May 12, 2006

48 Hour Film Project

Below is a link to the film, "Brushed Aside," which I co-wrote, and was unexpectedly drafted to act in, for the 48 Hour Film Project in DC last weekend.

The Project is a contest in which teams must write and produce a film within 48 hours. Each team is assigned a genre (sci-fi, romance, etc.) on Friday night, and by Sunday night, the film must be turned in. Each film must contain a particular character, prop and line of dialogue. This year, those elements were: Tim or Tina Tate, gay glass sculptor extraordinaire; a fire extinguisher; and the line "This is absolutely the last time."

Our team, Poolside Productions, was fortunate to pick mockumentary for our genre. It seemed to match our sensibilities. While Jessica, our producer and Theresa, our director, traveled to the downtown meeting place to pick the genre, several of us gathered at the nearby Chinatown Starbucks and waited. Then the call came in from them, saying that we had a mockumentary to make. We galvanized into action.

We had secured the old abandoned National Park Seminary at Forest Glen in Maryland for a location. This is an atmospheric, creepy place containing numerous buildings of different types, including Spanish style mission buildings; an Italian villa; and a Chinese pagoda, as well as statues that seem to speak. Someone came up with the idea of using the location to portray an artists' colony for the mockumentary, housing Tim/Tina Tate and others. Then Susan, our resident actress, started ad-libbing a hilarious "nosy neighbor" part, complete with Brockton, MA accent, and "Brushed Aside" was born.

Sarah, my co-writer, and I headed to my apartment and, armed with Chinese food, we watched the first 15 minutes of "This Is Spinal Tap" for inspiration. Within 4 or 5 hours, we had come up with the Camp Kilgore Weapons Testing Site and Artists' Colony, funded jointly by the Dept. of Defense and the National Endowment for the Arts. We had Lilian Crumble, President of the Peske Foundation, explaining that the Cold War Brushes and Bombs program that funded the artists was being deleted, and therefore, the Foundation was sponsoring the Adopt an Artist program. The documentary's producer/interviewer, Constance Crabbe, was to face a difficult and sometimes reclusive bunch, including glass sculptor Tim Tate, who insists on being called Tiinaa, neighbor Ginny Gorgonzola, and a mime, Phillipe Phondue, who will not break character for an interview.

Saturday's filming included many unpredictable moments, which, along with technical matters, ultimately determined what ended up in the film. We were deluged by a pollen storm at Forest Glen, causing our camerawoman/editor, Melanie, and others to gag at inconvenient times. Ellen, who played Lilian, had never acted before, and was a bit uncomfortable. My only instruction to her was to "think Lillith from 'Frasier.'" She nailed the part, and ended up with plenty of screen time.

The scene between Constance and the uncooperative mime Phillipe was shot in one take in just a few minutes, but in my mind was one of the funniest scenes of the film.

On the set, I was told that I looked like a cameraman, so I was asked to play the cameraman in the documentary within our movie. I was not sure if this was a compliment, since I was wearing my regular clothes. I hung headphones and a camera wire around my neck, and clipped my cell phone and 2 walkie-talkies to the pockets of my cargo shorts. Now I felt like a real cameraman, that is, the exaggerated mockumentary kind. I asked for quick instructions on how to hold the camera and remove it from its tripod. Then I improvised a few scenes with Amy, who was playing Contance. Apparently our scenes looked natural enough to make it into the final version of the film.

Last Tuesday, the film was screened at the American Film Institute (AFI) Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland. The whole thing was surreal. Members of each team showed up, some in costume pertaining to their films. Our team was armed with paint brushes. In the theater lobby, I was interviewed by a 48 Hour Film Project camera crew. Or was it a team filming a mockumentary of the screening? Within minutes, the interviews appeared on the big screen inside. Our team grabbed at least half a row in the boisterous theater, which resembled a 1980s screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the 8th Street Playhouse in New York City.

We nervously sat through about half a dozen other films before ours appeared. I had not yet seen the final product. When our opening credits appeared, my teammates and I cheered and waved our paint brushes. It was pretty jolting to see a close-up of my face on the giant screen during a scene where I pretended to be talking into both the cell phone and a walkie-talkie at the same time. But I settled down and enjoyed the 7 minute flick. The crowd seemed to like it as well, laughing in the spots where we had intended them to laugh. Being a DC crowd, they laughed loudly at the line about the joint DOD/NEA funding.

It was an exciting, addicting and really fun experience that I hope to repeat very soon. This is absolutely not the last time.

You can view the film here:


At 6:33 PM, Blogger Fitz said...

Just thought I would leave a quick note. I will be participating in the 48hfp in Greensboro, NC next week and I'm really looking forward to it. I enjoyed your film. A lot of nice shots and fit the genre to a "T" Looks like you guys had a lot of fun.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Matt said...

Thanks Fitz, and good luck making the film. It's a blast!


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