The last weekend in July marked an historic event for me. It served as the inaugural year of my participation in Nashville’s annual 48-Hour Film Festival. For those of you who are not familiar with the festival, production teams from all over the Nashville area register to write, film, edit, and provide an original soundtrack for a short film, all in 48 hours. (Yeah I know…it really works well with the title of the festival!) Participants are split into four groups, each group consisting of ten to twelve teams, all of which complete a four-to-eight minute film within two days. The films are shown at a premier the following week and awards are given for categories such as best acting, best writing, best original score, and best job staying awake for 40 straight hours. OK that last one isn’t really an award category but if it was, I would most definitely be in the running!
Most production teams are assembled before the festival begins. I had been asked by a team to be a script writer a few weeks prior. Luckily, the director is a faithful reader of both my blog and Dreamrow so he knew my talents would ensure his film at least one award. Either that or he was desperate for someone with an English degree, but I prefer to believe the former. I arrived at the director’s house at 7pm, Friday night. He was just returning from his directors meeting, where he was told that each film in our group must include a character named Evan or Eva Minors, the line “It’s not easy being me”, and a chess set. I offered to let the team use my Muppets chess set, but for some reason, they declined. He also informed us that the genre for our particular film was Fantasy. Of course it was. Me, the only person in the world who hates The NeverEnding Story, would wind up writing on the fantasy team! I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write something that wasn’t funny, but my fiancé assured me that most of what I usually write isn’t.
So the process began. Myself and the rest of the writers smooshed into our temporary, creative workspace, which very closely resembled the director’s bedroom. We proceeded to spend the next five hours bouncing the same three ideas back and forth, each time pretending it was something radically new and original. At 2am, I made the authoritative decision that writing these three ideas down in some type of script-like format might help facilitate the filmmaking process. By 4am, we finally had a completed script that we all enthusiastically agreed didn’t completely suck.
The next step in the filmmaking process was casting. Much to the delight of my overwhelming ego, the director decided to cast me as the leading female, primarily due to the fact that he wanted to start shooting at 6am, and I was the only person still awake! Still, a role is a role and I was determined not to disappoint. I downed a pot of coffee and got my butt over to Percy Priest Dam, where our first scene was being filmed.
The crew set the scene up just right so that our opening shot would be perfect. As luck would have it, the camera was ready to role right in time for the sky to darken, lightning to strike, and rain to come pouring down. Sure. It hadn’t rained on a Saturday since the floods, but the day we decided to film an outdoor scene essential to the plot of the film we have only 48 hours to make, the heavens opened up and dumped buckets of water. Needless to say, filming was temporarily delayed.
But as it usually does in Tennessee, the rain ceased and the sun came out. In no time, it was back to the 98 degree norm. This timed out perfectly for our first scene, which involved me going into the lake. Yes, the lake. I had to stand in the dirty, smelly, slimy-bottomed waters of Percy Priest Lake! Ah the things I do for my art. I stood thigh-deep in the water for almost an hour while the cameraman perfected the shot. While I waded, I felt something swim up against me leg. Three times. I’m pretty sure it was an eel. Or a piranha.
Next up was the closing scene. (For those of you unfamiliar with filming, you typically shoot scenes out of order and piece them together during the editing process.) This happened to be one of my favorite parts in the film because it involved finding my dead body in the trunk of a car. Just as we were wrapping up shooting, a park ranger came over to inquire about what we were doing. Apparently he wasn’t in the know about the film fest and wanted answers as to what we were doing in the park with a camera and a seemingly-dead body. Some people just aren’t exposed to culture, I guess. Anyway, he interrogated the director for several minutes before allowing us to wrap up.
Ummmm… did I mention I was still in the trunk while this was going on??? Nearly a hundred degrees outside, and I’m baking inside the trunk of a Neon! Thankfully the ranger’s line of questioning ended when it did. Any longer and I wouldn’t have had to pretend to be a dead body!
With nearly half the day over, it was time for us to head back over to the director’s house to film the other scenes. Unfortunately, I had to stop home quick to walk my dog. I say ‘unfortunately’ because evidently, the fifteen minutes it took Maeby to empty her bladder perfectly coincided with lunch! I arrived back at the director’s just in time to watch everyone toss their sandwich wrappers into the trash and call “places” for the next scene. Over 30 hours without sleep and now I was being deprived of food? Talk about risky filmmaking. A few more hours of this and someone was likely to get hurt.
I remained a trooper, however. I somehow managed to keep myself awake for eight more hours. We managed to shoot all the necessary scenes and I didn’t inflict bodily harm on anyone. Not even when someone complained to me that they’d only gotten six hours of sleep. Six hours? I hadn’t even gotten six minutes! Just shy of midnight Saturday night, we officially wrapped up shooting. The director announced “that’s a wrap” and the cast and crew celebrated around my lifeless body, which was now in a jumbled heap on the floor.
This was where my services to the project ended. Sunday was reserved for the editing and music scoring. While I do know my way around Final Cut Pro, (film editing software), a prior commitment kept me from volunteering my assistance; I was committed to living in this body, which was no longer functioning by Sunday morning.
Yet, even without my help, the film was edited and scored and turned in to the film festival committee with two minutes to spare! ThinkBirdie Productions’ film was now eligible for awards at the festival premier. All that’s left now is to attend the premier and keep our fingers crossed.
It was nearly 40 hours without sleep and minimal sustenance, but it was an unforgettable experience. I am so grateful to have worked with so many talented people. My first 48-Hour Film Fest was an invaluable experience. I learned more about filmmaking in one weekend than I had previously in my whole life and I had the opportunity to network with people from all sides of the business. Plus, I got to be a movie star for one day and have it all be about me…how can I argue with that?