Monday, July 13, 2009

The Love Stalker short and the 48 Hour Film Project

Hey all - as I'm sure most of you faithful readers have noticed, I recently participated in the 48 Hour Film Project in St. Louis when we made the short called LOVE STALKER. It was a great experience overall, so here is part one of a two parter on the whole ordeal (or lack thereof).

My long-time friend and collaborator B. Bowls MacLean wanted to do a 48 Hour Film Project so he registered a few months back (under the name Filmbender Entertainment Group) and contacted me to ask me if I would be interested in flying out to St. Louis to help him out. I figured since I was "between" gigs it was a good opportunity to visit Bowls and St. Louis and have fun making a little film. Also, I felt like I owed him a favor since he came out to NYC to help me and Ben when we were making our New York Stalker trilogy of music videos. I booked my ticket (with a little stop off in Chicago to visit the fam) and we were off.

When I arrived in St. Louis, Bowls informed me that his kitchen ceiling had partially collapsed from heavy rainfall, all within seconds of my plane landing and me calling him on the phone to get picked up at the airport. As he pulled up in his Chevy Corolla, a sense of dread filled me as I saw the front seat was covered in empty cigarette packs and empty coffee cups. "You couldn't have at least made room for me in the front seat?" I snapped. The theme music for The Odd Couple immediately sprang to mind.

We dropped off my stuff at his apartment, which he was avoiding because he was very distressed about the kitchen ceiling situation. I told him it was going to be fine - we just needed to deal with cleaning the crap up so that we could move about the kitchen if we had to. He seemed embarrassed by the situation and didn't want to get his hands dirty in the process. Cue Odd Couple theme music as Mugwump begins picking the place up...

Now before we go further, I should lay out what the rules are for the 48 hour film project for those unfamiliar... On the launch day, your team is randomly assigned a genre (drama, comedy, horror, etc), then the room of team leaders is given a line of dialogue, a character and a prop to incorporate into the film and you're off. You then have 48 hours to write, shoot, edit and deliver your movie. You can be prepared with a cast and crew, of course, and some basic ideas depending on what genre you get, but any writing and shooting has to take place in the given 48 hour window of time.

So after I arrived, we went out for lunch to discuss some potential ideas about the project and to pick up some cleaning supplies to deal with the kitchen. Bowls had a basic premise based on his own experience of semi-stalking a girl bartender with whom he was infatuated. The idea was basically our hero would be outside her work talking to a friend on the phone, explaining that second shift should have started so he wouldn't see the same people as before when he went in. Then maybe he goes in, orders a round, but a co-worker who was there from earlier spots him and blows his cover. Later on, two detectives are interrogating him regarding the girl at the bar because she's gone missing. While he claims he's innocent and knows nothing about her disappearance, he becomes uncertain when the detectives show him the picture of the girl a second time only to reveal that she is a different person. He begins to doubt his own sanity. I thought it was basically a good idea (aside from having a detective scene in the short which I felt was going to be cliche and unbelievable), but then again I wasn't worried about what we were going to do... I figured it would come together when it was go time and didn't want to think things through to thoroughly depending on what genre we picked at the launch.

Over the next two days, Bowls continued to touch base with his cast and crew to make sure they were on board for the project. One girl actor dropped out the night before the shoot, one bar location was no longer available for us, and some of his friends were suddenly MIA. It turns out the girl that dropped out was a blessing in disguise because he found a new girl, Erin Wiles, who worked at a restaurant/bar that Bowls frequented. She had a boyfriend, Aaron Dodd, who was also available to act in the film, plus the downstairs of her restaurant was rarely used and could serve as a bar location. Sometimes, things happen for a reason, or, at least, they force you to come up with a different solution which may have been better all along. We had a meeting with the cast and crew Thursday night to discuss the basic premise and a couple of "what if" scenarios. Nothing was discussed in too great of detail aside from our basic premise, but we realized we should shoot pictures of the two girls in case we wanted to do something with those props during the shoot (this was actually a loophole in the rules of the 48HFP - they say you can use any photographs you shoot before the start of the project provided that you own the rights to the picts).

So the day of the kick-off was upon us. We met up with Erin & Katie that afternoon and, without discussing it beforehand, they showed up both wearing the same style of top. This was going to bode well. That night, we went to the kick-off meeting. The 48 Hour Film Project in St. Louis is a huge deal, even moreso than in New York or Los Angeles - there were 74 teams in total so they had to break up teams into different groups for the screening night. After a prolonged intro about what one can or can't do and all the appropriate sponsorship shout-outs, they called the first group up to pull their genre. Not only were we in group one, but we suddenly found ourselves the first in line to pull a bingo ball from the cage. Bowls turned the cage and pulled out the white ball... G-55. We looked up at the chart being projected on the screen.... Musical/Western. Bowls turned to me with a scowl on his face. The crowd erupted into cheers. Apparently, whenever someone pulls the musical/western card, everyone is relieved that it wasn't them. I raised my fist in solidarity with the crowd as though we had planned this all along.

We sat down and waited while the rest of their teams got their respective genres - quite a wait since there were 73 teams to go after us. Finally, with the last of the teams having gotten their assignments, they announced the three "elements" that each film needed to include:

1) Charactor: Ashton/Ashley Brown, Expert
2) Prop: Photo of mom and/or dad
3) Dialogue: "Have you ever seen anything like it?"

We had the option of going for a wildcard where you can trade in your selected genre for a random "sub-genre" of 6 or so choices. Dreading the idea that we might end up pulling "Holiday Film" from the wildcard, we stuck with musical. Both the lead actor, Pete, and myself were musicians and felt we could whip something up, but as co-producer Mike said, "Musical adds a whole other level of work that doesn't exist with any of the other genres," and he was right. The idea of spending a lot of time on the music was going to be time not spent on making the film, so we needed to cut some corners to make this feasible.

Bowls had long since abandoned hope of not going into full-blown panic mode as we left the launch party. He began calling everyone and trying to organize a meeting with the group at his place to quickly get something in place. I started kicking out some random lyrics for our lead character to sing out. When the group organized to discuss "what the fuck are we going to do?" we were already pretty settled on trying to adapt the existing idea to the musical format. When Pete showed up with his buddy Kjle (pronounced Kile), he already had his notebook out and sang a verse of what was going to become the first song in the film...

If I can learn to fly
Kiss my mortal shell goodbye
Beside you I would lie
And in my arms you'll die...

"You're not supposed to kill her, Pete!" Bowls snapped.

It was worth a good laugh, but Pete had gotten off to a great start (and better than the half-assed lyrics I had knocked around earlier). As we discussed the musical further, I began playing with some loops in Garageband to underscore the song Pete had written. Even so, ideas were getting desperate: auto-erotic asphyxiation (RIP David Carradine), roofies, banana peels, but the piece had begun to take a basic sort of shape. Pete's character would sing about his dream girl in the car after talking with his friend about his crush, then he would go in, try hitting on girl unsuccessfully while she flirts with someone else, eventually he leaves and meets up with his friend, realizes that the picture of the girl he had was someone else, and begins to doubt his own sanity. THE END.

It was basically there, but some pieces still needed to come into play. We were concerned that our idea wasn't going to be "musical enough." I suggested that we try doing some experimental musical ideas with the editing during the bar sequence. People weren't exactly enthusiastic about it but in lieu of spending the night on writing and recording a musical score, it would have to do. Pete came up with a little ditty for the ending tune and hammered out some lyrics right there and then. In his first attempt at singing it, he nailed it... I had absolutely nothing to add to it. He and his friend Kjle left to go record a piano part for the ending while Bowls, Mike and myself began to hammer out a script. After an hour or two, we had the basic draft down and turned in for some shuteye before the big day.

When Saturday rolled around, I wasn't really feeling so up to the task of making this film. The familiar dread of, "Why am I doing this again?" crept in as we were loading in our gear and I began drinking all the coffee within reach. But it became clear that with the right people on your team, those concerns will quickly be set aside. Virginia Lee Hunter, photographer, was a huge help in setting up the lights and gels and brought her boyfriend along for the experience. She was also operating the boom during the shoot - two things were taken care of that I was dreading the most!

The shoot was very quick and largely effective. As we were approaching the end of the bar scene shoot, we went upstairs in Mangia and tried to grab a bunch of bar patrons to participate as extras for one shot. Amazingly, it worked and we got our extras. Bowls got to get in front of the camera to play an ornery bouncer... a roll he was seemingly born to play.

We bounced out of Mangia and headed over to our next location: Matt Kriege's house for the Love Stalker's "friend." Matt wasn't around but he lent Bowls his keys so we got there and figured out where to set up. The problem was, we didn't have an actor to play the Love Stalker's friend. Well, guess what, Mr. Glasson, you've just been promoted! It had been a while since I'd been "acting" in front of the cameras but as I sat down with Pete to run lines for the scene, I was reminded how much I missed it, how nice it was to have people running around taking care of the technical concerns of the shoot while I concerned myself with getting a good performance out of Pete and myself.

At last, we finished at Matt's and went to shoot the opening scene of the film where Pete, the love stalker, is sitting in his car and sings a song to a picture of the object of his affection. We weren't really prepared with lighting for a night scene on the street but the 3-chip camcorder we were using (The DVX-100B) is pretty decent in low light so we improvised a solution by placing my laptop in our actor's lap and turning up the brightness on the screen to give him a decent, low-light fill. We knocked the scene out in a few takes and went home to begin the edit.

It took some energy shots and a shitload of coffee but the editing was not too brutal. Remarkably, Bowls and I both managed to squeeze in some shut-eye during the whole process AND I finished the cut with enough time to do some color correcting before running our final output. We turned the film in with about 30 minutes to spare.

When the film played in the festival, it screened as the first film in the first group (out of 72 or however many actually turned in final films). We thought it played well against the competition and, as it turned out, we did get selected as one of the "Best of" for the entire festival, which was an unexpected honor. I wasn't able to stick around in St. Louis to see how we played against the other "Best of" films but Pete, our lead actor, nabbed the prize for best performance, which I took some pride in knowing that editing is always partially responsible for the acting that appears on screen.

As Bowls dropped me off at the airport, I said to him, "You know, this went pretty well for a quick little one-off. We should think about doing a feature film together, just like this." Bowls agreed, and after bouncing many leftover feature film ideas back and forth, we settled on an idea that neither of us previously had: a feature film version of LOVE STALKER.

And well, that's a whole other story that needs telling...

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Blogger FILMBENDER said...

Theres no such thing as a Chevy Corrola.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Mugs said...

There is now.

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Yekits said...

So glad to see you're taking your funemployment in stride. The dole's been extended to seventy weeks, making us good for over a year!

1:16 PM  

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