TANGENT


 


After just switching majors from animation to VFX, a friend came to me to see if I could assist our school's film club with an entry in a 48 hour film festival in Milwaukee. I was familiar with 24 hour comic challenges, so I got the concept right away. Unfortunately, the call came much too late and I just wouldn't be able to help. Saying "no" was something I've always had a hard time with (still do), so I made the group a promise then and there that I would take whatever steps necessary to be a part of the next fest entry.

The following summer a member of the group came to me once again, and this time I was ready and raring to go. Unfortunately, the majority of the group was decidedly less so. It seemed there were lots of conflict within the group. They had a director, they had actors, they had a location, but they didn't have a production crew ready to go. For starters, the timing was very much less than desirable as the fest would take place the same week as the end of our school semester which led to many senior members declining to participate. The bigger problem was one of perspective- there were actually two festivals in our area that summer- Milwaukee & Chicago- and the majority held the opinion that Chicago had more entries, a bigger audience, and was therefor more important. I was signed on regardless, as was the group's President who was slated to direct. I ended up meeting with the group for a planning and strategy session in which I urged them to consider- if Chicago was truly so important- why not just look at Milwaukee as a practice shoot? Chicago part one? After listening to the group, I came to the conclusion that the biggest naysayer was the group's biggest problem at the moment. After dismissing the voices of dissent, we were able to start building a crew consisting of former assistants, freshman and friends from other majors. All I could think of was we were in real "Bad News Bears" territory.

While the director was happy with the way the crew was shaping up, I still had lots of concerns. First and foremost, was the disregard for audio capture and mixing. It seemed that the focus on video production had blinded many people to the other side of things. I went out of my way to hype and bribe some select audio students, especially ones that were able to pick up a variety of concepts very quickly, and could also provide much of their own gear. I was also very anxious about having enough camera equipment, not to mention operators and brought in a second cinematographer. Last but not least, I was able to convince several other students to simply be drivers and part time runners over the weekend. Once I was happy with where the crew was at, since I was working at the time in our equipment rental facility, I went to town assisting the group with the acquisition of as much gear as we could carry. Between call sheets and spreadsheets, our group was organized, stocked, prepped and ready to roll.

The production officially kicked off on a Friday at 6:00pm. Our director got a phone call from a production assistant in Milwaukee and we were given our criteria for consideration into the festival. The required elements were:

  • Genre: "Sci Fi"
  • Main Character(s): Michael or Michelle McDugan
  • Occupation: Carpenter
  • Line: "Your guess is as good as mine."
  • Prop: Clipboard

Once we had our criteria the director and I quickly lead the crew out to our shoot's location. After we had the team moving on getting electrical set up, we had one task. The story.

Mentally if not managerially I found myself immediately referencing back to early fringe "Sci Fi" movies of Jodorowski, Lynch and Cronenberg. After conferring with the director, he was thinking that we needed to imply tech and aliens and such. With self imposed treatment deadlines fast approaching, I reminded him of more recent movies such as Shane Carruth's Primer & Upstream Color as well as Another Earth and Safety Not Guaranteed films that I felt were absolutely Sci Fi, but got there by focusing on the nuanced human reactions to big ideas or big conflicts. We were not expecting Sci Fi at all, and our limitations had me completely convinced that we had no other choicebut to go for a "less is more" approach to the idea of "Sci Fi",  where we could focus on emotions and themes rather than plot and potential timing pitfalls. With the clock ticking, the debate continued.

I felt like we were going in circles- which led to the "aha" moment. What if our character was caught in a "time bubble"? How would he know? How could we show it? How many times had he gone through the same events? Or event?

My elevator pitch was simple. Imagine if David Lynch had done "Groundhog Day"?

The wheels were turning and we were on the same page. We had crafted an outline, and proceeded to literally tear it up and rearrange our main elements. Just when I thought we were good, I got the news that our actors decided to carpool (against my instructions) and had been in a minor accident and wouldn't be coming. Even though I was scheduled to be involved in every other part of our production- running set dressings, a quick bit of effects building and rendering, consulting with our lead editor- it looked like I was our only option to act as well. Not my first choice, but again- sometimes I can't say no.

The thing I was most concerned with though, was having to scrap our other character which led to some very chaotic changes to the script. Not to mention the necessity for a very awkward bit of exposition/v.o. work which I had desperately wanted to avoid. Finally, once we had settled on the story, I threw together some of the sloppiest looking storyboards. The director charted out a very hasty production schedule, so rather than sit idly by, we boldly moved forward with as many of the shots that we could complete in the remaining hours of nightfall.  It was gorilla style filming from about midnight, before finally taking small "sleep shifts" well into the morning. This arduous process continued well into early Sunday afternoon, when we finally broke everything on set down (and hell, I know a few of the crew even broke down by that point) and sent our director and editor with a well rested driver to make the several hour drive up to Milwaukee to turn in the entry. On the way up there were many, many frantic phone calls between myself and the "delivery guys" doing last minute adr, not to mention trying to keep the set cleanup organized.

The deadline to turn in was 6pm.
The last call I had from them was 5:45.
My phone rang at 6:20. It was the director.
"The render finished at 5:58."
"..."
"We turned it in at 6. We made it." 

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Several days later, we were informed that the film had not only been one of the best received by audiences, but had actually tied for the most awards won by any film of the entire festival!
We ended up coming back with wins for "Best Sound Design", "Best Editing" and "Runner Up Best Film" 

Like I said. "Bad News Bears".