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!
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.
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
In Seattle - exact location TBD (know any great locations?)
Help in the following areas but not limited to the following.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
During my first class at NYFA, our instructor (Billy or William Tyler Smith) talked to us about pictures. Not films but photographs. One of the first things I learned in this program was about telling a story through a still photograph. He asked the class what makes a good picture and what makes a good scene in a movie. He was pretty harsh in dismissing the obvious answer of "it's aesthetically pleasing." "NO!" he said. A picture could be horrible and make you want to turn away but still be a good picture. He said a picture could NOT tell you something and let your mind do the rest. That is the definition of a good picture. One that can stand on its own, tell a story and make you FEEL something. If you feel what the artist intended even better, but as long as you feel something, that is a good picture.
My mind immediately went to Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the scene where the woman gets up off the swing and walks to the house, and her back is exposed.
If you've seen this movie before, you know what is coming up. That is an awesome shot. Maybe I know too much about the film but that shot makes me feel like that house is foreboding and the woman is vulnerable going into it. It tells a bit of foreshadowing too, eh? Watch the film if you haven't seen it.
Billy they showed us a few of his pictures and asked us how they made us feel. This was the first one he showed, "A stairway to heaven."
How does that make you feel? It's a great shot isn't it? We talked about it for at least 20 minutes. There is so much nuance and subtext going on with this picture. It definitely tells a story.
We did this for a few more pictures and by the end of class I was inspired. Billy said that every filmmaker should become a still photographer first.
Prior to taking this class all the pictures I took were designed to be ascetically pleasing. This was the first pic I took after that first class.
Does it tell a story? I hope so. One of my friends commented on it saying "This pic stresses me out." That was one of the best compliments I had ever received on my pics. That is EXACTLY what I was going for. This picture, to me, tells the story of us being almost a year into this damn pandemic and the stress of a child working through it. This is my daughter's remote school area. I see this setup every single day. It wasn't until I came out of that first class that I saw the melancholy and beauty and was inspired to take a shot.
Now there is a whole other story about how to actually take good pictures using a camera, more tactical but that is a different class and story. For now, I think Billy is onto something with filmmakers becoming still photographers. It seems such a simple concept but, being able to tell a story in a single still, that's powerful.