51 Hour Tonic

Filmmaking: .... aaaaaaand GO!

Filmmaking: …. aaaaaaand GO!

You might think that, after as strenuous of a semester as I had this spring, that I would try to avoid stressing myself out with film production over the summer. That would probably be the smart and/or normal thing to do. Instead I decided to spend the past weekend participating in my very first “speed filmmaking competition” in which we had 51 hours in which to write, shoot, and edit a short film.

I heard about the competition from one of my teammates from the past semester- someone whom I admire greatly and who I secretly spend a lot of time observing out of a deep seated conviction that if I watch carefully enough I will be able to see how success happens. Speed competitions were not new to him: he had already done several and found them useful for putting into perspective just how much time we are afforded for production in a classroom setting- even if it feels like it goes by at the speed of light. What is producing a film in a few weeks when you have produced films of similar parameters in a weekend? Totally manageable, that’s what.

This struck me as a good idea. Speed competitions have been around for a long time, but I’ve never quite had the gumption to jump into one. I like having time to let an idea evolve and to put it through re-writes and rehearsals and careful planning. It’s like outfitting the production in a full suit of armor: not very nimble, but by jingo nothing is going to kill it. Speed competitions always seemed like freestyle fencing with live steel: easy to move quickly, but lots of places to get cut.

But when I heard that my aforementioned teammate was planning to do another competition I thought it might be time to take the plunge. He seemed to already have a solid team in place, so I didn’t want to barge in, but I had a few other classmates, also interested in Comedy, that I was eager to try working with in order to see how we got along on set.

We formed a small production team and registered for the competition. The thing about speed competitions is that you just can’t do much in advance. You gather your people and equipment and then you just have to wait until the competition begins and you get the writing prompt. And as we all know- waiting is the hardest part. Yesterday, when it was all over, I learned that we all went into it with equal apprehension, which was comforting to know: I thought I was the only one driven to distraction by anxiety while waiting for the Big Day.

Once the competition began, however, we were off and running. We spent Friday afternoon brainstorming and Friday evening pre-producing and writing. By Saturday morning we were dismantling my living room to make a set. By Saturday afternoon we were doing the same to my kitchen. Never has my apartment been so clean AND so dirty in the same day. We all lost about ten pounds of water weight through sweat, then gained it all back by gorging on delicious crafty- the second biggest expense in our budget. By midnight we had most of a rough cut done.

Sunday was dedicated to editing. Our rough cut clocked in at 6:30 and we had to get it down to under five minutes. Our second cut made it to 6:12 with an hour to go to our proposed Picture Lock time. Our third cut was less of a “nip and tuck” and more of a “slash and hack” to get the time down, but we got it under the time limit without losing any story points. Then it was a frantic, high-speed sound design and an even more frantic, high-speed export after which the producer, the editor, and I spent fifteen nerve-wracking minutes staring with rapt attention at the progress bar as we uploaded it to the competition website terrified that it wouldn’t be complete by the five o clock deadline.

We scraped in just under the wire.

For all the frantic, high-speed, fear and anxiety, we actually had a great time. The team was amazing, of course, and being on a strict deadline forced us to make decisions and not to dither or bicker over details. The need to keep moving forward forced us to give one another the benefit of the doubt and to trust one another to do our respective jobs. And knowing that it could only  last the weekend brought great relief any time we felt overwhelmed.

All in all it was a great tonic to many of us- nearly all of whom had recently burned ourselves out with the past semester’s production. It was a chance to work together and do something fun and, in the end, to even have a film we were pretty proud of.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on June 30, 2014.

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