. I trip over the rocks every take. I have hunger pangs and sweat sliding into my cleavage, and a sneaking suspicion that this is my punishment for forcing all these good people to dance around a May pole for no reason. I teach everyone a few moves from the Nia routine "Miracle." I later worry that I'm going to look like an idiot, but when I finally see the footage, we actually look great.
Robyn and I are back to the script, on orders from Calvin. They're filming some other stuff in the backyard but we're not invited because our director is such a slave driver. Mark posts a pic of us on Facebook, typing away at someone's kitchen table, surrounded by piles of neatly folded underwear. We're in the groove now, working well together.
Tons of texts from Nina, who is coming from the Union-Tribune to interview us on set. Cane Toad Productions has been chosen to represent the 48 Hour Film Project in a feature. Whee! Unfortunately, the set keeps shifting, so she's having trouble pinning us down. I finally determine that we should be in OB by 11:30 for the next part of our shoot. She is probably sorry she agreed to these shenanigans.
Script is done! I think! Seems so much shorter than other years--less than four pages. Of course, the final product ends up just shy of eight minutes, just like every year. I don't traffic in short movies. We are off to Ocean Beach (OB) where Shelley has secured keys to a vacant Iyengar yoga studio. She's even found us a private parking lot, because she's just that awesome and organized.
Our photog is waiting outside with us for the last yoga class of the day to finish. Nina arrives soon after. It's a bee in my bonnet that we have no Craft Services table, plus are not allowed to eat in the studio. I feel like the only stuff that gets eaten for the rest of the day is what's on top of the pile. No time to worry about it. The studio is nice and sunny, and the Iyengar ropes on the wall look pleasingly like a row of nooses. Our scanty crew goes to work setting up lights, sound, camera. The only chairs in the room are metal and man, do they squeak. "Is it causing noise artifacting?" I ask David. I just really like saying that.
I think first we do a read-through of the script with the actors in a circle, because a photo of that ends up in the paper. A word about our actors: they rock. I'm so proud of them, and proud of myself for putting little stars next to their names (at least the ones we hired from the auditions) after seeing them perform for one minute. Can I spot talent or what? The three of them--Kacie, Caleb and Barry--have very different styles but are total pros. And NICE people. Of our other actors, Shelley, George and Lisa are PLAW and there's nothing we can ask of them that they won't instantly make happen. What champs. Marie rounds out the group of seven--she's our mascot each year, making an appearance somewhere. This year, her line "Oh, me, too!" has me collapsing in giggles and practically ruining takes.
We've started doing some exploratory takes, checking for sound and picture, and letting the actors get familiar with their lines. I am desperate to swoop in and guide them: suggest, reassure, prompt for loudness...whatever. But it's making Calvin crazy. And I am soooo frustrated. I wrote the script; I want to direct the script. But that's not what we agreed. I feel bad about this. Robyn tells me privately to cut it out. I'm in agony. It takes me HOURS to get used to not butting in, and I'm not sure I ever really do. It's more likely that Calvin just gets used to me being annoying. Who am I kidding? He's already used to that.
The next few hours are about shooting scenes. I get a little frustrated because the need for lots of close-ups means we're not really getting the group interaction, since the camera is not on all of them very much. I'm used to theater and didn't quite plan for that. Plus the repetition is eye-rollingly boring. Hopefully we won't go too late, and no need for re-shoots in the morning. A girl can dream.
A lot of hilarity breaks out around our props, which are a collection of water pistols. Specifically, Lisa is supposed to be drenched before the movie begins, so a series of helpful volunteers keep leading her outside to be blasted with the Super-Soaker. She's even described in the script as "Wet Lisa." Eva rubs black mascara all over her eyes and her beautiful long hair is sodden and stringy around her dripping face. George is extra-careful to keep spraying her decolletage. She is re-wet many times over the course of eight hours, because the hot lights dry her like a minute in Palm Springs. Every time I look at her, I want to laugh because she looks like Eponine from Les Miz. Of course, she never complains once.
Mark has gallantly offered to drive data up to CineForm (David's company) in Solana Beach, but once he gets there, realizes he has no key. He drives all the way back, picking up our pizza on the way, and then goes back AGAIN. Caleb works for a gourmet pizza place, Pizzacoto, and has donated a bunch of pies to our crew. What a doll. It's good, too. But he can't get any because we are torturing him. The very last line of the scene--our required line--is "I'm trying my best!" And for about an hour he kills in his scene, then forgets this last line, blowing the take every time. The last time, he starts berating himself with a stream of profanity that is so funny, I wish we could put it in. As a Jewish mother, I keep murmuring to David and Calvin that we need to feed him; he's been working hard for ten hours and this is a lot of scrutiny; let's just let him take a break and come back to it. As non-Jewish non-mothers, they are like "He can bite me. We're getting a perfect take if we all starve first." Sheesh.
The sun is going down over the OB pier. I can just see the perfect orange orb if I crane out the window. Sigh. We won't see much daylight this weekend. We're working on the "money shot" where everyone in the group points their water guns at Caleb at the same moment. Filming it from different angles. David is standing on a bench up near the ceiling. Because that's what happens when you're already 6'2" and then you stand on a bench.
Marie is leaving. George tells me he has been excused. "Um, WHAT???" I yelp. "We haven't filmed any wide shots of the last scene. And Caleb hasn't gotten wet. Hello!" I start freaking out. Eva is on it, sprinting across the street to nab Marie. Grabs her just in time. We actually have two more hours of shooting, as it turns out. I am all agitated because clearly no one has been keeping track of what shots we have vs. what shots we need. I think that was originally Shelley's job, but she's been on camera the entire day so things have changed. That's the way with this contest. Things. Have. Changed. Secretly (not so secretly?) I'm pretty proud of myself for saving the day.
Robyn is receiving frantic texts from Mark, who's at CineForm, data-wrangling and--as it happens--Eric-wrangling. Our new editor is not a self-starter with the software, and has no idea what to do without someone guiding him through the shots. "If 48 Hours is a rainbow," I say to anyone who will listen, "Tyler [last year's editor] was on one end, and Eric is way on the other." And what I mean by this inelegant analogy is that this year we are @#$%&*ed, editing-wise.
It's a wrap! Primary camerawork is done. As it happens, we have another Cane Toad first: NO SUNDAY RESHOOTS. Even last year we had a few. Now it's time to clean the Silly String (don't ask) off of every surface in the yoga studio and pack up all our gear and food. This takes less time than I expected. The place looks great when we leave. Some people are headed home for the night, and all actors are on 30-minute call Sunday. Some of us are headed to Solana Beach. I have a tantrum when I realize that people have helpfully shoved about 80 Costco cartons in my car and I can't see out my rear window. "@#$%&&!" I say. And "*&%$#@!" Robyn bears the brunt of that, since she's driving with me. "Isn't it enough that I have to drive to freakin' Solana Beach on an hour of sleep and sixteen hours of work? Without my vision impaired? ISN'T IT ENOUGH?" Robyn doesn't answer. I think she thinks it's enough. I feel much better after my tantrum. All the way up there, I try to pretend that the lights and lines are not blurry.
We're at CineForm. I happily set up a real Craft Services table at last. Everyone is shutting themselves into rooms for hush-hush negotiations--David, Eric and Mark on data transfer, Calvin and Eva on shot review. Robyn, Lisa and I bounce on the exercise balls that fill my husband's office (they don't believe in desk chairs) and vaguely wonder what we're doing there. Still, we're giddy with the success of the shoot and not yet terrified of being late, so it feels good just to be silly for an hour or so.
Since no one has acknowledged us, it also feels good to say goodnight and head home for a few precious hours of sleep. "I don't think I'll be able to shut my eyes," I say. "I haven't been alone in the house without David or Jarrah in five years." "Somehow I don't think it will be a problem," Mark says. He's right.
After a long, hot shower in which I spend 10 minutes scrubbing the dirt socks off my feet, I pass out like I'm drugged until I hear the phone.
It's Shelley. We're in the Union-Tribune! Cute picture of David with the camera on the front page of the Region section! Time for some coffee, some Advil and texting. Who needs food, coffee at CineForm? No one, apparently. David says Calvin and Eric have been editing all night and are now "passed out." That seems like a good sign.
I head to Einstein Bagels even though no one asked me to. See above under "Jewish mother."
I arrive at CineForm. Robyn is there, David is hard at work. Eric seems to be gone (uh...what?) but Calvin is up and shuffling around like a curmudgeonly old man--bed-headed and scowling. I think he may be playing to the camera, though, because he seems in a suspiciously good mood for someone who just slept on the floor for three hours after editing all night. Oh, to be 20 again.
Lisa arrives! Surprise! She was supposed to work, but got out of it. She's such a ray of sunshine. Very soon, she and I are busy compiling the credits (in keeping with our theme, everyone is some kind of "whore") and checking documents. Robyn is editing the "commercial" at the end of our movie, which is going to be hilarious. I can see Robyn editing the whole freakin' thing in another year. I keep saying "Where's Eric? Where's Eric?" but David and Calvin are sanguine. Let the guy sleep. Harumph. Sleep is for losers.
Lots of texting. I'm telling Kacie we need to reshoot her but that turns out not to be true. She, George and Caleb come in together around noon and bring us lunch from Fidel's. I love them--they are the cheerleaders of this year's edition. They spend the whole day bouncing on the giant balls in the center of the action, providing moral support and anything else we need.
Calvin actually asks me to help him. I'm so surprised I almost swallow my gum. Up to now, he's been a typical editor, head down, brow furrowed, no use for social intercourse. Of course, he's not actually an editor, but is teaching himself on the job, and already has the demeanor down. I sit with him for a couple hours, choosing shots for the Caleb scene. It's fun. All around us, people are getting things done. Nice thing about the PLAW crew--they don't need to be told what to do. They find something.
I have questions about Eric. Such as, Where the @#$%&* is he? I keep saying "It's not called "START A FILM in 48 Hours!" I am completely amazed that someone would take on this job and then just bail without explanation. But David and Calvin are not amazed. They don't even want me to call him. "He knows he's needed," says David serenely. "If he's not coming in, he's making a choice." Yeah, a CHOICE to derail our hard work. I demand satisfaction...of some kind. "Call Jake," I say desperately. "Maybe he can be convinced." Jake is David's co-worker, and our former editor. He's very good, and fast. David agrees. He tells me after that when Jake picks up he hears hysterical laughing in the background...he's with another co-worker, doing some 48 Hour damage control over there. He agrees to come in at 2:00. It's like a miracle.
In the mean time, a weird thing is happening. The movie is getting edited without an editor. Or rather, with a lot of little editor elves. David (who's a great editor but perfectionist-slow) is speedier today. Robyn is figuring out the program on her own and doing great. And Calvin has learned enough from Eric during the night to get it done, too. The thing is coming together as though we've had a visit from Disney Cinderella's band of forest friends. Rather than everyone going to 11 on the freak-out meter, we somehow seem better off than usual. Huh.
Now I want answers about Marie, our composer. Where is she? She's decided to work from home. I worry about this, since I can't yell at her, but maybe this is exactly why she's working from home. And she's been composing right to the rough cut in an efficient way, so the music is actually going in incrementally, which I can't remember happening before. It's good stuff, too. The "Bridge of Hands Club Re-mix" is definitely going viral on YouTube. I can't get it out of my head. Seriously. It's, like, glued in there.
Jake is here, along with his wife, Gretchen, and their dog, Clover. Clover does not contribute, but he's cute. Jake swoops in and we all clap and bow, which seems to please him. He sequesters with Calvin and they fix some things, and then with David, too. Amazingly, whatever he needs to fix takes less than a couple hours. Before I know it, they're on their way again, and we--can it be?--have a rough cut...
...at 4:30! Sure, sure, the music isn't totally in, and there's been no color correction or sound level adjustment, and there are still a couple transitions that are bothering me, but...if we had to turn something in right now, we could. Hmmm. Calvin said we were going to be more efficient this year. I didn't believe him.
We're all getting a bit silly. There are stories, and laughing, and Caleb breaks a chair and we all fear for his life. We eat a lot of chocolate and Red Vines (a tradition.) Mark makes us a Facebook page for "Bridge of Hands Therapy Center" (like us!) I start yelling about the completion documents, and they are quickly handled. We determine we have five (!) missing release forms, and the appropriate people are found and punished, erm, I mean, they deal with it. I keep telling George, Caleb and Kacie, "We're pretty calm now, but soon you'll see some yelling and running. It gets scary intense." They look a little worried and thrilled simultaneously.
But you know what? It never happens. The closest we come is when David yells at me because I've pointed out that some newly added music is drowning out the audio in three places. He says he can only deal with one at a time. I say fair enough. He says we won't have time to render with all my complaints. I say how about more fixing, less yelling. He yells a bit more for good measure. This is a moment that happens in every 48 Hours and everyone who happens to be in the room looks at the floor discreetly until it's over. There's probably a reason you don't see many husband-wife teams in this competition.
Time to render. David always yells a lot that this is going to take 30 minutes, but I've gotten wise to him: it takes about ten. I'm not sure if he's remembering the good ol' days or just trying to scare us, but shhhhh. Let's not mention it; let him have his little fun. There's some discussion of who is going to the finish line--we really want to send two search parties, but might only have time to render one version. What to do? I know! Let's yell about it some more! That's always a good time!
There aren't many people left. It's down to me, David, Robyn, Mark, Calvin, Lisa and Eva. Robyn says it's her year to cross the finish line, and Eva and Lisa quickly volunteer to be the back-ups. I scream and high-five and "hooray!" them to the elevators but then I'm quickly sorry to be left with just the menfolk. Those stoic, reserved menfolk. Sigh. The three guys silently stomp around, packing up equipment and cables, and I slink off to start cleaning. Well, this is anti-climactic. Rats. I clutch my phone, waiting for updates...
...and one comes! It's Robyn, and all three of them are in line! Eleven minutes early! WHAT? This is unprecedented. I do some yelling, but it's just me. Mark has left and David and Calvin are too tired to talk. What am I saying? Neither of them talk much anyway.
Cleaning up. Contemplating all the food that didn't get eaten. Shelley texts: "Got movie?" I text back "Hell, yeah, we do." Only I don't actually say that. I say some gushy stuff about how happy I am, which is what I say to everyone else I text that evening. I always feel like I love the whole world when we finish the @#$%&* movie on time.
This year, Mary and Paul have given us a special gift: they're bringing Jarrah to our house, so I don't need to go pick her up. Soooo nice. I am shooting down the highway, smiling from ear to ear, screaming the lyrics to The Cult's "She Sells Sanctuary." I'm a-goin' home and we DID IT, baby. On time is the only prize right now, and we got it. Soon: a shower, pajamas, toast, couch and reality shows--then about a week of sleep, and I'll be right as rain. Until next year.