Like a Drama, but with Spock Ears
By 5 a.m., when everybody else had dropped off to sleep, I had refamiliarized myself with the concepts enumerated in 9 th grade biology, skimmed about a third of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species looking for the nut quote, run through a couple dozen scenarios that would justify a woman not calling the police after her husband had been shot right in front of her, and came to the somewhat grim realization that before sunrise I might be killing a little boy — that’s the way the script would read, anyway.
I had also polished off about 10 beers. Fuel for the muse, right? You do what you gotta do when you’re competing in the 48-Hour Film Project, sleep be damned.
I have been a part of the Keene Collaboration, my pal Dusty Keene’s 48-Hour film crew, since 2007, when along with director Matt McNeil and eventual star Heather Meek, we wrote out “JoBeth,” seven minutes of excruciating cruelty that was rich enough in pathos to snag us First Place in the Greensboro competition and a Top Ten finish in international judging. So it was that Keene, McNeil, myself and a few others found ourselves in the south of France months later screening our short at the Cannes Film Festival.
What a ride it was. In 2008, someone — a jealous competitor, most likely — engaged the services of a lawyer who threatened to sue the competition if I were allowed to participate based on the fact that this newspaper had provided the 48 with a couple free ads to promote this creative endeavor.
Fortunately, these jackasses grossly overestimated my role in the Keene Collaboration, and the show went on without me while I sat at the bar.
Last year, in 2009… you know, I don’t really want to talk about last year.
This year all cylinders were firing. We had a couple UNC School of the Arts grads flown in from LA for the occasion: McNeil, a High Point native fresh off his stint on “The Jeff Dunham Show,” and cinematographer Jim Ricker, who knows more about making movies than I do about anything.
It was Ricker who gave me a piece of sage scriptwriting advice: “Make a good villain,” he said. Someone people will love to hate.”
Producing with Keene was Brad Yoder, another High Point boy whose profile is ascending due to his star turn in the feature film Red Dirt Rising and current gig as associate producer of the reality show “Madhouse.”
Ringers? Maybe, but when you’ve got 48 hours to commit seven minutes to film you need to have a couple of big guns on hand, at least if you want to win. And dammit, we wanted to win.
For the uninitiated, here’s the deal: Each team draws a genre from a hat, anything from buddy picture to drama to Western. Each film must contain a prescribed prop, character and line of dialogue — this year we had to weave in a bandana, professional organizer Marla or Martin Dockery and the line, “You think you know everything.”
We drew the science-fiction genre, a toughie, and after a discussion about spaceships, robots, “The Twilight Zone,” Spock ears and the phe nomenon known as “sideboob,” we settled on a story about evolution made manifest in one small, freckled boy.
So by 5 a.m. I’ve got this cadre of men in black suits, a smattering of blood, a footrace through an urban streetscape, long and baroque passages from Darwin’s opus and an escape from a police station, most of which would have to go.
As a tangent: It came to my attention that cell phones have completely ruined suspense movies. Think about it. Decent cell-phone coverage absolutely destroys the plotlines of about two-thirds of all movies made before they became ubiquitous. When a Stranger Calls, Cape Fear, even Fight Club doesn’t make sense if everybody has a personal communication device in her pocket, not to mention that pretty much every horror flick made before 1997 stops in its tracks when someone could just call the police.
While everyone slept I cut a slovenly path for our heroine, played exquisitely by Arminda Lindsay, and crafted a role for Sherry Stevenson, who some may know as an account executive for the Rhinoceros Times. I made her a doctor, and homegirl nailed it.
So I finished a draft of this script around 6 a.m., with several glaring inconsistencies, an overkill of exposition and a couple scenarios that would be impossible to book, shoot and edit in the allotted time. Also it was too long. And then I dumped it in McNeil’s lap — he likened it to crapping on the floor and then running out of the room. Fortunately the meat of our lineup was able to turn this piece of hackery into something that’s recognizable as a story with a beginning, middle and end.
We were pretty close to flubbing the deadline this year, but thanks to some last-minute heroics we were able to submit the film on time.
You should know that making a film in 48 hours is a task that daunts even professionals in the industry, even seasoned deadline writers, even teams that have taken their films all the way to Cannes. And everyone who attempts a tilt at this particular windmill deserves commendation and respect, whether or not the deadline is met.
All films will be shown in three groups at the Carousel Luxury Cinemas in Greensboro Wednesday and Thursday night beginning at 7 p.m. Ours, titled “Entropy,” will be in the slot that begins Wednesday night at 9:30 p.m. But you should watch them all, because even though there are technically winners and losers in this competition, any team that can make a film from the ground up in 48 hours has accomplished something extraordinary.
GREENSBORO 48 HOUR FILM PROJECT SCREENINGS Carousel Luxury Cinemas 1305 Battleground Ave Greensboro www.48hourfilm.com/greensboro