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
2008 would become the year we'd film an investment trailer for Cole's company, Glass City Films. GCF was co-founded by OSU grad Cole and a man named John Klein, and it so happened he, like me, also went to Notre Dame for film (just coming in the year after I left). Cole reprised his role as Bailey Palmer in the investment trailer. I got a crash course in directing for film (ya know, that wasn't a school project --- big honking difference), and an 8-minute extended trailer (for a movie that didn't exist yet) was born. In the end, that investment trailer helped GCF secure a budget and in the Fall of 2009, we began filming the feature. Only now, I was focused on being the screenwriter and Cole stepped in the direct.
That film would take less than month to shoot, both in Columbus and in Toledo. It was a whirlwind. I was going back and forth from the film set to helping my own theatre company open a show. And they were shooting in my house, so it was kind of crazy. But just as quick as it started, filming wrapped. That was five years ago. A year later, in the Fall of 2010, we began screening the film in Columbus, Toledo, and Chicago (where GCF is primarily based now). It was pretty sweet.
"Separation Anxiety" went on to hit some festivals, getting nominated and winning some awards like Best Drama at the Riverbend Film Fest and Best Director at Trail Dance (where it was also nominated for Best Drama and Best Actress for Kiana Harris). Laila and I got to travel to Alexandria, VA, in the Fall of 2011, with Cole for a film fest screening and it was such a blast. I was both excited and humbled to have my film included in the line up at each of these festivals.
This movie was made on a tiny budget (film-wise), somewhere around $50,000 (you'd have to ask GCF, I'm not a numbers guy, I'm a words guy). The leads were OSU grads (and a student I think), Tyler Seiple, Kiana Harris, and Corbin Jones. And we had two film vets in our key supporting roles: Polly Adams (United 93) as Lily, and one of the best TV dads ever, John Wesley Shipp as Mr. Palmer (seriously, JWP is a gem to work with; and he was Dawson's dad on Dawson's Creek and he's Barry Allen's dad on The Flash on CW!). I still remember John Klein asking me who I'd cast as Mr. Palmer if I could just cast anyone, and I said (I thought wistfully) "John Wesley Shipp, of course." And then John Klein got him for the film. Awesome.
For so many years, there were only a handful of friends and family who ever got to see this movie, and so I'm beyond thrilled that it's now available for everyone to watch. Being a little indie-drama, I know it's not going to break box office records, Avenger's style, but that's cool. I'm just glad that people have a chance to see it now and I hope they like it. I hope they rent it. I hope they buy it. I hope they find something in the film that speaks to them and I hope they share it with their friends.
Here are some photos from some of the premieres from 2010. I'll leave you with these to close out and encourage you to visit my Separation Anxiety film page where you can watch the trailer and some behind-the-scenes action and see if its your kind of movie. Even if it's not, I bet you know someone who would like it, so please do me a favor and tell people about the film and send them my way (or to Amazon or Google or their XBOX, etc.). Happy viewing! (But seriously, bring tissues... it's a dramedy... with the drama).
Earlier this year, the City of Grove City, Ohio, commissioned me to write a new play for 2015 to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of Jackson Township and the role that Grove City has played in its history and development. While the full play will premiere next Spring, the city is working with their hometown theater, the Little Theatre Off Broadway (LTOB), to present a first look preview of the play at this weekend's Arts in the Alley festival.
It's been a great pleasure working on this play thus far; and although I can't share the full story with you until next Spring, I'm thrilled that Grove City and LTOB are bringing this first look to the stage. And all during an arts fest celebrating its 35th year. They're calling for an absolutely beautiful weekend in Grove City, like high 70s/low 80s, so please come and enjoy the arts festival and stop by LTOB for one of our six performances of the first look of the Grove City Play. See you in the theater!
So they talked about me on TV this weekend. What? Yeah. I don't think that will ever get old. It's pretty sweet (and by "they" I mean my director, Lisa, and the host of a local show with regard to a new play being previewed at Grove City's Arts in the Alley later this month). On Sunday, my mom called to tell me that my aunt phoned her to say that she heard my name mentioned on OUT N ABOUT COLUMBUS. After some internet research, this was proven true.
OUT N ABOUT COLUMBUS spoke with my director (and active member of LTOB), Lisa Napier-Garcia about the history of LTOB and how we're getting involved with Arts in the Alley by sharing part of this exciting project. I've tried to cue up the segment below. Lisa's interview begins close to the 17:50 mark.
Keep reading after the YouTube video to find out more about my Grove City play.
The play is one of two plays I've been working on for this Fall (the other being ROBIN HOOD... more on that later this week). I call this one THE GROVE CITY CENTURY BOX: A HISTORICAL MYSTERY. Commissioned by the Grove City Historical Commission, the play will have a full production in Spring of 2015 to coincide with the 200th Anniversary of Jackson Township.
I'm excited to be working with LTOB (The Little Theatre Off Broadway) in Grove City on the production side of things, as they will present a preview of the play, September 20-21 at Arts in the Alley. Think: extended trailer. You'll have six chances to stop by LTOB during this annual arts festival in the heart of historic downtown Grove City and get a glimpse at what we're working on for next Spring.
About the play: In present day Grove City, Sydney and her brother Dylan are prepping a house for auction when Sydney discovers what appears to be an abandoned time capsule. When they open it, it unlocks a mystery that centers on a young girl in 1952. Who she is, what happened to her, and why she created the forgotten century box can only be answered by digging through the history of Grove City---and the answers Sidney finds will forever change her.
Showtimes and further information will be posted as soon as I have it!
This is more of an announcement than a blog post. For any and all playwright friends in Ohio (or within driving distance of Columbus on a Saturday in November). The Dramatists Guild is holding an all day workshop on November 17th. Some of the panels that day include awesome folks like Gary Garrison, Mike Geither, and Matt Slaybaugh (all people I hope to work with one day) and my own mentor at OU, Charles Smith. The announcement, information, and contact information on how to make reservations is below. It's free for DG members and guests. Not sure of cost if you don't fall into those categories. But if you're not a Dramatists Guild member, consider becoming one. Anyway, here's all the details. Maybe I'll see you there.
SAVE THE DATE: DRAMATISTS GUILD IN OHIO - SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2012
Saturday, November 17 from 9 to 5 PM.
The Drake Union, The Ohio State University
1849 Cannon Drive, Columbus, OH
THE DRAMATISTS GUILD OHIO REGION and THE DEPARTMENT OF THEATRE AT THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY present a daylong workshop
THOSE WHO CAN, TEACH
Exploring techniques, exercises, and resources that will help us share our craft Convened by Faye Sholiton (DG Regional Rep) and Jennifer Schlueter (OSU).
FREE to DG members and guests. Reservations by November 14 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maybe you’re in an MFA playwriting program and are aiming at a university career. Maybe you’re already teaching at the high school or college level and want to find new ways to guide your students’ work as writers, lyricists, and composers. Maybe you’ve been asked to teach a workshop through a theatre that’s producing your work. Or maybe you’d like to sit in on a master class with some of the top professionals in the region.
You belong in Columbus on November 17 for a one-day conference packed with workshops, Q&As, and lectures from those who not onlycan teach, but who are passionate about doing it well.
Whether or not you can attend, we invite your participation in an idea exchange. We’re looking for exercises, techniques and resources that have worked for you as a teacher or mentor. Send these “Wright Ideas” to email@example.com. We will share them at the workshop and then on the DG website. For each Wright Idea you submit, you will have a chance to win one of four autographed copies of a Doug Wright script: Quills, I Am My Own Wife, The Stonewater Rapture, and Unwrap Your Candy.
PROGRAM OF EVENTS
8:30 AM Doors open. Coffee and light refreshments available. (Drake Lobby)
9:30 AM Welcome. Faye Sholiton (Roy Bowen theatre)
9:40 AM “Writing the Ten Minute Play,” Gary Garrison, author of A More Perfect Ten and DG’s Executive Director of Creative Affairs. (Roy Bowen theatre)
11:00 AM DG Updates: Conversation with Jennifer Schlueter and Gary Garrison followed by Opportunities for Ohio Playwrights: Chiquita Mullins Lee, Arts Learning Programs Coordinator, Ohio Arts Council.
11:45 AM Lunch break. Boxed lunches are available for $9 PRE-PURCHASED ONLY. Please note: no restaurants are open in the building. Order forms will be forwarded with registration materials. (Drake Lobby)
1:00 PM “The Gentle Art of Mentoring,” Michael Bigelow Dixon, former Literary Manager at Actors Theater of Louisville and the Guthrie Theatre, co-editor of Playwrights Workout, and Assistant Professor at Transylvania University. (Roy Bowen theatre)
1:30 PM Working sessions. Select ONE.
Option one: Teaching at the MFA, or advanced level. (Drake 2068)
Option two: Teaching high school and undergraduate students. (Drake 2060)
Option three: Working in the community: youth, adults, and writers in
non-academic settings. (Drake 2038)
Confirmed panelists include: Charles Smith (Ohio U); Mike Geither (Cleveland State U); Eric Schmiedl (Spaulding U.); Michael Bigelow Dixon (Transylvania U); Wendy MacLeod (Kenyon College); Bonnie Milne Gardner (Ohio Wesleyan); Mark Evans Bryan (Denison U); Herman Farrell (U. of Kentucky); Michael London (Ohio Playwrights Circle, Dayton); Matt Slaybaugh (Available Light, Columbus); Katherine Burkman (OSU, Women at Play); Chris Seibert (Cleveland Public Theatre)
3:45 PM Break. Light refreshments. (Drake Lobby)
4:15 PM Concluding remarks, featuring Herman Farrell, DG Kentucky Regional Rep; and Alan Woods, retired professor O.S.U. and Dr. Beth Kattelman, Associate Curator of the Lawrence & Lee Theatre Research Institute at OSU. Drawing for the Wright autographed scripts. (Roy Bowen Theatre)
WHEN YOU EMAIL YOUR RESERVATION, YOU WILL RECEIVE DRIVING AND PARKING DIRECTIONS AND ORDER FORMS FOR LUNCH.
OTHER COLUMBUS EVENTS: For those who can spend extra time, consider:
Ohio Regional Rep
Hey playwrights, theatre go-ers in general, and anyone who ever wanted reality TV audience voting to merge with theatre... a troupe in my hometown of Columbus is presenting a run of one-act plays that they've come up with, but with a twist.
Over the four week run, audiences will vote off a play each week. AND, if you want to see more of the play, you have to come back each week to keep it going. And here's why...
The first week, they'll put up the first 10-minutes of five one-acts. After an audience vote, only four plays will advance to week two where they'll get their first 20 minutes performed. Again, the audience votes, and one gets the chop.
By week three, you'll have three one-acts, and each will play for 30 minutes... and then you vote.
The top two plays will make it to the finals (week 4), where they finally get to play out in their entirety (40 min) and last audience vote will determine the ultimate one-act play of "Divide & Conquer." Should this experiment go well, I expect this to become a new MadLab tradition.
I am simultaneously fascinated and disturbed that reality competition is making headway into theater --- wondering if this will a) pick-up steam beyond MadLab, and b) inspire writers to be more engaging from the top of the piece all the way through, as they can't rely on those last fantastic 10 minutes to sell the show.
To be fair, when sending out submissions to any competition, literary agent, etc., you're basically experiencing this very phenomenon behind-the-scenes, where the readers have hundreds of scripts and if your first 10-page block doesn't hook them, why keep reading? So, yeah, this is kind of that, but on a large scale, with actors, and audience.
This is what I'm wondering and asking... should we be excited? Should we applaud the merging of these worlds? Would more events like this help expose more writers (rather than two writers getting a full run of an evening of one-acts, five writers get their name out there, albeit briefly for some)?
Does embracing reality TV style competition into theatre acknowledge the changing wants of our audience -- specifically the next generation who are being raised on entertainment where they have a voice? Or does it devalue theatre as an art form by pandering to that audience? Art is often done to express something by the artist, to make us think, and to be more than entertainment. More than what the audience craves. So what do you think?
Would love to get your thoughts on this. From my end, I'm still torn. It's a slippery slope... I wouldn't want all theatre to evolve to this -- however, the competitor in me thinks it would be fun to play, and I know that as someone who wants to write for television as much as the stage, you only get that first impression to keep your audience from changing the channel. And don't forget, to anyone who cries foul of this (and I welcome you to do so; I love discussion on emerging theatre), a producer's job is to put people in the seats, so while the art is important, so are ticket sales and something like this, mixed into a season line-up, might just get some new blood into the house.
Should MadLab hold another 'Divide & Conquer' next year, I'll be submitting. Would you?
You can read more about MadLab's show (which opens this week), at http://madlab.net/MadLab/divideconquer.html
"Never have I had so much fun at a theater show!" was just one of the many excited comments I heard after the touring company of "Rock of Ages" turned the Palace Theatre in downtown Columbus into an arena-style rock show mixed with a broadway musical. And I couldn't agree more. Brought to us by Broadway Across America Columbus and CAPA, last night's opening performance of the 80s rock spectacular (yes, I said spectacular) left this theater-goer on his feet and wishing he had a lighter to salute the band and cast at the end of the show (don't worry --- they sell little lights at the merch table out front so you can hold it high and sway at the power ballads and everything).
Bookwriter Chris D'Arienzo gives us a self-reflexive show that takes 80s rock classics from rockers like Journey, Stxy, Pat Benatar, Poison, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Night Ranger, Twisted Sister, Whitesnake, and more, and weaves their tunes together through what some might call a cliche story. If 80s glam love in L.A. in the face of the corporate annihilation of a city's rock legacy is cliche, than bring it on. A familiar story, yes, but the creative team behind this musical did something unexpected and never ceased to surprise me with how they integrated each rock hit into the show --- and yeah we all know how these 'boy gets girl' tales play out, but trust me when I tell you there will be some wicked awesome surprises along the way.
The show's leading man, Constantine Maroulis (of American Idol fame), showed us why he earned a Tony nomination for this role. Playing the shy city-boy wanna-be rocker Drew, who pines for the small town girl named Sherrie (Rebecca Faulkenberry). Maroulis' vocal range and powerhouse voice brought home numerous applause and ovations once unleashed. Faulkenberry held her own with her co-star, belting out a mix of heart-breaking power ballads and unleashing her own inner rocker throughout the night. The two have wonderful chemistry and easily command the stage.
But like any great band, it's everyone on stage that brings it together, starting with the Patrick Lewallen who played Lonny the sound guy and our narrator throughout the evening. Giving us just enough self-awareness to let us embrace any cliches, his emcee style gave those in the audience who maybe weren't as familiar with the music (or the world of the 80s in general) a guidepost and way to connect with the show and get some of the many in-jokes. For those in the audience who look at the clothes, the music, the hair, and think "That's my yearbook!" -- the show will have you rolling by the end. Lewallen, never shy and in your face with his rocker/theatrical antics, keeps the comedy going and displays an enormous level of comfort with himself and the material.
Other notable treats throughout the night include Teresa Stanley as Justice, whose malfunctioning mic did her no favors -- thankfully her sassy attitude and powerful voice came through nonetheless; Nick Cordero (as Dennis Dupree, owner of L.A.'s The Bourbon Room), steals the show with Lewallen during their rendition of "Can't Fight This Feeling"; Travis Walker dazzles and delights in his turn as Franz; and as the hyper-sexed self-centered rocker Stacie Jaxx, MiG Ayesa -- well, you almost have to see him to believe it. But yeah, MiG Ayesa nails the bad boy hair band rocker image and does it with gusto (read an interview with MiG Ayesa on the CAPA blog).
The show was not without some tech glitches that will hit any touring show on opening night in a new space. A misfiring mic here, a delayed start there, hey -- it happens. The delayed opening or stretched intermission is nothing different than a concert. And at least here you get a cushy seat (though short on the leg room for us tall guys) to wait out any delays. I never once thought it ran long -- if anything, it ended where it should and I would've stayed for an encore. This Broadway musical functions as both a stage show and a rock concert --- so for those not used to going to rock concerts, just relax and go with it. You'll have fun.
Kudos to the design team on a killer set, complete with multimedia, concert style lighting, and yes, fog machines. I told you -- it rocked. The Palace Theatre is not a big stage and they make it work with a morphing set and scene changes that go by in a blink. The fast-paced energy of the Kristin Hanggi directed show is supported and enhanced by the blend of broadway and arena concert tech.
My review would not be complete without a shout out to the Rock of Ages Band, who are more or less on stage throughout the show, playing in The Bourbon Room, and how much they truly rocked this concert within a musical. Their sound was fantastic, supported the singers on stage, and they gave us one of the best curtain calls I have ever witnessed.
There you have it. If you like the music in "Rock of Ages" (big 80s power rock), go see it. If you like to have fun at the theater, go see it. If you're too young to remeber the 80s, but you play a lot of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, go see this show. And mostly, if you're looking to rock out, have fun, and see a touring company bursting with talent own the stage and get you on your feet --- don't miss this show!
“Rock of Ages” runs Dec. 7-12 at the Palace Theatre, 34 W. Broad Street, Columbus. Tickets are $22.50 to $77.50, call 800-745-3000 or visit Ticketmaster.com.
Note: I was invited by Broadway In Columbus to review "Rock of Ages" as one of their volunteer online bloggers. I received no compensation for this review and the opinions are strictly mine.
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.