Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The 2012 Sidewalk Spring Scramble

 Jay reports from the trenches of fast and cheap filmmaking.

Scrambles are events where teams of filmmakers set out to make a short film in as little as 48 hours. The only two I've participated in have ran with this time format as opposed to longer, but I've heard they can go for days. They are open to anyone who wants to put a team together and shoot a short, be it on your dad's old home video camera or something beyond the consumer grade level. For Sidewalk's Scramble, you have 48 hours to write, direct, edit, and turn in your short. They give you a genre to fit into, a prop that must be used in the film, and in this case, a line of dialogue that must be spoken, as "Famous Last Words" was the theme. These are used to not only make you be creative, but also prove that you shot the film in 48 hours and didn't hand in something you've been shooting off and on for the last year. Oh, there is also a time limit. This time limit was 4 minutes including credits.

The Sidewalk Film Festival here in Birmingham, AL puts on a scramble every spring, and may do more, but I'm not sure the exact schedule. Last fall they also did a horror-themed scramble, but I believe that was the first of its kind for Sidewalk. I participated in that, with little to show and as it ends up, have even less to show for my efforts in the 2012 Spring Scramble.

The kickoff event started at 6 P.M. in Birmingham, AL on April 13th. I live just over an hour away from the Edge 12 Theater, which was the location of the kickoff event, so thats the first complaint I have about the set-up. Someone has to be at the kickoff event, and everyone in my team is in Hartselle. So someone has to go. It's me because at this point, I no longer have a team. The drive is a pain in the ass, but must be done, so I improve it a little by heading down early to catch an afternoon showing of We Need to Talk About Kevin and end up loving it. Due to my early arrival, I'm also first in line for the Scramble Kickoff, so I'm one of four teams to receive a complimentary pack of energy drinks, and I also get to leave early and use that extra time to make my film.

I'm the first person in line, the first person to leave, which should translate to more time to work. In actuality it just means that the 15 to 20 minutes I spent getting lost in Birmingham as I attempt to get back on Interstate 65 have put me right back on the same playing field as everyone else, and I'm not sure how many of them still have an hour to drive. I finally decide to use my logic instead of the confusing as hell Google Directions that never seemed quite right to begin with, and I'm back on I-65 with a clear head. The drive is good because it allows me plenty of time to listen to some music and figure out what the hell my short is going to be.

My genre is suspense, and my line of dialogue is "I'm growing old." which is from True Grit. My prop is a clock, only not just any clock, it's a chess clock.

All of these seize my mind on the notion of time, and as I head home, I only know of one actor I have locked in place for the short. Randy Hale, a middle-aged man who (most times reluctantly) appears in just about everything I do. With him as my leading (and only) actor, I decided that the short should be about him going through a divorce. The suspense can come in from the audience wondering if his wife will take him back or not. Simple. I'm good to go! I'm sure I can find someone to play his wife, do all the dialogue through voiceovers with Randy narrating, and that damn chess clock can be symbolism for the time left in Randy's life. The line of dialogue easily fits into the description of a middle-aged man who lost his wife and has realized his days are numbered. One problem: The last rule they gave me was that someone has to die. My quirky little 4 minute romantic dramedy is going to have a hell of an ending. I text a new friend, Khristy Colburn, about being the wife in the short. I met her through Model Mayhem a couple months back, and she'd be perfect to play Randy's leading lady. She agrees and we work it out with her schedule. So far, so good.

Khristy Colburn from a recent photoshoot I did with her

My return to Hartselle is met with Randy not being impressed by my idea. Sure, it's fine, but it seems too easy, he says. I try to convince him that last time we attempted to do the zombie apocalypse in five minutes, and even worse, in 48 hours, and that maybe doing something easier is the best thing we could do. Especially considering we don't have a team like we did last time. He doesn't want to shoot on the first night, and I'm not really ready to anyway, so I agree. Instead I spend the rest of the night trying to come up with a better idea because now I feel like what I have isn't good enough. I try, but I don't come up with jack shit.

Early Saturday is mostly spent making sure I've got what I need. I'm broke as hell, even more so considering my cat has been sick, so I have to borrow fifteen bucks from my great aunt so I can buy some props. The main prop being a bouquet of flowers for Randy to give to his wife in an attempt to win her back. I go into the florist shop and explain that I need something that would look good to give my date, but that I only have a few bucks, then quickly explain that it's for a short film because I don't want to look like a cheap piece of shit, though considering I'm buying the flowers with my great aunt's money, I'm not sure my date would be getting anything better.

Flowers in tow, I stop by Randy's and go over the schedule. He has back problems, and says he doesn't feel like doing anything today, but it's either him or bust. He gives me a hard time about it, but I leave with everything set to get started upon my return in a few hours. We're both set in on the story now, Christy is on board and is even bringing a wedding dress for some surreal images I want to capture, so now it's just sit around and wait. This is the worst part because it drives me insane.

The waiting ends, and I arrive back at Randy's. He's not going fast enough for my speed, and I'm already agitated from our last meeting. On the start of a shoot day, things can't move fast enough for me, and I've had just about enough bullshitting around on my last few sets. Everyone is growing increasingly lazy in my eyes, so I finally just get pissed at Randy because I don't want to wait for his fucking clothes to dry, and I leave. He's pissed that I'm pissed, and I'm just pissed, and I know for sure that the burly 50-something sitting in that house isn't going to pick up the phone to call me and apologize, so I just go home and sit for a few minutes. I know I'll have to suck up my pride and call and tell him I'm sorry, that I'm just stressed because we're doing this entire thing on our own and he doesn't even feel like doing it. I make the call, and we talk it out. The short is back on again, all is well.

Randy Hale ready to kill me

The actual shooting turns out to be the easiest part. Other than me worrying that we won't get to capture the sunset like I had planned, we are getting some good footage and shooting pretty fast. The story is broken down in three phases: Randy on his way to win his wife back, mixed with footage of them together and unhappy, mixed with surreal images of the two dressed up for a wedding, broken images from the mind of the male lead. A voiceover from Randy's state of mind as he attempts to win her back is played over all the footage, and I did it with the mind state that the footage of them unhappy together isn't the past, but the future that Randy doesn't know about yet. So while he is hoping for the best, the audience gets to see what the future really has in store for the lovely couple. Of course, it doesn't really make sense to most people when it plays, but I didn't really expect it to or care if it did. You can make of it what you will, and if you think it's just a bunch of jumbled bullshit, then that's as true as anything.

Randy and I shot about 60% of it on our own, then Khristy joined us that night to fill in the missing pieces. My lovely neighbors pitched in and let us use their apartment as the meeting point for Randy and Khristy so Randy could give her the flowers, and I rigged all of the lighting myself, which is usually something I don't feel comfortable doing. Other than a slight technical difficulty, we nailed the scene, and went back to Randy's to shoot the surreal images as well as the unhappy scenes between the couple. Randy's daughter Devin pitched in for a few minutes and held a light, but otherwise everything was done by myself, Randy, and Khristy. We even did all the special effects ourselves, as I was unable to lure my usual partner onto the set. That would prove to be the ultimate downfall by the time everything was said and done. We wrapped up around 2 AM, then Randy and I hammered out his voiceover until close to 3 with an understanding that I'd return around 7 AM if I needed to add more.

Frame grab of Khristy Colburn

I returned to my apartment at 3 AM and edited, not sleeping at all, and by 7 AM I was basically done. I thought that it could be a little better, but also felt strongly enough about it to go get Randy to finish up the voiceover work. I showed him what I had, despite the constant freezing of my hard drive upon playback, and by 9 AM we had recorded the final voiceover and together had made a few final tweaks in the edit, with the decision being that what we had was good enough for the scramble and that we could improve the edit down the road if we wanted to do more with the short. I took Randy home as the file mixed down. I told him as we left that although the hard drives continuously freezing was annoying for our playback, that all would be fine once it was mixed down, after all, I told him, I'd never had a problem once I got a file saved. I returned to find that my saved file was glitching at just about every point that the hard drives had "dropped frames" during our playback. It took me just under an hour to play around with it, doing nothing with any real logic to fix it, before it finally played seamlessly upon mixdown. I had beaten the system, or so I thought.

I knew going in that there were compatibility issues between my new camera and my editing software, but my understanding was that they were due to rendering nightmares leading to hard drive space problems. Now that I had the file mixed down perfectly, I thought all of that would be behind me, but again I would be wrong. It was just around 11 AM now and I was dead tired, yet my brain was all over the place. Sleep wasn't an option, but the drop off of the DVD in Birmingham didn't start until 5 PM. If it wasn't turned in by 7, we would be disqualified. I had some time to kill and felt fine staying up knowing that I didn't have to make the drive this time. I watched the Knicks lose to the Miami Heat, passed out for ten minutes, then woke up to find that my loyal sidekick had still not replied to any of my texts or phone calls. It was pushing 3 o'clock now and I was beginning to suspect he was going to blow me off. To make this long-winded story a bit shorter, he never replied, and I still haven't been able to get him to talk to me even upon writing this.

Without his assistance, I found myself back at Randy's, where we both cursed the unknown "sidekick" for his shortcomings, but mostly sat in silence. I could barely drive to Randy's, much less Birmingham, and I knew he wasn't in the state of mind to drive either. I tried to impress the idea upon him, but he quickly shot it down. With just over two and a half hours remaining until the deadline, I attempted what seemed to be the easiest solution: Vimeo. You are allowed to upload your short there as long as it is password protected. This means you have to sign up for a pro account, which costs money. I paid the money, uploaded the file, and wondered why I hadn't just done this to begin with. It took about forty-five minutes for the file to upload, then another ten to fifteen for it to process. I went to view the final product only to find that it was full of glitches, even more than had been present in my early attempts at saving the file. I was baffled. The file I uploaded played perfectly on my computer, but on Vimeo it was a shell of its former self.

To make this long story short before it gets even longer, we didn't make the deadline. I made the difficult decision of sticking with Vimeo as the window of opportunity to drive slipped away, and even videotaped my final product off my computer monitor with another camera and uploaded that to Vimeo. If I had filmed it a little better and copied the audio track from the real file onto this imposter video, I could've just submitted that as my final product, but due to time I did neither of the two. It really bugs me that I didn't do those two things, as they would've easily fixed the problem. It would've been my choice to add in a strange "bootleg" feel to my own short, and I've done it in the past, so why I didn't add the audio and reshoot the video off the computer screen with the camera zoomed in a bit more is beyond me. I guess I was just too delirious at that point.

Nevertheless, we did screen at the showing and were up for the Audience Choice award, but none of my team members attended. I have viewed all of the scramble shorts on DVD now and feel a bit better about our result. There were three to five really solid ones, and I would include ours in the bottom half of that group. Some of the other ones were still fun in a really campy way, so all in all I would say it was a very successful scramble for all involved. Maybe next time I'll be a bit more prepared and can come up with something a little better.

No comments:

Post a Comment