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!
The Last Con from Brant Jones on Vimeo.
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).
Nominated for four awards at the annual Naperville festival including BEST FEATURE FILM, BEST DIRECTOR - Cole Simon, BEST ACTOR - Tyler Sieple, and BEST ACTRESS - Kiana Harris, you can catch the Naperville Premiere at 7pm on Tuesday, September 18, 2012. Visit http://www.naperfilmfest.org for full festival information, tickets, and directions. The festival runs eight days from the 15-22 of September. With its proximity to Chicago (the current artistic base of Glass City Films), several members of the production team plan to attend a second screening on Thursday, September 20.
Separation Anxiety Takes Home Prize
I love the speed of technology and communications. Today, I was in rehearsal for Midnight Madness here at Ohio University when I get a text from my finacee. She asks me if I've seen the Facebook page for Glass City Films. I hadn't. So on a break, I check it out -- figuring that if she's telling me to look it up, something is going on with my film "Separation Anxiety" -- and sure enough... I see a post that says: Just learned that "Separation Anxiety" won Best Drama at the River Bend Film Festival! Congrats to director Cole Simon, writer Jeremy Sony, and the entire cast and crew, and a huge thanks to the incredibly hospitable RBFF team for a great weekend. Woo hoo! So, of course, I'm all WOO and HOO as well.
Following the happy txting back to my beloved, I txt some similar congratulatory notes to Cole Simon and John Klein, two talented men that willed this film into existence by their sheer enthusiasm (and a ton of hard work).
Here they are (John, left; Cole, center) with Mike Molenda at the Glass City Films merch table at the River Bend Film Festival last weekend.
Cole txts me back and turns out he found out from me. Let's do that math. River Bend posts the award announcement --> GCF's press wunderkinds push the news to Facebook --> My fiancee sees the posts and alerts me via txt --> I am overjoyed and txt my director and producer --> My director, working a busy day in Chicago gets the awesome news. All of this happens very quickly.
Considering how often Cole was able to txt and surprise me with happy news about our film, I was glad to return the favor. So proud of the whole GCF team. I think I'll have to watch the film this weekend again to celebrate.
Cole Simon (Director) and myself.
This weekend, I'm in Alexandria, Virginia for the Alexandria Film Festival to see a screening of my film "Separation Anxiety." In case you didn't know, I wrote the screenplay for the film based on my own play of the same title. In attendance this weekend: my girlfriend Laila, and my friend and Director of "Sep," Mr. Cole Simon. I'll keep this quick, but let me touch on the highlights.
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.