2022 Chunky Milk Productions
Director: Owen Swerkstrom

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This was Chunky Milk Productions' eighth year in the 48 Hour Film Project. If our moviemaking was president, it would now be ineligible to hold the office again.

Required Elements

Rob had the dubious honor of drawing our genres again this year. It's a thankless task, and not the last one of which he'd perform over the weekend. He never wavered in his unique brand of positivity and support, to the surprise of nobody who knows him.

Our genre picks were "Romance" and/or "Mystery". We went with mystery. :^)

48 Hours

The initial brainstorming session included a lot of talk about "who did that to the toilet". Most of that talk was Mike. Okay, all of it was. It is entirely possible that he will still shoot that movie himself with his family.

My alternate proposal was one I've been noodling over for at least a couple of years now: someone starts experiencing continuity errors in their own life. It's exactly the kind of idea I get all the time: it seems like a fun premise, but I had no idea how to turn it into a viable story. Thankfully, my friends warm up to my half-baked ideas and vice-versa. We therefore ended Friday night with a bizarre, artsy story crammed with fun cinematography gags, all of which still somehow played right into our usual bag of tricks, namely Mike reacting to bizarre stuff happening to him.

Talking with my hands

Mike missed last year, and 2020 was a weird kinda-sorta-not-really year for the 48, so in a way we were picking up where we left off following our unexpected win from 2019's The Chair. We have the certificates, we've won this thing locally, we have nothing to prove to anyone. So now it's a question of making things that we want to exist, things we want to see.

I apparently wanted to see something that required a whole lot of post-production and specific insane tricks which would all land on my shoulders to bring together. I really am my own biggest obstacle.

Something we all agreed on was that we should shoot outdoors as much as we could. Our last few movies have lacked in vivid color and overall visual pop, which we would all like to continue amping up. Allison had a fantastic idea for the introductory milk splat -- if the movie is about broken continuity, why not break the milk's flow too? My hasty implementation didn't quite do her pitch justice (and it was a time-consuming shot we didn't have time to replicate) but freezing and running the splat backwards does hint at the broken (and I dare say mysterious) timeline that follows.


The classic continuity error is a beverage magically becoming less and more empty over the set of shots in a scene, so it felt like we had to begin there.

We tried to think in pairs of gags wherever possible, to aid in building Patrick's story pyramid of rising and falling action, with elements that mirror on either side. He was unable to join us this year, but was with us in spirit, and, I hope, would not cringe at our interpretation of his storytelling advice from prior years.

Lumberjack Days cameo

One specific vision which I've had in my head for some time was for someone to notice the fourth wall, where a credits crawl is starting. They'd object, and decide to stop it by spraying it away with a hose. That's not an idea a sane person would have, and it's not one I could communicate very clearly. More on this particular gag later!

Mike's gorgeous gigantic new house, the nearby walking trails, and the fact that Lumberjack Days was happening nearby that weekend all served as inspiration for odd and funny disjointed cuts.

The Shoot

Mike and Allison's home was full of tweens and a puppy, which meant a certain amount of lost time and compromused audio. Mike also hurt his leg on one of the first shots, but soldiered on with remarkable energy the whole time.

The 4th wall's 4th wall

About two-thirds of the way through shooting, I swapped a dying battery for a charged one. After that, powering the camera back on produced no video preview, no option to record, no sign of life other than "Err" flashing on the shot counter LCD. It was my only viable camera. Panicked resets, swapping of batteries, memory cards, and powered lenses were all to no avail. My heart sank. The closest thing I could find to any troubleshooting information in the manual or online was a video of somebody saying nothing, explaining nothing, showing my same model of camera exhibiting the same error. He switched into stills mode and took a handful of rapid photos, causing the mirror to cycle rapidly. Miraculously, for him and for me, that was enough to jolt the camera back into operation. My body's reaction to all this was to dose me with adrenaline, which made fine motor skills like focusing a camera a challenge for the next half hour or so.

My weird hose-away-the-credits idea was not integral to the story, but even though Mike couldn't really understand what I had envisioned, he trusted me enough to follow through and get the necessary shot. I failed to spot my own reflection (and that of the tripod) in the window, but overall I'm still very happy with the look of this quick, static scene. But, again, more on this shot later!

The Edit

This year was the longest I've spent editing a 48-hour movie. Longer than when we had a dozen actors, or child talent. Longer than a movie which was basically three montages. I'd pitched an idea which put a heavy burden on post-production. Not as a flex or a challenge, but because I wanted these ideas to exist in movie form.

Faucet gag

Kim's first question after watching an early cut was how I got the faucet to run and stop without anyone adjusting the handle. Plan A was to get under the sink and use the shut-off valve. I tore around down there (in someone else's home, without asking; quite rude of me!) but found no such valve. I thought every water fixture in a home needed that, but maybe it's all handled in the basement or something. Anyway, that technique was out. What we ended up doing was masking out that shot against a time-shifted copy of itself, so that even though I reached in and moved the handle, that part of the screen kept showing a time when the handle was just sitting there untouched. Eventually the lights come on in that same shot, so I also had to record and synchronize in the edit a version of that masked-off part of the screen with the kitchen lights turning on.

And now to conclude my babbling about the premature credits rinse! First, I had to get rid of my own reflection walking across the frame just before Mike did. I set up some same-shot-over-itself masks just like the faucet shot, with a two-pixel drift to account for my weight apparently having an observable effect on the floor and tripod. Speaking of the tripod, it is still very much visible in the window, but since no noticable movements happen in the reflection anymore, I decided it's good enough. The main focus of the shot is, of course, the credit crawl starting up and getting hosed away. The result, a combination of hand- and key-animated credits-smearing which I think I did at 3 or 4 in the morning, turned out very close to how I'd imagined, and the sequence still makes me smile as I write this. However, I have a confession. Even while recording Mike and the window and the hose, I had no idea how I was going to achieve the washing away effect. In the wee hours, when I knew my mind would turn to mush before too long, and everything but the most obvious and straightforward of editing tasks would be beyond me, I used my last reserves of rational trial and error, and ended up with the aforementioned hand-edited animation. It feels delightfully chaotic and organic, just as splattering a set of words to a physical plane should. (Again, these are not sane ideas.)

Brownstone Realty, pre-VFX

The other task I let future-me deal with while shooting was the for-sale sign. Hitting a thing with a hammer makes it wiggle, and a wiggling sign is not a trivial thing to paste a different graphic over. And unlike the credits hosing, this was the payoff to a series of scenes that specifically jumped one into the next into the next into the next. This was very poor planning on my part; I had no plan B. If it weren't for Blender's ability to track motion and do planar replacements (a complex feature I was aware of, but had never used yet) then the only recourse would have been to go back in the morning, physically tape up some construction paper or something over the sign, and reshoot. Mike lives nearly an hour away, and I did not finish working on this movie with two hours to spare. Happily, my 4 or 5am brain was still able to follow a youtube tutorial and get the sign replaced with my own (admittedly hastily thrown-together) image. The local-looking phone number, by the way, is a source of scammer calls, so I don't feel bad (ab)using it instead of a fake-looking 555 number.

Aspen, having some art and animation under their belt, had been tasked with creating a fun title for our movie. Any time I checked in during the day, they hadn't had anything to show yet. But, as I did constantly during this particular adventure, I assumed it would somehow all work out. And, in fact, it did. before going to bed, Aspen sent me a great-looking set of frames to loop and become a playful, living title screen. It's Chunky Milk's best title sequence to date by a wide margin. Thanks, kid! ;^)

The Rough Cut

By the time the others were waking up, I didn't yet have a rough cut to show. By my own (sleep-deprived, unreliable) calculations, I was sure I was too far behind, that this year I just couldn't get the work done on time. Kim and Rob have known me half my life. They left me alone and let me press on. Sooner than I thought, I had a bare-bones cut which actually did get our story across.

Rob was first to provide reactions and feedback. I remember being glad for them, but honestly have no memory of what specific guidance he had. This year's edit was a very draining process, and I was in and out of lucidity throughout Sunday.

Rob took Aspen to check out some nearby shops to indulge their vinyl and manga obsessions, and Kim knew I'd have asked for help if I'd needed it when I kept running out into the yard to record foley. Dave and Mike each called with some feedback.

Cardboard Dude abides

Dave called while I was still frantically trying to sort out the final scene's monitor effect, and had yet to begin the tedious process of noise reduction, or do any color grading. Thankfully, I was smart enough to take notes. It was only after I'd finished fixing what would have been technical problems with the whole movie that I would get around to the music. That was unusual, but, as I'll get to soon, the final process had a certain familiarity about it.

Mike called with a few clear, specific points to work on. The hose nozzle disappearing and spraying him in the face needed tweaking, especially in its sound. I'd already known that, but having collaborators agree on what makes a cut "rough" is certainly still valuable. He pointed out some shots to trim including a few I hadn't been thinking about, and those edits were all solid, noticeable improvements. Somehow I'd failed to show the gas burner turning off once all was well with the light switch gag, and that would have been a significant error (even in a movie where we'd basically written ourselves a blank check for continuity mistakes). He also had an answer which I desperately needed at the moment he'd called: what shot to have on the editor's display in the final scene. Mike had already watched and re-watched the rough cut a number of times and was coming to understand and appreciate the world we'd crafted in a way none of the rest of us had quite wrapped our heads around yet. It should be the selfie shot of barging through door after door, the sequence which had just happened leading up to him barging into the editor's room, because the editor of his life, (himself), was experimenting and/or made a mistake in bringing himself into his own creative process.

Mike also pointed out that when the credits are sprayed away, that's not the confused character we've been following throughout the movie, that's the editor! It's a wonderful feeling to have had a part in creating something that not only is more than the sum of its parts, but has a bit more depth than any of us even realized at the time.

Tying the Room Together

Unused meditation scene

The music was the last part of the movie to fall into place. I normally like to work with the music present at the time when scenes are coming together, so this was a bit of a different flow. My rough cut had only two uses of Dave's music, the bongos for the opening title and end credits, and the frantic piano piece (named "Damn Flies" :^) during the door sequence, which ended up as short as it is specifically to fit that piece. The rest of the movie was a blank slate music-wise, and while it was beginning to feel like a movie, it didn't have a lot of texture yet.

Dave had a lot of great suggestions, but the one he emphasized the most was "Fantasia Antique", one of his works in-progress. It's a multi-faceted piece of music he'd recently sent me, in anticipation of this year'a 48. It wound up doing the wonderful thing which several of his other pieces have done over the years -- it gave me just what I didn't realize I needed, right when I needed it, while the remainder of the track followed me all the way down the movie's timeline.

He talked about how we should be playful with expectations, and selective of which moments in the movie get music, and which get none at all. Silence can be powerful too, and changing things up -- or not -- when the continuity of the action is being intentionally broken, was something my pudding of a brain was actually in a good state to play with.

Once Dave's music was sprinkled in, suddenly the movie started feeling real. It weny from something involving those Chunky Milk guys to a full-on signature Chunky Milk movie.

He also suggested adding an echo to the clink of the incongruously-filled glass being set down at the beginning, and to the jingle of the keys hitting the tray later, and to the editor's final laugh. I absolutely did not understand what he was after, but, just as with Mike not understanding what I was up to with credits-washing, I tried it anyway. It's genius! A few simple drops of audio juice really tied the room together, one might say. The echo effect didn't work as well on the laugh, but then I realized it should be the final keypress that echoes. Let the credits and bongos start a moment later; that was too perfect.

The Screening

Surrounded by good friends

Pre-covid, Minnapolis would see multiple screening groups worth of 48 Hour Film entries. Last year there were only 16 total. This year, only 12 teams entered. But we were all still quite excited to see what everybody's come up with, and to witness others react to our weird brainchild.

Our excitement was well-founded, as this year's crop of movies rivaled any best-of showcase we've attended. We had a wonderful time, and saw the fruits of a dozen local wildly-creative filmmaking teams.

Nominations / Awards

Due to the small pool of entries, the premiere screenings amd the award presentation all happened in the same night! Several awards were even multi-way ties, including "Best Editing", an honor I gladly share with the other winners!

Next Time

Rob and Aspen both want to remain involved as milk chunks. That's wonderful news to me, not only to have them around as friends and fellow artists, but because Rob took a bunch of photos during production. They are trippy for me to look through, as usually we have such a barebones crew that the final movie is about the only evidence of what went on those weekends. All the behind-the-scenes pictures you see on this page are ones he took. Even the image I used for the poster is derived from one of Rob's pictures.

I read or heard somewhere that one shouldn't be both writer and director on the same project, because right out of the gate you are minus one vital creative collaborator. It's very fun to have a passion project like this, but now that I've had some time to get more objective about the movie itself, I would like to see more not-mine fingerprints on it. I think I need to shoot and edit someone else's vision next year; the mixing and interpreting and building on each others' ideas is where some important life comes from.

Color Bars

What are these? See here for more info.

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