The atmosphere at the start line was … well it wasn't electric. But there was a modicum of tension and a good edge of excitement. I had never been to the start of a 48 Hour film competition; usually I'm at the base of operations waiting for the genre so I can start brainstorming.
At the finish line there is the drama of teams racing to get through the door before 7.00pm, but mainly exhaustion and maybe a little relief. It's not usually until you get to the screenings that everyone's keyed up and in a "whooping" frame of mind.
So we sat there, having selected our numbers, to wait for the genres, the character, the line of dialogue and the prop. I turned to my friend Adam (in a different team but with the same genre) and said "we've only got one actor; I hope it's ok to have a line of monologue". It's a script joke.
To bring you up speed if you don't know about the 48 Hours basics: all the films needed to have:
- a character called Alex Puddle, an exaggerator
- The line: "it doesn't fit"
- And a rock
And every team gets given a random genre.
The genres were the usual grab-bag plus some interesting newbies (Nature Run Amok and Real Time sounded interesting). We got Educational… again. It was the second time for three of us and the third time for my teammate Mike. We are officially sick of it.
My team were, like the roughly 700 teams around the country, secure in their writing-bunkers, waiting. And as 7pm Friday rolled around everyone dashed for the door with their crates of V. I thought that it was quite a strange move considering that this was 2009 and that making a phone call was surely faster than transmitting the information via horseless carriage.
Then we made a movie.
Every year since 2005 I have written a blog on the 48 Hours "experience" and it's usually written on the Monday directly after and it's usually filled with moans and grumbles and jokes about drinking coffee and reflections on how really quite hilarious we all were. This year I considered that I should see what others thought.
You will not see many 48 Hours "war stories" on the Twitter feeds. I imagine that this is because when you're trying to put out a fire caused by a can of V accidentally tipped on a light kit, while attempting to reinstall Final Cut on your laptop in a car hurtling towards the start-finish line at 6.45pm; you might not have much time to Twitter it.
So I devised a set of questions and asked a few friends about their experiences.
Darryl Gray, Jed Soane and Mike Roseingrave were my teammates and in the tradition of lazy journalism I asked them. Jose Barbosa is a DJ at bFM and entered in Auckland. Mark Rickerby was another Wellington entrant who I have met over the internets (and at Webstock).
Jed explained our team's situation:
As a small team we all tend to share the responsibility for a lot of roles but I tend to specialise in crazy idea generation, sound recording and foley, and logging and capturing the raw footage to Final Cut. This year I also got to "score" our movie which involved cranking out a couple of simple, moody musical pieces in Garageband.
I've participated four years in total, first in 2004 with Mike and some friends, then we went "pro" in 2005 with a big team, which included the 4-man core that we used this year. That put me off big teams and 48 Hours for a couple of years until Darryl suggested that we put together a small renegade team last year.
The year that put Jed off we made a musical about bestiality where a blind man's wife has an affair with his guide dog. It was high art.
Mike has been involved for the last six years, ever since the competition came to Wellington. And like many entrants his day job is nothing like what he does on one weekend every year. Though Mike did sneak off on Saturday for a game of golf.
Darryl, Mark, and José however were in comfortable roles, wrangling creative people, QAing and, in José's case, reading the news.
So how did they feel getting their genre?
My first thought was literally WTF? I had a mind blank on what an M. Night Shyamalan Twist was [one of the new genres], and had to get Robyn to explain it to me - I had only seen 6th Sense, so didn't realize that Shyamalan had based a whole career on this device.
Our writers - clearly much more culturally savvy than I - had a much better idea of his other films, but it was an excruciating process to come up with a twist that was not obvious. I actually think this was because our writers were really good, and they naturally wanted to force themselves to come up with the perfect original plot twist, rather than just clone an existing story. If our genre was Mighty Boosh Episode, we would have blown it off its hinges.
I was hoping for a genre that we could legitimately make a narrative film from. I wanted to be faithful to the intention of the organisers, so didn't want to subvert ‘educational' too much, since I think they intended ‘how-to films' and the like. Any genre that wasn't geared towards schlock, gags, or ridiculousness would have been good – ideally, something like ‘parallel universe', ‘conspiracy', or ‘real time film'.
Mike continued that thought:
To me, [educational film] pushes you towards either a straight "how-to" (potentially boring for a large portion of your audience) or a straight-out gag-fest. Although the 48Hours competition seems very much weighted towards gag films (see the ridiculous compulsory character names and the innuendo-laden compulsory lines: Alex Puddle and "it doesn't fit" respectively this year), that's not the way I (and the rest of my team) am built.
Jose was a little more upbeat:
We got real time. To be honest I just glad we didn't get romance, any thing but that I was telling myself. Not to knock my gender or anything but dudes are like geese at a basketball game when it comes to writing romance: we're noisy, have no comprehension of the rules and shit all over the place
For our team when it came to actually constructing the film we decided on some extra constraints. You know, just for self-flagellation.
We decided that we'd try to do it in one take (or close to it), in one location and with (possibly) one actor. We had thought maybe no dialogue too but that's really restrictive in an educational film.
Our biggest restriction was a sign that said "NO GAGS". Every "wouldn't it be funny if…" was directed straight to the sign.
But what did the others think about Style vs Substance and Humour vs Drama?
We really want to do a dark and sophisticated film, but we always end up making something that keeps us cracking up laughing all the way from Friday to Sunday. We can't help it.
Jose and Jed were at loggerheads
Jose – "Humor trumps all."
Jed – "Substance and drama. The Wellington judges seemed to agree last year with the top three films being dramas"
So with that in mind do they sweat the details? You better believe they do!
Mike demonstrated his answer well with an error:
Details are very important and can make or break a film. The wrong word in the wrong word in a script can completely and unintentionally change the film's meaning.
And the surprisingly laid back Jose said much the same:
The thing I always sweat more than anything is our fealty to the genre. For some reason I usually spend the weekend constantly reminding the team about our genre and get rather picky about things that might cause us to go off course. It's because I'm an anal prick
So given the choice of: good sound; good video; good script; or good actors; which would they give up and which would they not do without?
Mark wouldn't give up the script but (controversially):
I would give up on the Actors first. Meat puppets.
… We realized that the biggest mistake of our weekend was not to give one particular actor a few shots of jagermeister and slap him around before sending him out to do his scene.
But within our own team we would all give up video, for the sake of sound, actors, and scripts.
Finally, do they feel good now it's over? And is 48 Hours just a stepping stone to other film projects? And, this is the kicker, would they do it again?
Yes. Yes. Yes! (though if we get Education next year we're just heading to the pub)
My thanks to my interviewees. Photo credits: me and Jose