Monday, August 11, 2008

48 Hours of Fun

I'll end the suspense right now. We were bedeviled by an over-long running time. When we tried to fix it, other things broke, and before we knew it we had to choose between making the deadline and being disqualified, or making it perfect and turning it in late.

We turned it in late. Sigh. But we had fun, I didn't fight with anyone this year (and I only cried very briefly) and I suckered a few more unwitting friends into joining the team, where they found themselves infected with the 48 Hour Film Project bug--there is no cure, unless you count the annual booster shot of doing it all over again.

It's hard for me to keep this concise, but for anyone interested, here's my second annual set diary:


7:00 p.m. - Robyn (who has flown in from San Antonio only hours before) and I are enjoying some post-Nia fro-yo when I call David. We've got our elements. Drumroll, please...

Genre: Holiday Film (ack!)
Character: Joe or Josie Beeble, Construction Worker
Prop: Tweezers
Line of Dialogue: "Hey, have you heard the news?"

7:30 p.m. - We head over to Denny's, where we've reserved the private back room for the night. The team has grown to 20 people this year. We order some eggs and pie, introduce ourselves, and get down to business.

9:00 p.m. - Somehow, the earliest ideas all revolve around a lesbian couple who are driving their kids to visit their father for Father's Day. The gimmick is that they both used to be married to the same man. This keeps morphing--they become sisters, it's actually Mother's Day, they discover the dad is dead, the dad is a construction worker directing traffic, the construction worker randomly gets in the car. Someone suggests an epic piece in which we see a brother and sister as both children and adults, and they have some sort of bonding experience on the way to a holiday reunion. I get super-excited about the idea of filming at Inflatable World, a theme park near our house. I go to the bathroom for three minutes and my Inflatable World dreams have been crushed, or deflated if you will, and there is no going back. I'm concerned that we are planning to film the entire story in the car. "Too stagnant!" I yell. "Too static!" "Too other things that start with 'S'!"

10:00 p.m. - Desperation time. Happens every year. I start to think there will never be a plot.

11:00 p.m. - We're going around and around and are no closer to a story. Everyone seems dumbstruck when I call out for more ideas. The brother/sister/learning and growing in the car idea wins by default. We have new writers, Hal and April, who are young and vigorous. They agree to have something ready for us to shoot in the morning. I am profoundly relieved, though worried about the car thing (and on this point, I am distinctly Cassandra-like.) We're going to make our base of operations at Jake's house in Elfin Forest, which sounds adorable. At any rate, I'm grateful that no one is suggesting our house again, after which our bathroom looked like one in a gas station.
12:00 a.m. - Robyn and I say good-night at my house and agree to meet in the morning for our long drive to Elfin Forest, which is near Escondido. David wants to take a separate car for all his equipment.

3:00 a.m. - I wake David (I sure wasn't sleeping) and yell at him for making decisions when I was in the bathroom. "I thought I was the f-ing director! Are we starting this already?" Neither of us sleeps very much.


9:30 a.m. - We're wending our way through a leafy canopy of trees on the road through Elfin Forest. It's like we're going to a resort instead of to work. Jake's parents' house is incredible. I really do feel like I'm at a spa. There's even a babbling brook outside. Pretty soon the cars in in the circular driveway are triple-deep.

10:00 a.m. - I sit down with Hal and April to talk about the first major scene of the script. They have some great dialogue about the book Future Shock. We do several read-throughs with the four cast members--Craig (who works with David) Grace, Julianna (Grace's daughter, 9) and Ryan, 16. The family will be traveling in a mini-van. I'm dreading it already. The first few read-throughs are tough--the dialogue is complicated and there's more to memorize than usual. They are total pros, though, even the kids (neither of them complain once the entire day.) Before long, they are sounding like a real family, and the two kids are punching each other like they mean it.

12:00 p.m.-ish - I don't really remember how long we were rehearsing, or how long I was offering "helpful" suggestions on how to move the script forward. Lucky for us, Hal and April were on top of it, and though I was constantly pulled away, they kept their heads down and finished the script by mid-afternoon. I do know that I sent everyone to hair and makeup at some point (by which I mean to Robyn and Grace in the bathroom downstairs) and that they then sat around in their trailers waiting to shoot after that. (Too bad their trailers were imaginary.) I know that "the boys" (David, Jason, Kevin...who else?) spent a considerable amount of time strapping the camera to a crafty rig in the mini-van...keep right on inferring the drumbeats of doom whenever I mention filming in the car.

2:00 p.m.-ish - Gretchen and Kanda bring pizza. In fact, they bring everything. No sooner do I say, "Do we have a highlighter? Scotch tape? A clipboard? A clown nose?" then someone is placing it in my hand. Sweet. People are getting antsy to shoot. I feel for them. Trying to remain calm.

2:30 p.m.-ish - We pack into the van for our first big scene. It's a long one. Craig ("Mr. Beeble") is driving; Grace ("Mrs. Beeble") riding shot gun. Ryan (Joe) and Julianna (Josie) are directly behind them. And where am I? Crouched in a pile of cables behind THEM. With no seat. Reading a script. Backwards. Watching the monitor to choose the best takes. With the windows closed. And no air conditioning. (Can't have anything competing with the audio.) Is it any wonder that my dear husband makes it up and down the winding road a couple of times before shouting that he's car sick and needs to go back? I stay, though, and Jake joins me. I think we're back there about two hours. How I don't throw up is truly a mystery. At one point, Craig makes an abrupt U-turn, and I pitch sideways all the way to the opposite wall. When I look down at my script, sweat runs down toward the center of my face and drips onto the page. When we finally get back to headquarters, everyone leaps out, shuts the doors, and walks away, leaving me alone on the floor in back. It's several minutes before Jason comes to rescue me, and he has to go find the keys before he can. I am boiling over, and blink back a few furious tears.

5:00 p.m.-ish - Discovering that the only car (some sort of power issue) we'll be able to shoot in is the size of a Toyota Starlet, we head back out to shoot several consecutive scenes with Jake and Robyn as the grown-up brother and sister. Kevin is lying down in the trunk space with the cables and the monitor; I'm crushed against the window in the back seat. Apparently not crushed enough--in the finished film, you can see my tan arm waggling around like a ghostly hitchhiker in several frames. The fading light is blazing through the windshield, blowing out the picture every time we round a corner, so we peel off to the side of the road to change direction every two minutes. After a while, Robyn matter-of-factly announces she's going to yak. Knowing that we are losing the light, however, she soldiers on, and later I tell the rest of the crew how you can tell the girl worked for Disney: the footage shows her barely restraining her spew except when someone yelled "Rolling!" at which point she is instantly as radiant as Miss Universe. See for yourself. Ultimately, things get so guerilla between our light issues and our vomit problems that Jake becomes a whole new kind of multi-tasker: for the close-ups, he is simultaneously driving, acting, filming and reading his script.

6:00 p.m.-ish - We shoot two short scenes on the verdant lawn behind the house. We only moved the camera a few feet between each one, but that's the magic of film; it looks like a new location on screen. The first scene features the Beebles enjoying an apple pie on a blanket under a tree, and as David says, "it's trippy." No one can put their finger on it, but watching them eat that pie is gosh-darn hilarious, especially the close-up of Grace, awash in beauty lighting, holding a forkful of pie aloft and announcing, "I think Aunt Millie was on to something." It reminds me of the scene in Airplane! when the concerned wife says (inside her head) "That's funny. Dick never vomits at home."

6:30 p.m.-ish - Mary and Paul arrive with Jarrah and Joy, who are looking freakishly cute in their short dresses and pig tails. Jarrah yells, "We are like princess!" I am a bad mom because I haven't thought of her since Friday afternoon, instead relying totally on how much she loves to be with M, P and J, and how good they are to her. I can see Jarrah is a bit crabby with me, possibly for not snagging her a role that would secure her SAG card. By some miracle, we finish outdoor shooting by sundown. Kanda and Gretchen arrive with Chick-fil-A, which I've never had before. Those chicken biscuits are devilishly good.

8:00 p.m.-ish - We have one indoor shot, which turns into one of our wacky moments. It's a cutaway to Aunt Millie getting excited for pie, and Marie is in full granny regalia, complete with flowered apron and powdered gray bun. She looks too good to waste, so we get a few shots of her. The hands-down favorite features a demented-looking Marie rising up out of her shoes to exclaim "I love apple pie with extra cardamom!" while brandishing a cake server. You can hear me busting up in the background.

9:00 p.m-ish - Marie is up yet again, doing a voice over for our possessed GPS. The boys set up equipment in the padded sound booth, "otherwise known as Jake's closet," Kanda remarks. Indeed, Hal and I are deep into coaching artificial cadences from our lovely songbird when I suddenly exclaim, "I had no idea men were allowed to have so many shoes!"

10:00 p.m. - I am suspicious because all our shooting is done (save a few daytime exteriors) and nothing is crashing or without sound. We say goodnight and most of us head home to get some rest before the Sunday editing crunch, but David and Jake drive to CineForm to transfer all the data. He's home before midnight, too.

12:00 a.m. - I'm strangely serene as I prepare for bed. Maybe this will be the year when nothing goes wrong, I wonder. Even as I think it, I know it's not possible, but I sleep fabulously, if not for long.


8:30 a.m. - Robyn picks me up for our drive to Solana Beach, where we'll be editing at CineForm. We express our gratitude that we'll be working in air conditioning today. (Note another harbinger of doom.) We feel so relaxed that we stop for an al fresco breakfast at Zinc Cafe on Cedros. It's a gorgeous morning. I know it's the last time we'll see daylight today.

10:00 a.m. - David is the only one at the office. He's beaded with sweat. "For some reason the air conditioning isn't working." Uh-oh. Robyn and I see people in another office and pay them a visit. It bodes ill that their door is propped open. "Oh, yeah, the building charges for A/C on the weekends now. You have to pay in advance." Jake has overslept and we're missing a car we need for exteriors. The morning is a slow-starter. Robyn and I busy ourselves by putting the credits together, and recruiting Craig to arrange them with photos and a video clip of Aunt Millie dancing. People start trickling in, and once Jake arrives, he's glued to the super-premium big-screen editing suite he's constructed in his office. Luckily, there's a cushy chair next to his, just for me. I spend most of the day there.

12:00 p.m. - Things are going pretty smoothly. The footage looks great, and David and Jason have completed a parking lot shoot of people getting into cars and hands switching off the GPS. Stuff for continuity, dontcha know. The most popular spot is the couch in Jake's office--Jake is not only a great editor, he's a fast one. His concentration is Ninja-like, and then suddenly, the changes are there. Luckily, he's also very receptive, which means I'm not totally superfluous since I can't operate the equipment. We watch all the available takes and choose the best ones. Then we choose the best PARTS of the best ones and splice them together. It's laborious and precise. But it starts looking really great. That's pretty much how the afternoon goes.

1:00 p.m. - Greg works in his office, from whence a great techno rumbling pours every now and again. He's composing the score. The musician always has the hardest job, since we edit until the last minute and then say to the composer: "Here. You have 10 minutes. Stick an appropriate soundtrack into the following scenes that you've never even seen before." Luckily, he's not fazed. Jake is surrounded by empty and half-empty coffees and energy drinks. The office smells like tuna and meatballs from the subs Kanda's brought in.

3:00 p.m. - Editing is going, but slowly. There are so many scene transitions, and so many decisions to make on the ratio of close-ups vs. two or four shots. We're see-sawing between the past and present with the mini-van and car scenes. I start to feel a rumble of nerves, and realize I have heartburn.

4:30-ish p.m. - Jake's office, where most of us are crammed, is perhaps 10 degrees hotter than the conference room, and maybe 20 degrees hotter than outside. Someone has lined a bunch of chairs up in the outdoor hallway, which overlooks an atrium with a waterfall. The scene is so far from our reality that I can see myself diving from our third-floor perch into the "lake" below. It's no longer clear to me how close we are to a finished version. This is the part every year when I no longer have any control; I have to throw my trust into the editors. Which is hard because they're great editors, but not great delegaters. I could do the delegating myself, if I only knew what needed to be delegated.

5:30 p.m. - I rock. I have Marie fact-checking the liability forms, Robyn filling out our team paperwork, Craig on credits, Hal checking on Jake. I'm reminding everyone to send files to other people so work doesn't languish until the last minute. David's on color correction, and hopefully, "arm removal." It's all coming together. Hopefully, we can render in a few minutes and make our 7:30 deadline.

6:00 p.m. - Series of disasters: The credits will not export from the Mac Craig is using. The arm cannot be removed. Then, the biggie. We all hear David scream. The movie is nine minutes, including credits. A second over eight, and we're disqualified. How did this happen? No one knows. David and Jake feverishly begin cutting the opening driving sequence, and cutting back every other car shot in an effort not to lose any dialogue. We're all on a tightrope.

6:30 p.m. - By some miracle, Jake has cut enough to fix the time, and while there are a few audio glitches, nothing to prevent us copying the final version. The machine says it will be ready in 29 minutes. David remarks that gives us exactly three minutes to play with before we are late. Everyone stalks around wringing their hands.

7:03 p.m. - IT'S DONE! David gathers up all his stuff and runs for the door. Marie has gone ahead to wait in the valet parking at the Doubletree Hotel finish line. As David runs by, I see he is beet-red. He's through the door before Craig says, "There's a problem. The last dissolve isn't working. And the credits dropped off the back end." "WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?" I yell. "No credits!" David yells back, and keeps going.

7:04 p.m. - We are glum. Everyone stares at the floor. We talk about how bad this will make the last shot look. But there's no help for it. The phone rings. It's David. He wants to know how I feel about him coming back, making it perfect, and submitting late. I say no way. I don't want to be late two years in a row.

7:10 p.m. - Craig comes out of David's office. Bad news. Unfixable bad news. The latest version had crashed while they were transferring computers, and no one had noticed that it really was still too long. Robyn asks, "Exactly how sure are you that the film is still too long?" "100 percent," he calls back. We call David to come back, since now we're going to be disqualified anyway. Now we have to find Marie, who otherwise may be standing in the valet parking for the rest of the night, wondering where David is.

7:30 p.m. - David is back. He and Craig are going to fix all the problems and submit a "perfect" version before midnight. Robyn and I are going to pick up Jarrah. It's past 7:00 p.m. and I've turned back into a pumpkin mom. I tell Robyn that having her here helps me in two ways: one, she's good company and takes my mind off things, and two, she was right there for every bump in the ride, so she knows how I'm feeling.

8:30 p.m. - Jarrah sleeps in the car, exhausted from her stimulating weekend. I know how she feels. We toss her right in bed when we get to the house. I make a picnic, and Robyn and I do the post-mortem.

10:00 p.m. - Robyn leaves. She flies home in the morning. I call David and he tells me he's waiting in line at the finish line. There are four teams in front of him, and two more call while he's standing there. So we're not the only late ones. In the end, it turns out 31 of 43 registered teams make the deadline. 10 teams are late, and two are never heard from again.


Just found out we're not eligible for "Best of San Diego" this year. Apparently, some of the teams cried nepotism last time, since CineForm was the only late film to make it in. According to the organizer, CineForm had the only late film that was GOOD, but I guess that sounds a little suspicious.

But we're still eligible for the Audience Award. So bring your friends and come on down to see us on Saturday, August 16 at 3:00 p.m. at the UltraStar Mission Valley Cinemas. The long running time means there's more of us to love.


Anonymous said...

I laughed out loud (HARD!!) on your comment about the pie scene and cried out loud (hard!!!) at the end of your blog...
But I am extremely optimistic to see the film and need you to know how deeply inspired and impressed I am by the creativity, hard work, determination, team work, skill and magic that took place this weekend!
I feel honored to have been a part of it all...
I let many friends know, I hope they come!!!
Love to you, Sam!!

Laural Out Loud said...

Wow! I've never heard of this before. How cool to find out about it by reading your back stage account!

Anonymous said...

Oh, my, what a rollercoaster! But as usual it is so well narrated. I was on the edge of my seat. I can't wait to see the film, so be sure to let us out-of-towners know when you've posted it somewhere.


Miss J

Caroline said...

Good gravy! I have sympathetic exhaustion and a few extra gray hairs just from reading your account. But I can feel the fun of it, too. Maybe one of these years, I can be a part of it, even if just as a gopher. :)

Anonymous said...

What a totally perfect account of the weekend! I can't wait to do it all again next year. I'm definitely on board regardless of where I'm living. Thanks for the chance to be a part of the team - everyone was great and it's all a wonderful memory! I'll miss you guys at the screening and can't wait to hear the reactions to our film.



Anonymous said...

Marvellous account of an exhausting weekend. Look forward to seeing the end result. Love Joan

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a weekend. Can't wait to see the finished product.

Melanie Sheridan said...

I'm exhausted just reading that!

The Wades said...

I'm all stressed out now!

Unbelieveable! Where can I see this movie? We live in different universes, that's for sure! (well, except that I like to make slide shows for each of my childen's classes and another for branding, and that I'm always up to the wire. Not the same, I know!) I love it! :)

Samantha said...

Hi Readers!

Thanks to everyone who slogged through this less-than-abbreviated account.

Today is our screening; in the next few days, I'll post how you can access the movie on YouTube or elsewhere.

And it's "G" rated! :)

Anonymous said...

Sam, we so wish we could be there to see your movie today! It sounds so fab! You and David are such creative geniuses. Can't wait to see it when you post it...
Miss you tons,
Laura, Mike and Noelle