My Three (biggest) 48 Hour Mistakes

I recently led a team of 10 people to create a film, Breadpool, for the Seattle Summer 48 Hour Film Project, 2022. This was my third 48 film and while I keep having fun, I still make a lot of mistakes. To be fair, it is really, really, really, REALLY hard to create and complete a film in 48 hours, I don't care who you are. To create a quality film in 48 hours is exponentially harder. My main lesson I've learned is simplicity, simplicity, and simplicity. While I say that and I know it to be true, it has proven illusive to act on that lesson. Here are my biggest three mistakes that I feel I made on this last 48. Disclaimer: I own these mistakes. My team was incredible. I'm humble and appreciative that these awesome and creative people put their trust in me, and work their butts off to help create our vision. 

Pick a Genre

So if you're not familiar with the 48, you get two genres randomly drawn (out of 30+ genres) on Friday, the start of the 48 around 7pm. You can either choose one or combine both. But if you declare both, your film must be recognized as both those genres. So what did we do? We decided to do both. Bad idea. 

Our two genres were Climate and Comedy. I will say that off the bat, I know I don't do comedy well when it comes to script writing. So in hindsight, I made it a ton more difficult to write a comedy by throwing in a "clever" post apocalyptic world that was created from failure to react to climate control. Oh, and the film has to be 4-7 minutes long. 

To give you an idea of our process; once we get the genres and the elements (character, line of dialogue, and prop) at 7pm on Friday, we do a brainstorm / ideation session with anyone who wants to be part of that creative process. We yell ideas out and someone (Michelle, the incredible actor extraordinaire in this case) takes notes and helps facilitate the session. I like to time box this session to 2 hours. By 9pm I want to have the characters outlines along with the story outline including all major plot points (e.g. Inciting Incident, etc). We did that and with the excitement of the 48, I fully believed that our story outline could fit the bill for both Climate and Comedy. In fact, I was super confident we had good story structure and we were right on schedule. 

Keep your story simple and script < 5 pages

I've heard that a good rule of thumb to convert script pages to timeline is about 1 page == 1 minute of screen time. I don't know how accurate that is but its probably a good rule of thumb. 

I had an 8-full page script by 1am. There were still some folks awake and we read through the script, and while it was rough in some parts, we again felt it had good story structure and we could visualize it. I figured, eh, if we're only 1-page over (7 pages == 7 minutes according to that rule) we can squeeze some out in post. 

Bad idea. I need to really follow my simplicity, simplicity, simplicity rule. It would have been a hell of a lot easier to cut the script than to cut it in post. 

In addition to the 8-page script, the story I was trying to tell needed time to develop. The story was too complex for this 48 short. Hell, I had a 1.5 page monologue for our gambler character Robin that was Sam Jackson / Q. Tarantino inspired to develop the crazy, playing with her victims type speech. I must admit, I felt pretty good about that monologue for cranking it out in < 10 minutes. It had relevancy to the story, the character but was off the fucking wall enough to give the audience reason to say "WTF?" - Our lovely actor Sarah worked her ass off memorizing the lines, working the lines, adding intent, asking questions and just worked her ass off on that monologue. 

It didn't even make the first cut. Oof. Big mistake on my part. There are so many sub mistakes from this big one. Keep it simple and under 5 pages. If I would have kept that, that monologue probably would have never made the final script cut. 

Allow for sleep / re-charge time

I am so stupid. So very, very, very stupid. I know from working 2 prior 48s that you start to lose rational thought by staying up so long and you start making poor decisions, and your follow through falters as the hours go by. 

I had a 4:30 am call time on Saturday. Wow. Dumb.

I was obsessed with the idea of filming an abandoned festival. We were filming at a business in the Junction in West Seattle and it just so happened that the West Seattle Summer Fest was happening that same weekend. I thought, wouldn't it be cool to set our post apocalyptic, post climate world in an abandoned fair? Wouldn't it be creepy to convey that? Well, first of all, why the hell would there still be a fair setup in a post apocalyptic world? If we know anything about human nature, that shit would have been destroyed minutes after the fall of society. I was tired, leave me alone and it sounded like a good idea at the time. 

Well, in order to capture that scene, we had to go when no one was there but there was some natural light. So we looked up when dawn was and set the call time to 30 minutes prior. dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb dumb. 

That means that I took a 1. 5 hour nap before we started shooting. When we got there, there were festival workers there and they were super cool, but we had to work around them. There was also a contingent of people out (joggers, troublemakers, etc) that we had to work around. Oh, there were street lights and a beautiful looking downtown West Seattle with pristine fair tents and booth set up. Hardly the post apocalyptic scene I had in my head a few hours before in writing the script. 

Oh and the crows. The goddamn crows.

The monologue I mentioned earlier was about crows. Our gambler character was talking about how she was surprised crows didn't survive the climate incident, ranting about how smart crows were. To be clear, in my Breadpool world, crows were extinct. 

There was about one thousand goddamn crows (and other birds) in every shot we tried to shoot, including all their damn morning chirps and caws. Stupid crows ruining my movie. 

We ended up shooting until 9pm. Yup, close to 16 hour shoot day. Ugh. That's brutal and sounds stupid just writing it. If any of my team are reading this, I'm sorry. I'm stupid and won't let that happen again. 

To top it all off, we had a 6 am spotting session with our composer Wallace on Sunday so I needed to get the rough cut done by then. Oh, we also had a lot of folks drop (all for good reasons, health and family first) at the last minute, so Wallace being the awesome guy he is, volunteered to do the sound recording / boom operator. 

By 2am Jason (who was killing it at editing) and I had a 10 minute and 30 second rough cut. We ran out of juice and had to take a nap. We were going to get up at 5 to try to cut 3.5 minutes but I "over" slept until 6. So we didn't get our rough cut done until 8 am, only giving Wallace limited time to work on the music / scores, after him pulling a 12 hour day the day before. 

Have Fun (Bonus Mistake)

At the end of the day, we finished and turned a film in on-time. We had to cut so much in post that we dropped the climate part. In hindsight, the climate aspect was only there by a thread anyway, by the time we had to cut so much, it was completely gone, along with some key moments from our story. 

When I did my first 48 I had a kickoff meeting with the team and told them my goal was to finish on time and not get disqualified for messing up one of the rules. Mission accomplished AND we ended up winning an award. 

I had a kickoff meeting with this crew and told them my goal was to come in within top 3 of best in city. I wanted an award. Mind you, the awards are minor for this competition. Don't get me wrong, there is a great deal that does into the viewing and judging for this film fest and I'm grateful for it. AND it definitely feels nice to win, but the chances of overnight fame and fortune from a 48 award are pretty slim. STILL, I think at least for me, mentally, I had this award or nothing mindset and I don't think that is a good mindset to operate from. That "Ignorance is Bliss" talk is true sometimes. That first 48 we did, I had no idea what I was doing  and just filled with blind optimism. A year later and completing my 3rd 48, I know more now and the more I know, the more I realize I don't know, and the pressure to "award" probably distracted me a bit. 

We did it. We made a movie in 48 hours and didn't get disqualified. Mission accomplished. 

I'm excited to get started on the horror 48 coming up in October. I have most of team assembled and we have a new goal for this 48; To scare the shit out of at least 10 people. 

SubliminalEd Films - Seattle 48 - Summer 2022

Here we go again! 

I'm stoked that this year's Seattle 48 film project is right around the corner. We completed two 48hr films last year, "No More Dragons" for the general summer 48, and "Among The Sun" for the horror 48. We have a lot of the same team from last year, some new members, but same energy and same goal: Tell a great story.

We're looking to fill a few roles still this year, specifically for:

  • AC / Gaffer
  • Sound Designer / Engineer
  • Editor
  • PAs / Script Superviser / General Help
  • Still Photographer
  • Graphic Designer

If you have some of those skills and/or interests, shoot me a message at subliminaledfilms@gmail.com and let's chat. Meet the rest of this incredible talented and creative team. I love collaborating with these folks. 

Ed Castaneda (He/Him) - Director / Writer / Editor

This will be my 3rd 48. I'm in learn and practice mode, with a few classes / programs under my belt along with a few student, scene work, and a few shorts. You can check some of my work on my SubliminalEd Films YouTube Channel. I've written, co-written, and edited all of my work so far but looking for an opportunity to work with others that are more skilled in those two areas. 

Anastasia Henley - Director of Photography

Hi! I'm Anastasia Henley, this will be my 3rd 48 hour film festival. I have been doing cinematography and photography since I was 16, so roughly about 16 years, professionally for the last 10 years. I have worked on a wide variety of projects from independent music videos, short films, documentaries, and feature films. I always love getting the chance to work with new people on a project and potentially expand my film network.

Nicole Dempsey - Sound Recordist

Nicole has completed one 48 so far and a few independent short films. Nicole will be recording sound for us but we're looking for someone to help with sound design / mixing for post. 

Michelle Conklin - Actor

Michelle is a seasoned actor and this will be her 3rd 48 with this team. She brings a wealth of energy to the team and has many skills, including helping us write / brainstorm, and write log and taglines for our previous films. 

Mark Fox - Actor

Mark is a seasoned actor and this will be his second 48 with the team. In addition to his acting chops, Mark is a jack of all trades when it comes to making films. 

Tom Hirschler - Writer / PA

Tom co-wrote the horror 48 for us last year, as well as helped with set design and other all around general help. 

Wallace Simpson - Composer

This is Wallace's third 48. Wallace is an incredible composer and a great help to the team from standing on a chair acting like a hanging body, to general ideation. Wallace is great to collaborate with. 

Seattle 48-hour HORROR film project - seeking collaborators!

Welp... here we are again. 

I'm putting together another team for another crazy project. This time, horror... oh my. 

When & Where : October 15 - 17th, 2021 - Seattle area

What:

DP & Crew

I'm looking for a DP, cinematographer, Gaffer(s), Camera Operator, Still Photographer or some combination of the above. Some of my favorite shots are from horror films. Let's collaborate and create some truly terrifying scenes. I'm also looking for folks that can help create a movie poster and take stills to gather some BTS footage. Help me tell a story through pictures. Have skills in any of those areas, hit me up and let's chat!

Art Director & Crew

I want to go big this time. We have a special FX person on our team. I'm looking to compliment that with an art department. I'm looking for folks that can/want to do horror make-up. I'm looking for wardrobe / costume designers. I'm looking for set designers and an Art director to lead this department. Let's work together and help tell the story through art. We'll create the theme of the story together on Friday night. Once we have that, what can you do in this crazy short time window to help create? Let's do it!

Editor

I've done most of the editing for my past work but I'm far from a professional. Have skills in this area? Hit me up! We can help bring the story together and make it awesome.

Who:
We're a small team right now but we want to go big. Part of us where on a team that won "Best use of character" for the general Seattle 48 earlier this year for our film "No More Dragons." (You can check out that film and my other shorts on my SubliminalEd Films YouTube Channel.) We are very collaborative and you will have a blast with our team. Our goal last time was to finish. check. Our goal this time is to place. Join us and help us achieve that goal. Let's go. 

Contact me at subliminaledfilms@gmail.com 

No More Dragons

We did it! We completed our film, "No More Dragons" in 48-hours. A whirlwind weekend doesn't begin to describe the intensity of that weekend. Our team was amazing and it was a 100% collaborative effort. We are premiering our movie on 15-Aug, 2021 at 6pm PT / 9pm ET. Come check it out! It will be available on my SubliminalEd Films YouTube channel after the premiere. 

On Friday, 23-Jul at approximately 7:30pm we received info on the 4 elements. 

  1. Character: We must include a character named Kelly Broadbent who is a pilot
  2. Line of Dialog: We must include "I think I'm going to be sick" in the movie
  3. Prop: We must include headphones or earpods
  4. Genre: We were drawn Fantasy or Multi-Generational. We could choose 1 or incorporate both.

At 8pm our team started brainstorming and by 11pm we had the rough outline for our story. We chose fantasy and started writing the script. The rest is a blur but we finished. We uploaded our finished product at 7:26pm on Sunday, 25-Jul - 4-minutes before the deadline. 

Join us in watching our film

"No More Dragons" - A woman’s strength is not just for fairytales.

A young woman finds the personal strength to combat a predator through the stories of her childhood.

YouTube Event Link: https://youtu.be/0ZxcX8ldqwo 

FB Event Link: https://fb.me/e/16OpMeF5W

Check out the trailer we made for the Seattle Film Summit and join us for the premiere!

Seattle 48 - The Calm Before the Storm

In less than 24 hours the Seattle 48 hour film project begins. We, along with ~39 other teams in the Seattle area, are going to make a film in 48 hours... from start to finish. It is going to be one of the most difficult yet most exhilarating challenges I've ever completed. But there it is. There is the key word... "completed." That is the goal for this, to complete a film. I am confident that we will achieve this goal and I cannot wait to go... just go.

We are Team JJ. (don't ask) We are a group of 14 people that have never met each other IRL before, let alone worked on anything before. We've been communicating all online and I'm so impressed and excited to be working with these individuals. They give me confidence in knowing we will complete this project. It is an honor and a privilege to be on the same team. 

it is after 10 pm, the day before it all starts and I feel a sense of calm coming over me. A sense that I have not felt in a very long time, almost like a thunder jacket for a dog afraid of lighting, i'm comforted. I've felt this before. Before one of my first gigs playing in the band Marauder at the East Toledo theater on Broadway, I remember the night before that show. We had practiced so much before hand, we had done tons of advertising and the day was almost there and we were expecting over 1,000 people. I don't even think I was 18 yet. I had this same sense of calm hit me that night. There are a few other events that this happened. I love it. This calm will help me sleep tonight. Earlier in the day I felt like I should be doing a million and one more things to prepare. Now... those things can wait. I'm ready. The team is ready. I'm going to sleep well, wake up go to my day job and once 6 pm hits. It's on. The calm will turn to an all encompassing energy powered by a ridiculous deadline and human spirit. That energy will carry us through the 48 hours. There will be confusion, plans changing, laughter, frustration, exhaustion but at the end, by 7 pm on Sunday, we will have created a film. And that calm to energy will be replaced with accomplishment. I'm excited for every part of this journey. 

If you reader happen to be in the Seattle area on Saturday, August 6th, you can see our film screened at the Burien Boulevard Park Block Party and Film Festival. Bring the family and come on out to see our film, our 48 hour accomplishment, along with many other talented teams and individuals. 

Good night friends, tomorrow we ride. 


Lights, Key Grip, and Photographer! Join our Seattle 48 team!

It is getting down to the wire. Less than two weeks from the kickoff for this amazing event. We have three critical roles left to fill. We have an awesome team but you might be one of the final people we need to carry us across the line. Again, the Seattle 48hr film project is the weekend of July 23 - 25. It is going to be intense, a lot of work, and more fun than you can imagine. As a reward, our film will be on the big screen during Burien's summer block party and film fest! Come join us! You can read more about the event here

Lights!

Are you a lighting expert? Lighting is SO important to help tell a story and we need your expertise. As our lighting expert you'll work with our DPs, our director (Me!), and the rest of our talented crew. We have some gear available for you to use but we're looking for someone with experience to help guide us! Is that you? Reach out and let's chat!

Key Grip

We're looking for someone who has gear experience. We have all the gear to shoot but we're looking for someone to help with camera setup, mic / boom setup, lights, or whatever the scene calls for. We have some crew to help carry it out but looking for someone to help guide us and own the gear setup. 

Photographer

Are you a photographer looking to get more experience? We're looking for someone to join the team and visually document our journey that weekend. 

Hit me up at subliminaledfilms@gmail.com and let's create an awesome film!


Seattle 48-hour film project - Searching for Director of Photography, Sound Designer, etc

Howdy folks,

The Seattle 48-hour film project is just 1-month away. Not sure what 48-hour is? In a nutshell, it is creating an original short (4-7 min) film in 48 hours, from script writing to post-production and publishing. It is going to be a crazy weekend, July 23-25, 2021. Come join us in making an awesome short film. You can learn more about the project here.

We are a team of 9 but are in need of a few key roles to make the magic happen.

Director of Photography

We're looking for a person with some experience in cinematography that can own this creative area. A few of us on the team have some experience and you can help lead us in delivering that edge to create some great shots that helps tell our story. You don't have to be an expert. If interested, reach out to us and let's chat!

Sound Designer

Similar to the DP, we're looking for someone to own the audio experience, this could be both in audio recording, sound mixing or both. We have some equipment and a boom operator ready to take your lead. 

Still Photographer

This weekend is going to be epic. Our current team is new to the 48 but we have a ton of energy and a passion to deliver a film that evokes emotion. We want to document this experience in photographs. As the designated still photographer, you will be along with us the whole weekend, capturing the team as we work, struggle, go insane, and ultimately create. 

The Team

One of the coolest aspects of this project is being part of our team. I have 100% confidence that we can deliver on this project with the team we have. As you join, you will not only take the lead on your role but you will have the opportunity to work closely with the full team and be fully emerged in this experience, with the ability to get your hands dirty in other areas of filmmaking if you desire. 

Give us a shout out a SubliminalEdFilms@gmail.com or contact me on Twitter

About Me

I'm an aspiring filmmaker who's created 3 student short films. I'm looking to create as many films as possible on my way to mastering this craft. You can check out my student films here:



Let's do this!

Seattle 48-hour film project - Seeking collaborators!

Have you heard of the 48-hour film project? No? check it out here.

We have a small team (Team JJ) and we're planning on putting everything we have to this project. We're collaborative and looking for help. See the details below on what to expect, when, what areas of expertise we're looking for help, and how to contact us for more info. 

It is going to be wild ride but we're up for the challenge and hoping to win some awards! Come join us!

What

We have 48 hours to create an original film. This includes writing the script. We'll receive a genre (random drawing) on Friday, 23-July evening and we'll have 48 hours to write, do any pre-production, rehearse, film, and post-production work and submit our finished film by Sunday, 25-July by 7:30 PM. See more about the official rules here

When

Friday 23-July - 7 PM - writing starts, any pre-production, costume design, etc

Saturday 24-July - All day - specific times will be decided on Friday evening - we'll rehearse and shoot. Goal is to have most shots completed enough for a rough cut of the film by Saturday night.

Sunday 25-July - Re-shoots / finishing shooting in the morning, post-production to complete by 6 PM to submit by 7:30 pm

Where

In Seattle - exact location TBD (know any great locations?)

Help Wanted

Help in the following areas but not limited to the following.

  • Cinematography
  • Still Photographer
  • Lighting
  • Audio Recording
  • Editing
  • Wardrobe Design
  • Make-up Artist
  • Production Design
  • Production Assistance (scheduling, food, coordination, continuity, still pictures, etc)
  • Sound Design / Production
  • Musicians / Composers
  • Actors (we have 2 so far - looking for ~5 maybe but final outcome won't be until script is written on Friday, 23-July)

Please note that this is all volunteer work. We don't have a budget for any paying roles but you'll be part of this crazy thing. It will be a great, fun learning experience, and get some resume building work. 

Contact

Interested? Have questions? Contact us and let us know. We're looking for folks on the full spectrum of experience. Please include any reel or work you might have. 

  1. Email us at SubliminalEdFilms
  2. Contact us via twitter

The Montage

This 15-week course at nyfa.edu is intense. I had just completed my first project, the message, and I was feeling pretty good for having accomplished that despite all the issues I ran into. Overall, I was very satisfied with my first project but... project two needed to start.

The Parameters

We're learning different techniques for visual story telling and this second project had to have a montage set to music. I think the official definition of a montage is a series of shots that when put together convey a different meaning than if shown individually, or something like that. When I hear montage the only thing I think of are the training sequences in the Rocky movies. For this project our parameters were (1) It has to be a montage set to music, (2) No dialog, sound effects are okay but no dialog, (3) 3-4 minutes long. There are two additional parameters I would learn about later.

The Spark

I had no idea what I was going to do. I was again trying to think about how to do a horror short but all I could think about were Rocky movies. That's it. That was a severe blocker. Then late one Friday night, about 2.5 weeks from when we have to screen our movies in front of class, I decided to listen to music to get some inspiration. I started with Sigur Ros because let's be honest, their music is filled with so much emotion, I was bound to find inspiration by doing some deep Sigur Ros listening. My main goal for this movie was to tell a better story. I missed the master shot, setting the context in my last film and I wanted to get better. As I was listening to Sigur Ros, I thought about Kronos Quartet covering Sigur Ros's Flugufrelsarinn. That version of the song moves me so much. Goose bumps, hairs standing up, the whole nine-yards. I love that song and I love Kronos Quartet's interpretation. So I'm listening to it on Spotify and it's off a small EP called Kronos Quartet Plays Sigur Ros. I was lost in the music, writing some ideas down when the song finished and the next song on the EP played, the Star-Spangled Banner inspired by Hendrix. I had an immediate vision in my head of two brothers fighting over politics ending with one brother killing the other, standing over his body. Sick, right? I know, but that is what I saw at 1 am listening to this song. I had my spark.

The Story

Over the next two days I was playing around with ideas in my head on how to craft that scene into a story. We're going over basic screenplay / story structure in our screen writing classes, learning about a standard 3 act story, with 8 sequences in-between, at least for feature films. For short films, our teacher said that the story should be able to (1) Identify who the main characters are, (2) establish the inciting incident telling the viewer what the main character(s) want and needs, (3) establish the central dramatic question based on those wants / needs, and (4) answer the question with a resolution and depict the twist and aftermath. Cool, so working backwards from my final scene where one brother kills the other, what if I established the central dramatic question as "will the brothers reconcile their differences?" and I know the answer for the resolution; "no." I just need an inciting incident, some aftermath, then try to build suspense between the inciting incident and the resolution. So on Sunday night, i wrote a rough draft script and I felt confident in the story. How the hell do I execute it?

Working with Actors

My daughter did excellent in my first project, but we had one class on directing actors. Our teacher (Lea Brandenburg) talked about how working with people perusing their career in Acting is different than working with friends and family because they have different motivation. They are expecting to take 25 shots of the same scene. I wanted to push myself to work with Actors as the step in my filmmaking career so I posted 3 job listings on the Northwest Film Forum and Backstage.com, looking for people to play Brother 1, Brother 2, and the Mother. Lea talked about the importance of auditioning and showed us this clip of the Actor who played Elliot in ET and how Spielburg directed him at the setup of the audition. Now since my film contained no dialog plus I have no idea what I'm doing, I felt like I had no business conducting auditions. BUT, I had about 5 people apply for each role so I had to something. I have probably interviewed over 1000 people over my software career so I figure I can just borrow from there. I decided to do a 30-minute zoom call with each person to (a) let them know what they would be getting into since I'm so inexperienced, (b) discuss the plot / story - they had a rough draft of the script and (c) to see if I connected with them. I think probably one of the most important things is being able to work together. Given that I went from idea to rough script in ~48 hours, there were some holes and I didn't have all the pre-production materials created yet. I was looking for folks that would understand and be flexible in how we worked together. Oh, they also had to be available for filming that upcoming Saturday and Sunday since that was the only two days I had to shoot.

I went through a series of emotions on this journey, anywhere from imposter syndrome kicking in thinking I had no business wasting Actors time because I have no idea what I'm doing, to proud moments of patting myself on my back. I'm sure every career has these swings as I still experience both ends of the spectrum after 20 years working with Software. BUT, I was super proud of myself that most of the Actors I talked to seemed to get the story I was trying to tell just based on my rough draft script. I was able to convey that in a written narrative in a very short time, and I sorta followed the screen play structure.

Execution and Final Product

The rest is a blur. I put together all the pre production materials in less than 2 days, chose my 3 Actors. We filmed 160 shots in 2 days, following all COVID precautions. I had to arrange food, shooting schedules. I used my shot list and other pre production materials a bit more, and used an old Sony a6000 camera to shoot instead of my Samsung Galaxy 9 phone last time. I ended up missing some shots because It was so intense shooting, working with the Actors. I will say this, I feel like I chose my actors absolutely right. They had the perfect temperament and were just awesome to work with all around. I learned a ton by working with them and I think they all did an amazing job. We had an editing class the Thursday after I shot where I learned more about color grading, etc and within 2.5 weeks I want from idea to finished product. I received good feedback from my screening and I'm pretty proud of what I created in a short amount of time. Lots of room for improvement but I think it is a step up from my first project.

On to project 3 where I again have no idea what I'm going to do!


The Message

I have attempted to write several screenplays for over a decade with zero success in completing them. I need some structure and that is what (I hope) this filmmaking class is giving me. I like the way my teachers are emphasizing that as filmmakers you need to be able to tell a story through pictures/film, a visual story.

We have 3 films projects to complete in this course. The first one was a 2-3 minute silent film. We were not allowed to use any sound at all but still convey a story in it. Part of the structure that we're learning is what pre-production tools to use to help craft films. For this film we had to create (1) a script, (2) storyboards, (3) an overhead shooting diagram, and (4) a shot list.

Building off the pic I took of my daughter's remote work desk, I wanted to create a film that showed the desperation and struggle that some kids feel with this pandemic and remote learning. In particular, my daughter has gone through fits of just "being done" with remote learning. (To be transparent, she is doing really well and we are fortunate to be where we are, realizing that so many others have way tougher situations). I created all the required docs around this theme and even had a title for this film; rEmotion. My story would start with her with her head down at the desk, headphones on, while school is flashing on her laptop, she is distracted and sad. I would have some shots of it raining out her window, trying to establish the sense of sadness. She would then receive a message from a friend asking for help. She would sit up to help her friend and that would give her the self-motivation to start paying attention. She would then be attentive and finish the day with a sense of "you got this" type of accomplishment. The theme of my story is finding something, a message inside that drives self-motivation, self-confidence. I created all the required artifacts for our critique class. This class is intended to give us help and guidance on our projects prior to filming. The main problem I thought I had was that my storyboard and shotlist called for 31 different shots. We were supposed to limit ourselves to 8-10 shots for this project.

I gave my spiel to our screen writing teacher (Ben Maraniss) and the class and explained my dilema of having too many shots. As I was looking at a blank set of zoom faces I realized... I over complicated this. I recognize that because I used to (still do at times) do that in a lot of my software engineering work too. Ben asked me a couple "simple" questions. "Who is the main character?" Me: "I 3rd grade female student." Ben: "What does she want?" Me:"To be done with school." Ben:"Be more specific. How does the audience know that. What does she want?" Me:"To be done with this pandemic." Ben:"That's too broad. You are going for big emotions, but with film, you need to focus on a metaphor. Something simple. A simple action. What does she want? What does she need?" Me: "... I have nothing."

Ben gave me some advice and some things to think about. I took the feedback to heart and understood what he was getting at. I need to simplify but for the life of me I couldn't think of how to do that with my current scenario. It was time to start from scratch. It was Friday and we had to have our films completed and uploaded before the next Thursday so that we could screen them and receive feedback. I panicked and decided to do a horror short based on lights mysteriously going on. I could have the main character (my wife?) and what she wants is for the lights to remain off when she turns them off. Simple, and very concrete and actionable. I just need to round out the story and maybe I could even pull it off with 10 shots or less.

By Friday night, I was creating a storyboard for that film and I it hit me; A message in a bottle. Back to the first theme of the student finding an inner "you got this" message, what if I created a short film with her literally trying to fetch a message in a bottle from the sea? We're fortunate enough to live super close to the Puget Sound. I checked online and found some bottles that would work perfectly at Michael's craft store and started storyboarding, creating the shot list, etc. By 2 am I was finished and ready to pick-up my curbside bottles, and start filming the next day.

This was the sound the next day where I wanted to film

The sound is never that rough. It was cold, rainy, and windy. Yuck. We ended up going to the other side of the peninsula and found calmer water and a good spot to film with the city as the backdrop. I started to look at my shot list and everyone was already cold and miserable. I downloaded Filmic Pro for my samsung phone that I was filming on so that I could try some of the things I learned in our cinematography class, but I really didn't (don't) know what the hell I'm doing. In short, execution went to hell and I just started shooting from memory and not using the pre-production documents I created. (bad idea) I had a scene where my daughter was lying on a rock to get the message from the water but the rocks were too slippery for her to do that. I just started filming, improvising, and I was about to give up when she started going for the bottle on her own. I was able to film that. I went home that night and was up until 2 am again editing, realizing I needed more shots since I went off script. We went out the next day and it was luckily more pleasant so we got the shots.

Back to the editing room... I ended up with 59 shots. I created by first rough draft by Tuesday, but it was 3 minutes long. I needed to cut it down by at least 1-minute. That night, I scrubbed shots that weren't necessary and it was such a big learning for me to look at my film with the "do I need this shot" lens. I think I will always add a "scrub" edit like this to any film I direct/produce/edit in the future. It felt really good.

Finally, by Wednesday night, I had my final version to screen with the class the next day.

Overall, I'm pleased with it given where I started a little over a week prior. In the final version, i added a bit of color grading to try to make it look more cinematic, tried to alter the position of some of the shots to follow the Rule of Thirds based on some feedback from a good friend, and trim it down to what I thought was essential for the story.

The Feedback

I received really good feedback from my class. The first question Ben asked was "Why was she at the water?" - I asked my director teacher, Billy to critique it too and he provided similar feedback basically stating that I needed to provide more context and maybe a broader establishing shot. What i was going for with the first shot was to show a close-up of the mask with the title of the film, "the message" to appear where the mouth is, hinting that the message was to come from her own mouth. I don't think that worked and without providing the setting context, the viewer is left to interpret on their own. The city shots are fairly big, drawing the viewer to read into that when in reality the city backdrop was only because the other side of the water was too rough.

Because of this, some of the feedback I got from the class was people stating the message came from an unknown source, or somewhere from the city, or even from the divine. The point of the message coming from inside was not made clear enough. In the end, that is okay because I am happy that people got SOMETHING out of it, even if it wasn't what I intended. That is part of the beauty of this whole creating world. I love putting something out there. Something new that I created for others to get something out of it, and hear different things that I never thought of. I like this medium.

Post Script: More Art

I don't have any hard data on this but I wonder if one of the few silver linings in this pandemic is an outburst of more art being created. I'm not trying to minimize any of the hardships, but I have seen a lot of art being created in my circles.

As I was going through this process and wanting to capture the sadness and struggle of remote learning, a friend of mine shared this video on social media. This was created by the teenager (Liv McNeil) who stars in the film and I think she captures that feeling perfectly with her adaptation, numb.