This weekend my friends will make a movie. They don’t know what movie they will make, but they know they will start it Friday night at 7:00 pm, and they will turn it in by Sunday night at 7:00 pm. They can’t tell you what it will be about, where it will take place, or even what the main character’s name is. They can’t tell you about the film’s exciting moments or quippy one-liners. They can’t tell you what kind of movie it is.
My friends are not being coy or difficult. They can’t tell you about their movie because they don’t know anything about it either.
This is the 48 Hour Film Project. And while I will not be joining my friends in their quest for two day cinematic glory this year, I can tell you what it was like last year. Here is the Nebulus Visions / Cru Jones Society story of the 2010 48 Hour Film Project.
While in the midst of career confusion hell that saw me leave my comfortable agency job, enter an industry I knew nothing about at a company run by one of the worst people I have ever had the displeasure of meeting, swallow my pride and rejoin the agency at a pay decrease, then wait six long months for another opportunity to pan out (it did – this is my current job, that I love), I pondered what I really wanted to do with my life. So I tried a lot of different things in hopes the answer would reveal itself. Turns out, I didn’t want to be a television reviewer, which for whatever reason, I found surprising.
As I branched into other writing gigs, explored freelance copywriting work, filmed bizarre commercial parody shorts, and basically figured out how to pay the mortgage while languishing in an underemployed holding pattern, a weird opportunity just sort of came out of nowhere.
Our good buddy Brad, he of the direction of the Extra Space Storage shorts, and he of J. Thurston Rockefeller Meowington IV from Geek Bowl fame, told me one random night in May about the 48 Hour Film Project, and said very flatly, “I want you to write it.” This is very flattering at the time, but I can’t help but become awash in self doubt.
I don’t write fiction. I haven’t written dialogue since Advanced Creative Writing junior year of college. I don’t stay up late as well as I used to. I can’t sacrifice a weekend like that. I’ll get exposed as a fraud. My penis is too small. I’m afraid. Blah blah blah.
Then I remember that funny is funny, and getting Hart and I together pretty much always leads to funny. He’s the guy who unashamedly deadpanned my uncle for 10 minutes at my graduation party, much to the delight of my father who still tells this story more than is probably necessary. I’m the guy who, 20 minutes after meeting Hart’s new girlfriend, discussed why I would totally fuck a clone of myself and how if you could suck your own dick, you shouldn’t be afraid to spunk in your own face. Get us together, it’s pretty much always going to lead somewhere comical.
Only one problem: I have to get him onboard. So I think about how best to do this, and actually hatch a plan for it. Remember, this is my best friend, and a guy I’ve written with for the last 2+ years at this point. So I take him to Sobo 151, bullshit some small talk, then talk about how a script can’t come from just one point of view, I work best when we bounce ideas off each other, I’ll make sure he doesn’t have to work the insane hours, and would you please be my writing partner for this goofy project? His response: “Sure.” Well, glad I spent all that time preparing.
Stepping backward a bit, once I agreed to write for this crazy project, I figured it’d just be some larf we did with our friends. Brad has a whole catalog of videos ranging from weirdo stop motion movies, to straight ahead commercial contest entries, to oddly disturbing film shorts. Yet, when we convened for our first meeting, I was met not by people I knew, but by people who had legitimate filmmaking aspirations. One dude even made his own zombie movie, “Turd Merchants of Death” (FYI: It’s terrible, but competently shot and edited), and runs a successful skate shop where he produces his own local skate videos. I was as excited to work with relative pros as I was leery.
One skill I’ve honed in working in public relations is sifting through the bullshit posturing of a first meeting to determine likely outcomes. In this case, these guys all talked about their different camera types, special effects capability, editing tricks, and locations they could “easily” obtain for the shoot. Right. Let’s see how much of this shit actually shows up the day of the shoot. The only prep work allowed for the 48 Hour Film Project is securing releases for talent, locations, and music rights.
And when people you haven’t met before start to promise the world, my bullshit detector goes into overdrive. So I focused only on what I could control, and that entailed getting just enough shit to cover our asses if these guys didn’t come through. So I spent my weeks slowly gathering releases.
I first locked up Hart as my co-writer. I then sat through one of our boring ass HOA meetings to secure the rights to filming in the common areas of our housing complex in addition to allowing shooting in my own home (despite the fact that my Lady E’s sister and brother-in-law with their infant son would be staying with us that weekend). I worked on getting permission to my office building, but that stalled when some lousy cocksucker from their home office put the kibosh on it last minute.
Lastly, I scavenged my old band contacts from my days at college radio and found two of them. One, Step Short, didn’t even exist as a band anymore, and I locked them up when I ran into their old drummer at the Gothic Theatre and happened to have the release forms on me. I was only near the Gothic because I was on my way to check out Vices I Admire, a band I’ve known and partied with for nearly 10 years, and hopefully secure their rights too. I did, while wearing some bitchin’ jorts, I might add.
So, if all else fails, we have two bands from which to choose music, a fairly large location, and enough of us to fill in the acting gaps wherever necessary. In short, we have the bare minimum for making a movie. I did my job, so I requested a producer credit. Why? I’m not sure. But as I said at the beginning of this piece, I really had no idea what I was doing career-wise at this point in my life and thought this might somehow help (Post-script: It hasn’t.)
To the surprise of no one, the ones who promised a shitload delivered a mere fraction of what they promised, and bitched when we requested stuff they said they could bring. The dude who wasn’t even at the first meeting and then promised nothing at a later meeting? Yeah, he showed up with prop weapons, costumes, and two other actors. That guy is the tits. Our second cameraman/editor/princess/general cunty pain in the ass – yeah, not so much. But we’ll get to him later.
In preparation for the big event, Hart and I decided it would be best to go through a practice exercise. So one night we have Brad make up a character, a line of dialogue, a prop, and a genre for us to make a fake script for. It’s hard to describe how weird it is sitting quietly in your own house on a weeknight waiting for a text message so you can write something that will probably never see the light of day. It’s like a premise for some shitty, plodding art house movie, or a piece of fiction in The New Yorker that Jim Jarmusch would like.
So the text comes in and it reads: Tina the Mechanic, umbrella, “What did you do to her cat?”, time travel movie. And as we suspected might happen. We freak out and freeze. After a cigarette calms the nerves (Sidenote: I’ve had maybe 6 cigarettes in the last 6 months – booya!), we just start clacking away and come up with a decently funny story heavily influenced by (read: totally ripped off from) the time skips episode of Futurama.
With a false sense of confidence, and a totally useless time travel movie in our hip pocket, we head to Friday night where Brad eagerly awaits our moviemaking fate. Hart and I sit at my house with baited breath. The text rolls in: Sharon or Sherman Woods, Administrative Assistant, a lamp, “He told me not to tell anyone.” This is all great. An administrative assistant is easy enough. They gave us a gender option. The line is interesting in its own right and lends itself well to plot development. Lamps are fucking everywhere and barely even qualify as unique objects anymore. Excellent.
Genre: Drama. Fuck. When we pored over the list of possible genres (which are different this year), we were pretty much okay with everything except musical or western, romance, thriller, or drama. I think it’s Murphy’s Law that governed this twist of fate, and when I find Murphy, I am going to beat him to death with a lead pipe because irony fucking sucks. Case in point: Doing a Q&A panel at the premiere, this team of girls drew comedy, which was the one genre they didn’t want (are you fucking kidding me?), so they threw it back and drew dark comedy (Fuuuuuck!), and struggled through it to make a semi-funny piece about a kidnapper who slowly gets more and more annoyed at the toddler he’s kidnapped.
So we have the option of throwing the genre back in exchange for a Wild Card genre, of which we’re okay with everything except foreign film. If you can’t guess what happens next, you’ve obviously never been to Vegas, because naturally, Brad draws foreign film. It’s un-fucking-canny, and now Hart and I really fucked. We head outside to brainstorm (where I start chainsmoking like a fiend – a trait that would continue for the next 48 hours and make me feel like absolute dog vomit once the weekend was over), and nothing is coming. Literally, nothing is coming. We’re so hung up on the technical aspects of the genre (What the fuck does this even mean? Does it have to be in a foreign language? Does Canada count as a foreign country?), we forget to even come up with a lucid idea.
After a couple of hours of paralysis (I’m not even kidding… hours) and a lot of debate, we realize our buddy Adam speaks Japanese, has a crazy Asian fetish, and works in a sushi restaurant (with real Asians and everything!), so if we can cobble together a decent samurai movie, which is really nothing more than a culturally modified spaghetti Western, we’ll be all right. We can write and shoot the thing in English, and just have them dub it later. Perfect. Sort of.
Being the pretentious boobs we are, we decide we want to make the genre our own. We don’t want to do some staid, hackneyed piece of garbage that’s been recycled a million times, we want to do our own take on the genre, and really blow people’s minds, man. So we cook up this idea about two warring samurais who, despite years of fighting, realize they love each other and go gay for each other in the third act.
Then we realize it’s already 10:30, our princess cameraman is calling Brad every 10 minutes and complaining about something new, and we don’t have the right sensibility to write for either Asians or gays. The whole thing will just be one big, uncomfortable, racist piece of shit, and that’s not how we want our first screenwriting experience to go.
So we sit down and bang out a half-decent revenge movie that includes a few nifty flourishes we’re proud of. The timeline isn’t totally linear. The story features decent character development, some good twists and a swordfight in only 7 minutes. And we get to write a hilariously over the top black woman who refers to one white dude as “that baloney-smellin’ mothafucka.” Fun!
Now for the drawbacks… The story doesn’t totally make sense and leans on boring chauvinist motivation as one of the plot crutches. The middle features a shitload of talking which serves as a giant exposition dump and makes a good chunk of the movie sag. Through it all, as we write an Asian-based story featuring no less than a 6’ 3” blond dude, a middle-aged white woman (who gave me shit all fucking day during shooting), a black woman, and two other white guys, we couldn’t help but wonder: Is this totally racist?
“It’s probably totally racist,” I think to myself on US-36 at 4:30 in the morning headed towards Boulder.
No time for social concerns, however, as we had to start shooting the fucking thing. We wrapped up writing at about 1:30, and told everyone to convene at 5:00 am in Boulder, where we had secured the rights to shoot at a local bar while they were closed. Since 6 of the 7 minutes of the movie’s runtime took place in the bar, that meant we had to do all of our set-ups, all of our lighting, all of the filming, and be totally cleaned up between 5:00 am and 2:00 pm.
Thankfully, this ticking clock of doom put everyone right on task. We got it going immediately, and within an hour, we were shooting the first scene. I drank an energy drink and smoked a cigarette between set-ups while serving as script supervisor, which made me get nauseous, shaky, and panicky at about 7:00. Failing to eat dinner, working frantically for 6 hours, getting two hours of sleep, then loading yourself up with caffeine and nicotine is what I imagine it feels like to be on meth.
As I was near total breakdown, I gathered myself and bought a cinnamon roll and two giant bottles of water at a nearby coffee shop. This made me feel human again, and the rest of the day cruised along at a breakneck pace.
Our poor lead actor Adam was in pretty much every scene, which, combined with the wordy ass dialogue we wrote, ground him into a fine powder by the end of shooting. When we filmed the climax, where he tells off the opposing crime boss and has a final confrontation with his longtime enemy, he tripped over the words so many times, I thought our script was going to implant a stutter in him. We didn’t write easy words, and Adam looked like he was about to turn into Bill O’Reilly under the hot lights more than once and start screaming “Fuck it! We’ll do it live!” Thankfully, he didn’t, and did a great job instead.
With filming over, and not much else for me to do, I headed home where I immediately started drinking. Admittedly, I should have probably gotten some more food, but I was wired as hell at this point. And then, I went to the Rockies/Cubs game where Cargo blasted a homerun to the 3rd deck on the first pitch in the bottom of the 9th inning to win the game and complete the cycle. It was an unreal game, and a perfect way to blow off steam after a full day of weird stress. Hart and I then went to a friend’s house and proceeded to drink ourselves stupid. It was awesome.
And that’s the great thing about being a writer. Once you write the shit and it’s filmed, there’s not a lot for you to do. It’s Miller time! Sadly, not everyone got to enjoy this as Brad was fighting with our editor whose incompetency had only begun to show.
The next day, I called Brad from a wedding I had to attend (Sidenote: Literally everything in the world happened this weekend. In addition to the 48 Hr Film Project, Lady E was in Boston for her 10 year camp reunion that I would have gone to had we had any money, our friends had a giant party, the Rockies played the Cubs, Lady E’s step-sister got married, and I think there was even a UFC fight I wanted to see. It was crazy.), and asked how it was going. Brad enumerated the many struggles he had with our editor and told me he was worried about the final project. I felt grim. And nauseous, but that’s because I’d slept maybe 8 hours total over the last 48. I get a text from Brad at about 6:30 telling me they made the deadline and that we were eligible for prizes.
At this point, I am happy to call this project a success. We made a film in 48 hours, and as long as it’s not the visual equivalent of Pip fartin’ on a snare drum, I’m a happy camper.
Skip ahead one week: I am not a happy camper. I have invited a shitload of people to the premiere screening and I haven’t even seen it myself yet. I’m a mess. The jitters from the previous week are back in full effect. My parents are in the house. My friends are here. And they’re here to see a fucking samurai movie I wrote. The hell?!?
The movie finally rolls, and I can’t sit down, so I’m standing behind everyone. I’m pacing like Clint Hurdle in the dugout. I’m chewing my nails, which I’ve never done in my life. I feel like a caged lion, but with none of the confidence. This is going to suck, and my friends and family are going to hate me. I’ve wasted everyone’s time, and the police are going to arrest me for being a phony. I should get a job roofing since writing clearly isn’t for me…
The seven minutes go by in about 15 seconds, and I can barely process anything happening on the screen. No one boos. No one laughs. People congratulate me. I have no idea how they really feel about it since I’m a paranoid freak, but I appreciate at a bare minimum their politeness. I myself have no idea how to feel about since I’m way too close to it. I console myself knowing that it didn’t suck, my friends and family don’t hate me, I didn’t waste anyone’s time, and the police never arrested me for being a phony.
One film stands head and shoulders above the rest and earns universal kudos from everyone there, which provides an odd relief valve for my pent up anxiety. My fear of success manifests in weird ways and at odd times. I wash away the jambalaya of conflicted emotions with several $3 cans of PBR.
I’ve seen the original cut a few times now, and can safely say our editor is an idiot. He focused on matching sound cues to visual shots and skipped the Japanese dubbing altogether which made everyone confused at how our story was foreign at all. The fact he did a shitty job of syncing mouth movements to sound helped, but proved unintentionally funny more than anything.
He chose odd angles as the best camera shots, and didn’t bother to incorporate the title card Brad made. Our end credits scrolled by at about 90 mph, and he screwed the pooch on the last music cue.
Considering this guy was a total prima donna to work with, said during one of our meetings that if he could make any movie at all, he’d make Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (Jesus…), said he only wanted to shoot and edit it and then complained when he wasn’t involved in every little process, ultimately made the movie less than it could have been, and then proceeded to tell us with a straight face how he couldn’t wait until next year to make a better movie during the movie’s premiere… he can officially eat a bag of hell. You didn’t like me, and I didn’t like you, pal. So, choke on it. Also, good luck with your business. Your skate videos are actually pretty good.
With a fresh edit, some cool effects to make this look like a real grindhouse affair, the Japanese dubbed in with their companion English subtitles, the correct music cue on the end, and boss looking graphics, Brad has made our film into everything it possibly could be.
That’s why I’m proud to link to: Tottori Dynasty: Director’s Cut.
Special thanks to Vices I Admire, for their awesome song “Keep Killin’ Me” that scores our film’s climax. Great music, guys. Keep it up!
I’m happy I did the 48 Hour Film Project. It was an exceptionally weird weekend, but a rewarding one. Sometimes you need a shock to the system like writing under pressure and learning to get along with people when you haven’t slept just to remind you of how easy the rest of life is.
I won’t be with the team physically this year, but I’ll be there with them in spirit. During our first meeting last year, one of our team members had a bad experience the previous year. She said despite everyone’s best intentions, things devolved into arguing, yelling and hurt feelings. She didn’t want to go through that again. She dropped out by the next meeting, but her warnings came to fruition.
With this year’s team free of cunty complainers, I think their lean, mean, filmmaking team will kill it. I can’t wait to see what they come up with, and I wish them best of luck.
This was my 48 Hour Film Project story. What will theirs be?
29 Jul 2011 E Dagger