This was Chunky Milk Productions' 48 Hour Film Project debut.
A few months ago, Mike was approached about doing a short movie and in turn asked me if I'd like to participate. I checked out the website and saw we'd be doing a 4-7 minute short film in 48 hours. At that point I thought we were overqualified! Well not really. But we had certainly done this kind of thing before. You know, 15 years ago. With borrowed university cameras. Without kids or jobs. In any event, I was in. I hadn't scratched my fun-little-video-making itch in a long time. Precious little weekend free time be damned!
Just over a week before the project, it looked like we had neither a modern camera to use or a modern editing rig ready to go. I'm a little bit rusty with Blender, but played around and determined we'd be OK if I had to edit everything together that way. The camera situation bothered me - I wanted to work in full HD, with the nice full manual control I had with those university cameras back in the day. So, a week before the festival, I stopped in at Costco, tried out their 1080p-capable DSLR cameras, and bought the one I liked best. Mike's reaction was pretty classic, and I think he got even more excited about doing this thing.
So the big weekend had arrived. We went to the pub, had some snacks, and listened to the guys running the project. They strongly discouraged the use of guns in our movies, and asked also that there be no animal cruelty - apparently last year there had been an incident involving a lobster being killed on camera. Naturally, right then and there, our film's codename and working title became "Lobster Killed by a Gun".
When the time came, Mike went up to draw our category. "Fantasy", he came back with. I think we were all a little bit taken back, since the mind immediately jumps to Lord of the Rings and other really grand, not-remotely-weekend-scope material. But in the car ride that followed, Mike, Jed and myself began merging into the three-headed monster we would remain for the rest of the weekend. Several ideas turned into real candidates. By the time we got to Mike's, we knew our movie would be about the fantasies of a menial theatre worker and their interactions, real and imagined, with difficult customers. After closing at midnight, the theatre Mike manages was all ours. (Well, technically we hadn't yet secured permission from the owner, but let's not worry about all that - it worked out in the end anyway. :^)
The first night of shooting, we were rusty. We didn't have a workflow really established, we had ideas of the shots we wanted but hadn't worked through it yet. We wound up shooting tons of non-matching ad-lib dialog from lots of angles, intending to give our editing selves plenty to work with. Really it just made things harder to piece together. The good news is we had the ending and the first two customer scenes finished. It just took a lot more work than we had been hoping!
Two of the required elements were a clothing hanger and a character named Kelly or Kevin Whitefish, who was a club president. We had two approaches in mind. A hanger is very easy to work in when our character arrives at work and changes into her uniform. One of our difficult customers would have a "do you know who I am?" attitude and be trying to use free passes on an invalid day. No problem. Our other idea, though, was to really ramp up this Whitefish character and have him be "club president of the hanger society", complete with an igor-like sidekick carrying a wicker basket full of assorted hangers. Completely off-the-deep-end David Lynch log lady stuff. After our first night of shooting and editing, I tried explaining these ideas to Kim while I attempted to catch an hour's rest or so Saturday morning. 24 hours after that, she saw but couldn't believe that we'd gone for the completely over-the-top approach. But between Jed's larger-than-life delivery and Margaret's show-stealing sidekick performance, we'd pulled it off. It serves as a real highlight of the movie, when reality and fantasy are beginning to bleed into each other. We were crazy to do it, and I also think we had to. Jed had this great idea for a bigger, badder entrance, but the shot unfortunately didn't come together the way we'd hoped. Sorry man!
The second, final shooting night started off with a ridiculous downpour. It was no ill omen, though - shooting went at a breakneck pace, probably the most efficient I've ever witnessed short of a completely live show. We set up and knocked out shot after shot without hesitation, and without second-guessing and getting tons of extraneous coverage. I snuck in some more B-roll and establishing shots while Mike blocked out the next sequences with our actors. We isolated some sound inserts and recorded what we needed immediately. It felt like we knew what we were doing, and it was some of the most fun I've had working on a video project. Given how much I used to do, across how many years, with how many close friends, that's saying something.
I got that hour or so of rest Saturday morning, but that was it. When we went to the bar Sunday evening for the media check and turned in our film, Mike commented on my physical endurance. I've gone the odd night being unable to sleep anyway, so a full weekend wasn't a terrible stretch, but this kind of thing really does take more of a toll on a person in his thirties than it did back in college. I'd been willing away getting sick all weekend, and it landed pretty hard Monday. After one of the most restful nights of sleep I'd ever had, but still. :^)
A week and change after turning in the movies, they get shown back-to-back, in batches, in a theatre, open to the general public. Mike and Allison had already planned a vacation for this week, so director Mike was unable to attend the screening for his own movie.
There were teams which really had their act together, but I feel like we absolutely held our own. The audience was great, and we got a lot of good laughs. Even the Chunky Milk logo got some chuckles, as well as an "oh gross!". Which bits would get the biggest reactions is something I'd been very curious, almost anxious about. Kim, Jed and I all have this special spot in our hearts for the crazy hanger scene. That played well, but Babs and her bored, dinking-around antics was definitely the crowd favorite. Mike getting beaten with a baseball bat was probably our biggest reaction.
Mike wanted to open with a rack-focus shot of someone's crotch as they zipped up their pants. I have a hunch this idea will knock around in his head (and mine, thanks for the mental picture buddy!) until it makes its way onto the silver screen.
This clearly wasn't our final 48-hour film, because when I end something, I blow up the Earth. The videos I made for my high school French class, numerous cartoons I made using Mario Paint and a VCR, the full-length movie I made with my friends in high school, the Adventures of Mike, I can't help it. Some part of me, particularly the part of me that works on movies, wants to blow up the world. Didn't get to do it this time, the story just didn't call for it.
During and just after the project, we talked a little bit about submitting our movie to some other events besides the 48 Hour Film project. If nothing else, we'd have an excuse to go in and tweak some things outside the original two-day deadline. The original, warts-and-all release will always be the "official" version for me, because the frantic pace and the resulting little mistakes were part of the experience. That said, it was fun to revisit and do some additional polishing.
First up were my changes. I touched up sound (levels were already pretty good but I patched up some ambient rough spots), brightened up some underexposed shots (including a few zooms where the wide frames were brighter than the narrow ones), removed the boom mic from the "I'm Kevin Whitefish" shot, juiced up the color and contrast of the animation, and some other small, technical changes that had no effect on shot timing. There were even a few small tweaks which we had put in at the time but which had somehow been lost during other edits - the fire coming out of Babs's mouth instead of appearing full-screen right away, and one or two post-production zooms in on her face when fading to the brain cogs.
Next up was Mike's change. Minor, but helpful. The Coffee Man scene had a bit of extra repetition that it didn't need, and in fact ran counter to all the other non-ending scenes in the movie. As he described to me what he had in mind, I thought it was really strange that we hadn't thought of it at the time. But, as I said before, the rushed, sleep-deprived thought process was all part of the movie. Now that we can watch and evaluate our movie with clearer heads, we can make these little changes and improve its flow.
Further changes are currently being considered, including original "Whitefish Theme" music and possibly even a pickup shot. We shall see!
'Cause why not?
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