Tonight, I'm heading to a screening of short films here in Columbus, Ohio. One of those films, I had a hand in creating, so it will be extra special to sit in the theater and see my name flash up on the big screen. It's been almost six years since I properly worked on a film (for my movie, Separation Anxiety), and so when my friend Brant Jones called me up to ask if I wanted to write a script for the 2015 48 Hour Film Project here in Columbus, I didn't hesitate to say yes.
Each year, in cities around the world, filmmakers gather over a 48 hour period to make short films. The specific 48 hours varies from city to city. For Columbus, it was last weekend (July 24-26). The 48 Hour Film Project rules are simple. Filmmakers are given specific parameters at the outset (parameters they have no previous knowledge of) to include in their films: a genre, a character, a prop, and a line of dialogue. Those are the base guidelines. Once the requirements are announced, they start the clock.
Why the rules? Because it's a competition. Over the next 48 hours, each team must write, shoot, and edit a film, which ranges in length from 4-7 minutes. So it's up to the team to manage their time. How much time do you spend writing, how much in production, and how much in post? There's probably no magic formula --- just a ticking clock, and the wonderful challenge of creating something out of (almost) nothing.
Each city's participants are vying to win in their own city and move on to compete with other winning films. So the winning film at the 48 Hour Film Project Columbus will eventually go up against the winner of, say, the 48 Hour Film Project St. Louis, at Filmapalooza in Hollywood. This annual event, which brings together the winning films from all the host cities, is used to select the best of the best and send them on to a special screening at the Cannes Film Festival.
Cannes is a pretty huge deal. To show anything there, ever, would be pretty awesome for any filmmaker. It's like the World Cup of film festivals. Many would argue that it is the pinnacle of film festivals. So, ultimately, one of the 28 teams that made films in Columbus last weekend could advance all the way to Cannes, France, and show their film to the world. It's happened twice before. To even have a chance of getting there, we had a lot of work to do; in the aforementioned 48 hours.
Without getting into a complete play-by-play, let me quickly run you through the 48 hours over at Two Pop Studios (Brant's production company), at least from my perspective. This was my first 48. I had an idea of what was going to happen based on having had friends participate in earlier years, Brant (a returning filmmaker) had prepped me, and I recall my own days of film studies at Notre Dame with tight weekend shoots on shoestring budgets. Even still, it goes faster than you think.
The kick-off event was a crowded flurry of excitement and anticipation. Held at the Gateway Film Center (where they will screen the films tonight), representatives from every team were there. Lots of chatter, lots of networking, and lots of waiting for the unveiling of the required elements and the genre draw. The genre draw ensures that only one or two teams cover each genre (yay for variety!), but also adds to the challenge. You might get drama, comedy, horror, sci-fi, romance, thriller, etc., and the entire tone and aesthetic of your film is thus determined about five minutes before you set off to film.
We pulled DARK COMEDY. Sweet. I like dark comedy. I was pretty happy with that genre. Once we all had a genre, we were given: a character to include (Ron) who had to be a twin; a prop (a wrapped gift); and a line of dialogue that had to be included ("Try it. What have you got to lose?"). There was a moment of acknowledgement that the rules had been set, and then we were off. Off to film, off to write, off to... wait, do we even have a story?
No. We didn't. Not yet. So we headed to the cantina next door. Me, our director Matt, our DP Scott, and Ben (one of our actors), ordered some food, some drinks, and began brainstorming. I won't go into details, but by the end of that meal, we had a great starting point and I took off home to write. And write. And write. All night. Between fits of slumber and writer's block. Between dusk and dawn. Between several cans of Coke and a bag of cookies. I wrote.
Sometime in the morning, I emailed off the script to Matt and Brant. Later, I sent revisions. They went to work. I went to sleep. By the time I arrived on set that afternoon (again, sleep), they'd already shot half the film (it's 7 minutes long, but still!). It was such a thrill to watch the actors bring characters to life that had only been created twelve hours before.
I tried to capture some behind-the-scenes photos while I was there, but I'll admit that most of the time I simply enjoyed watching these talented people work. Here's a smattering of pics that won't spoil anything from the film.
The shoot lasted all through Saturday, just up until dusk. Our four amazing actors, Ben Gorman, Sonda Staley, Linda Dorff, and Peter Graybeal, blew me away with their commitment to everything; and by how much fun they made it. Scott, our DP, and Micah, our sound man, knocked it out. There was another crewmember, Ryan, who left before I got there, but I heard he was awesome. I don't know about anyone else, but I had a right, lovely time. We had a small cast and crew, a mix of friends and new friends. Our hosts (the owners of the house we filmed in) were wonderful and gracious. Our producer even made us lunch (even though I wasn't there to enjoy Brant's tikka masala).
Once the shoot was done, it was up to Brant and Matt to work together to edit it down to fit the 4-7 minute regulation time. Brant was already starting the rough-cut while were still shooting, actually. It's strange, sometimes, being the writer. You're very much the first person in the relay race that is filmmaking. Sure, I was on set for the filming, and Matt and I talked about some script changes on the day, but in the end my work was mostly done in the first 12 hours of the event. Once filming was completed at the half-way mark (or just beyond it), I was done. Much like the actors and the crew, I went home, got some sleep, and said a little prayer for Brant that we gave him everything he needed to put together a solid film.
We must have, because we all received an email from Brant on Sunday night that they'd completed the film and turned it in on time. Matt worked with him on the editing process, as any director would, and I have to give major props to Brant and Matt here. Matt's directing style is pretty great; and I felt like he understood and had a great respect for the script, which as a writer is always such a gift when working on a film. Of everyone who worked on the project, he and Brant did the lion's share of the weekend. Matt was there at the kick-off, for brainstorming, on set all day, and working with Brant to edit and deliver the film. Brant, as our producer/editor, has been working hard for months to put together this wonderful team of people (I'd work with any of these people again in a heartbeat), and was always on the go during the shoot, doing whatever was needed of him to get the job done.
Tonight, we see the results of our hard work on the big screen. It will be awesome to see what the other teams did, and how they worked those parameters into their own stories in their own genres. I'm quite happy with what we made.
For my first 48 Hour Film Project, I couldn't have asked for a better experience.
UPDATE (8/9/2015): The Last Con is now shared on Vimeo! Enjoy!
TWO POP STUDIOS PRESENTS "THE LAST CON" BEN GORMAN LINDA DORFF SONDA STALEY
AND PETER GRAYBEAL DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY SCOTT SPEARS SOUND BY MICAH JENKINS
PRODUCED AND EDITED BY BRANT JONES WRITTEN BY JEREMY SONY DIRECTED BY MATT HERMES
Thoughts. From my brain. Anything to do with how we tell stories and the stories we tell each other. Literally and figuratively.
Writer. Husband. Father. Effulgent dreamer. A Fightin' Irishman (@NDdotEDU '01). A playwriting Bobcat (MFA in Playwriting, @OhioU '13). I write plays. I'm a geek. I wanted to be an astronaut. I go places in my head.