You Can't Ignore A Ninja!

You Can't Ignore A Ninja
2016 Chunky Milk Productions
Director: Mike Wills

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1080p compressed 348MB
720p compressed 147MB

This was Chunky Milk Productions' second 48 Hour Film Project.

Here We Go Again?

It was that time of year again. The 48 Hour Film Project was looming. Our core team from last year got talking, and Mike's anxiety leading up to the big weekend turned out not to be just a first-timers' affair. As it happened, we would all have our moments of doubt, but for the most part it was pretty exciting to share ideas and crazy what-if situations in anticipation of this year's project.

Mike was really hoping we could involve his kids (and Jed's) this year. We'd been toying with the idea of making a short movie with them ever since last year's 48-hour film, and never gotten around to it. Children actors seem like a dangerous idea for any movie, let alone one under strict time constraints, but we were never ones to dismiss an idea simply because it's difficult.

Dave sent us a truly amazing piece of music from an album he was working on. It had a great 60s/70s feel, upbeat and just oozing fun and personality. What if we did a retro movie? With kids? And what if all the sets and props were homemade and painted cardboard? What about a noir style, with adult narration but child actors? Maybe a gritty detective story, get Dave to record some haunting saxophone music and get some wild costumes! More and more fun (but often very ambitious) ideas started piling up. I was worried someone would have to be crushed because it seemed so unlikely that everything anyone was excited about would be viable.

48 Hours

On paper I was the team leader this time, but Mike was still our man to draw the category. We got to pick between "martial arts" and "drama". Even though we'd just been floating the noir concept moments earlier, there was basically no consideration of drama. In Mike's mind, obviously we were going to make a martial arts film, with the kids. All right then!

Initially when trying to sort out concepts and write, there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen, and progress was very slow to see. Plenty of promising ideas, no doubt, but nothing was congealing. Eventually though, and we can't remember who exactly came up with what, the key elements started falling into place and making everything else stick. Were the kids kicked off a park playground by hoodlums and training to get revenge? Would the expected rain force us to shoot indoors, so they're hopping on the couch attacking Dad? As it turned out, we needed something in-between: Dad in the back yard. Would the girls want to be martial arts masters and bestow wisdom unto the boys? Could somebody with their heart set on being a princess mesh in with any of this at all? Again, the answer was to say yes to everything. They're master princesses, who can train ninjas, because this is kids playing.

The shoot itself is when I had my moments of doubt. We had a pretty good stumble right out of the gate when we discovered the equipment we expected to use (Jed's fancy boom mic and my camera) didn't have the correct hookup. Fortunately, Jed had his camera along too, and we were able to make that work with only minor file compatibility quirks. Shooting out in the sometimes-pretty-noticable rain had me very nervous. I was afraid of equipment getting damaged and of our shots looking horribly inconsistent. As it turned out, Jed's gear is fine, and the scenes are passably coherent visually.

I also failed to appreciate just how well-versed both Mike and Jed were in martial arts films. What looked to me like needlessly-complex shot setups begging for disaster and eating up precious non-raining outdoor shooting time were in fact a really cool sequence of action shots that flowed much better into the last series of shots which I was so impatient to get on with. My apologies, guys, you knew what you were doing and I'm glad you did it. We're still very lucky the weather cooperated as much as it did. :^)

The Line

The most soul-crushing hour of the shoot may have been trying to get the second part of a line delivered. We knew we'd better keep the dialog short and sweet. We cut everything down to the bone, but we spent an hour or more trying to get "But why now?" recorded. "I knew you would come." was the previous line from Master Princess Anna, and it just kept on coming. There was no room in her mind at the time for new dialog — playing with the tea set was of far greater interest, and every single time a mistake was made, the entire room full of children had to erupt in shouting and laughter and groaning and rolling around.

The solution was presented by Master Princess Italia herself. "Could I say it?", she asked. We originally had her as more of a sidekick, but it made much more sense to let them be partners, and it added a great contrast and bit of whimsy and gravity to split the line between the two. Stella saves the day, and the shoot goes on!

The Climax

One of the later ideas we had when scripting and storyboarding was to pull out all the stops and decapitate the bad guy just as the kids' fantasy fight reaches its climax, before cutting back to the reality of kids bonking Dad with toy weapons wanting to play. Cheesy is fine, of course, a wig on a ball and a costume on a pillow should work just fine.

When it came time for the shot, rain was still a threat (and in fact we were sprinkled on for much of the outdoor shoot) and our improvised rig was the most kludgey botched job I think I've ever seen. The soccer ball was too big for the wig to stay on, so we went with a football. When tasked with finding something torso-shaped to stick the cloak on, Mike came back with a wicker hamper. To get it up to the right height, we balanced the whole rig precariously on the arm of a lawn chair. Mike hid behind the whole mess, trying to duck out of the shot, holding the base of the football so he could let it go when the sword swung by. The jerryrigged assembly just barely held together long enough to get our shot. It was beautiful in its own way - all the components were wrong, each element was the wrong tool for the job, but in the end the ninja kids sliced off the bad guy's head.

And just for one more layer of complete ridiculous cheesiness, I finally got to use the Wilhelm scream! :^)


When we finished shooting, I plopped myself down at my computer in Mike's dining room and basically got up 20 hours later when we were finished. That might explain how sore and sleepy I was on Monday.

I was no picnic to be around during that time, either. After a certain amount of staring at frames and curves and edits and inserting and tweaking copious amounts of sounds, all under a looming deadline and with an unknown render time still ahead, I was in full-on grump mode. I think poor Jed got the worst of it, but I hope even in my curmudgeon state I was able to accept and incorporate most of the good ideas Mike and Jed were feeding me. I hereby apologize for the sleep-deprived snapping and the general air of unreceptiveness I gave off, but I think these guys know the drill. That's me when I'm doing a lot of work in a short amount of time. And they stuck around, at least as long as normal sleep-needing humans could be expected to. Everyone else brings talent to the table, at least I can bring some form of endurance. :^)

In the days that followed I found more and more bits I would have tweaked and improved, but what we turned in I'm still very proud of and happy with. If we do a tweaked version later, I think it will be mostly to include a blooper reel, because my goodness did we ever get some fun outtakes.

As usual, there was about a week of waiting between turning the film in and the screening. We couldn't publish or share it around until after the 48 Hour Film Project itself is concluded, so even getting copies to all of our own team members was a little tricky!

When figuring out where to buy tickets and when our screening would be, we got a nice surprise from the image used for the facebook group.

As always, we were in this for the joy of creating something and having a good time, but more than last year, it entered our minds that we might have a shot at picking up some kind of award for our work. This was, after all, a very ambitious movie and we felt like it came together very well. Having the people who run the project pick the hero shot from our film (of 14 movies in our screening group) to represent the event felt like a really nice nod.

The best-of screening's selections were announced, and we didn't make the top 10. Last year, all the category and individual awards went to best-of movies, so we weren't about to hold our breath. That was wise, as the nominations were sent out and Chunky Milk was not among them. We might not have tasted any victory, but I think we caught a whiff. :^)

The Screening

The Mall of America! I grew up across the river, but even for us Wisconsinites the "megamall" was a pretty big deal when it was built. If someone was absent from school, the joke was they were off checking out this new Mecca of capitalism. It may not be the glamorous new attraction it once was, but it remains a big bold place of fun today.

(This has nothing to do with anything, but I realize that myself, Mike and Jed all are Wisconsin boys who wound up in or near Minneapolis, Minnesota. Neat huh?)

Next Time

I think we got "let's have the kids star" out of our systems. For now anyway. But there are a few other out-there ideas we had that I really hope we get to do someday:

Lessons Learnt

Animated GIFs

Does doing this two years in a row make it tradition?

beat down master chop i knew slice

Color Bars

What are these? See here for more info.

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