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Another 48 Hours

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Almost six months after the Boston 48 Hour Film Festival, my team (Shoot the Moon Films) is entering the 2014 Providence 48 Hour Horror Festival. Along with seventeen other teams, we’re going to try to make a 4-7 minute horror film in 48 hours.

This is pretty far out of my wheelhouse, as I haven’t made a practice of making horror films, but my team and I are excited, and I’m going to keep track of both our successes and our missteps here.

Day One: Preproduction, Kickoff, and Writing

The one crazy moment I ended up having before everything got started was the realization that I didn’t have enough space on the primary editing workstation drive – and I ended up ameliorating that by purchasing another drive down the road. Crisis averted, no hair lost.

I don’t like the roads around Providence, which proved to be a pain both heading out to the kickoff event (horrific traffic and rubbernecking) as well as on the way back (incorrect signage sending me to take a nasty U-turn in Providence). As our producer couldn’t make the trip to the kickoff event, I ended up taking his place.

After a two or three story jaunt up a staircase in a pretty non-descript mill building in Pawtucket, I joined a group of mostly younger filmmakers, eager to pick a category and get moving. As this was a “horror” themed festival, we had a list of genres – and the writers had asked that I not request one of the contingency genres, as they were more difficult to pull off.

The guy standing behind me, after telling me how much he hated “Found Footage” as a genre (which, by the way, I also loathe), ended up pulling that genre. We ended up getting “Satanic/Demonic Possession”, and I messaged the information back to the writers, so that they could get started on the planning and writing process before I got back.

Both of the writers were coming from previous engagements, including one who was starring in a theater production of “Frankenstein”, the other who had costumed and was doing hair and prep work – but they still managed to crank out the final version of a script before midnight. Everyone, cast and crew, got sent copies.

From midnight until about 2:00 - 2:30 a.m., I wrote out a tentative shot list and printed a huge piles of copies of the script. I got to sleep a little before 3:00 a.m.

Day Two: Production / Shooting

At around 6:00 a.m., my wife and I got up, packed all of the equipment into the car, and met the rest of the cast and crew at our shooting location at 7:00 a.m. We ended up having to scramble around to get all of the set dressing components for the set, and got production underway around 10:30 - 11:00 a.m. Shooting with the BMPC4K camera made shooting, in most instances, much faster since we could shoot in 4K and simply “punch in” for close up shots without losing resolution. It was a neat trick which had been suggested to me about two years ago by the director of “Chez Upshaw”, which a project of mine had screened with at BIFF.

I got a chance to trot out a snorricam rig which hadn’t been used in almost two years. It couldn’t handle the weight of the production camera, so we were using a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with a modified Computar 12.5mm f/1.3 lens stopped down to about f/4 to replace the GoPro Hero 2 we used to use. The footage is nicely inter-cuttable with the Production Camera footage, so I wouldn’t have to pull any rabbits out of hats in color grading.

We had a hard deadline for wrapping up principal photography of 5:30 p.m., since a number of actors and crew members had to make it back to the theater for another performance of “Frankenstein” – including two of our actors, our production designer and our makeup artist. We barely finished our last take of our last outside shot as it started to rain heavily outside. No equipment damaged, no shot missed.

We had to return props, and since my wife had taken the car, our producer loaded up half of the equipment and my friend Chris helped me with the rest of it, as well as helping me return some of our borrowed props. Another cup of coffee later, and we were transferring about 280+ GB of footage off of the two cameras and the boom rig.

One of the actors and the producer took turns sitting with me while I made the bulk of the edits. We finished the rough cut at a little past 11:50 p.m. The cast and crew members present watched the rough cut to confirm that there weren’t any glaring issues with the cut, then my wife and I went through all of the audio to catalogue shot numbers and takes for easy sound replacement referencing. I rendered out a reference copy for the musician doing the scoring, uploaded it, and went to sleep before I passed out on my keyboard.

Day Three: Post-production and Making the Deadline

After a brief hour and a half or so of sleep, I ended up having to get up to help my geriatric dog, who has periodic breathing issues. I got another hour or so of sleep before my wife tossed me out of bed, and I stumbled down the street to grab a cup of delicious Peruvian coffee to wake up. I’m pretty sure my eyes weren’t open until half way back to the house.

From 6:30 a.m. until 10:30 a.m., I did the bulk of the sound replacement and matching work as well as the coloring in Resolve. I dumped out an export for Audition to take with me for ADR, and headed off to get the few lines that we needed done.

Five actors met me over at our original shoot location, primarily so that my dogs wouldn’t scuttle any of the takes. We wrapped sound collection around 1:30 p.m., and headed back to recomposite everything. I sent out the audio to our audio engineer in Massachussetts, who recomposited everything together and cleaned up some of our slightly dirtier boom audio, as well as leveling out the speech. Final render time out of Premiere came right after that.

A last minute call to the hotline for the festival confirmed that we could present HD 24 fps footage, rather than being limited to 30 fps footage (as the website had indicated). A quick burn of a DVD and dropping footage on a flash drive which felt far too large for the content we were putting on it, and we were off to the races – so to speak.

We hauled the 45+ minute drive through Providence to the drop off point, and were the first team in our group (the “B” group) to hand in our materials 40 minutes before the 7:30 p.m. drop-off deadline. Yahtzee!

Lessons Learned

  • Have an on-site audio engineer to take care of ADR duties. It’s a serious pain to have to color and handle re-recording.

  • Get the cleanest boom audio possible. Make sure your boom operator is getting pristine audio, as close as possible to the source, and monitoring the levels.

  • Make sure your audio is being catalogued on set. It was a serious time waster to do this late at night, and put off coloring work until the next day.

  • Make sure someone is arranging rides. If someone needs to shuttle crew around, make sure it’s not one of your department heads.

  • Screen your graded footage a few times before finalizing. I’m really guilty of this one, as I noticed a few places where I needed to brighten the midtones a bit, or match the color of the grass in some exterior shots a bit better.

  • Make sure to let everyone know how important they are. In a 48 hour film festival, there are no “unimportant” people. Everyone is doing their job, and without them, things wouldn’t come together properly. Our 1st AD (who is, by trade, a stage manager) had never worked on a film set before – but you’d never know it, since she brought her “A” game with her.

Special Thanks

I’d like to thank:

  • Natasha Darius – My wife, co-writer, and general driving force behind everything I do. We wouldn’t have done the 48 if it wasn’t for her talented writing and creative spark, her tenacity in keeping everyone moving in the right direction, and her infectious optimism. She was costuming and doing actor prep for “Frankenstein” during this weekend, which made everything else she was able to do (including prop shopping, organization, writing, et cetera) that much more impressive.

  • Nick Magrey – Although he overbooks everything and wears far too many hats, nothing would get done without him. Co-writing, acting, production designing, wardrobe supervising… the list goes on and on. Not to mention that he did this during the closing weekend of his leading role in “Frankenstein” at the Bradley Playhouse.

  • Curtis Reid – I give him a lot of crap about everything, but he’s the other half of the organizational aspect of all of this, as well as running Shoot the Moon Films. I like to tell people “you need to get a Curtis” when they ask how I manage to get stuff done. I shouldn’t downplay his acting, either – I just usually focus on all of his producing duties.

  • Jon Demers – He kept me awake, gopher’d the crap out of everything, drove me everywhere, and found time to act. Give that man a gold star.

  • Hannah Viens – 1st AD extraordinaire. She made sure that we were getting everything done, and that’s no small task.

  • Chelle Wright – Even though she’s been doing MUA duties with us for a while, this was her acting debut. Thank you for not only putting in a great performance, but also for making everyone look so good!

  • The Entire Verrill ClanElizabeth was acting and doing sound work, Patricia was taking still photos, and they were nice enough to lend their lovely home and property to us to trash judiciously for filming.

  • Maureen Vlaco – You have one of the longest commutes to set, but you were cheery, helpful, and even drove back for audio re-recording right before a funeral. You brought that character to life – thank you!

  • Keith Murphy – I’ve never worked with a stunt/fight guy before, but he was fantastic, in addition to lending a double-popped-collar performance.

  • Paul Magrey – Booming, as well as helping with all sorts of other stuff on set. Awesome job!

  • Brandi Demers – You’re my right hand on set, and threw in a performance to boot, not to mention the time you put in prepping props!

  • Our post-production crewAaron and Garett, especially. You guys added so much production value with the precious little time we gave you to work, and your work completely speaks for itself.

Screening

The Carving is premiering on October 29th in Providence at 9:00 p.m..

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