Tuesday, June 26, 2007

48 hours of horror

Let me preface this story with, I had a great time and it was a wonderful experience (the writing and filmmaking, that is).

Having said that, this may have been one of the most stressful weekends I've ever had.

It all started with a Friday deadline...

My sister and I have over the course of the last two years been developing a tv series idea. She and I wrote the bible and mapped out the series together, and I finished the spec pilot script a few months back. The last three months or so have been spent refining and rewriting that script. Two weeks ago, we threw down the marker. We had someone interested in reading it at a management/prodco and the plan was to send it to them on Friday afternoon. We sent the script out for some last minute reads over the course of the week, just to make sure I didn't have any stupid mistakes (I did) in the draft. Then, a BIG NOTE came in. At 4:30 in the afternoon. ON FRIDAY. And I was nearly beside myself.

I had stopped being precious about the script ages ago. I had thrown my ego away and only worked on the script with the thought of making the material great and servicing the story in the best possible way. My sister and I were on the phone together, trying to decide what we should do. Do we heed the note and postpone getting the script out? Do we press on? Meanwhile, I'm less than 3 hours from starting the 48 hour film project, and thinking about this note and this script is honestly, the LAST thing I want to be doing right before I'm about to throw myself into the maelstrom.

Then, as if to ease our troubled minds, another reader emails my sister -- the script is great. She's making a call to the company we are sending it to essentially to tell them to read the darn thing because she liked it that much. Needless to say, we were relieved, and after a couple of quick fixes, the script went OUT.

I took a 45 minute nap. Then the world changed.

I drove over to my writing partner Bernie's apartment. Bernie and I have been great friends the past 2 years, and we love to meet at the cafe' across the street from where he lives to write together...that is to say, we write our own things, but sit across from each other at the table staring into space, with only a rare interruption to bounce ideas or have the other read a fresh scene. Seeing as we get on so well, he asked if I would like to co-write and co-produce a short film for the 48 hour film project. I'd never attempted anything like this before and eager to get more production experience, I accepted the invite.

On my way to Bernie's he calls me. The genre draw has begun early! I arrive, *just* as we learn what the genre for our film will be (the director was at the event site, drawing our genre at random).


Bernie and I had thought about which genres we could write well. We are both plot fiends and logic Nazis, so we were jazzed about writing a mystery/detective story or even a western...heck, we were even up for attempting a musical. The list of genres was more or less agreeable, with the worst genres for this type of contest in the 'wild card' category. Every team is allowed a re-draw, but the re-draw occurs from this wild card grouping. Here's some of what we could have faced had we rejected our first draw:

Children's Film
Animal Film
Silent Film
War Movie
Period/Historical Film

See Mystery stuck in the middle there? We had a 1 in 8 chance of pulling that one from the awful choices.

Okay, I hear you. You're asking 'what's wrong with horror?' Well, nothing, I suppose.

Except it is extraordinarily difficult to write a horror film and make it genuinely frightening in this kind of competition. None of us were thrilled with the prospect of writing something which, if we attempted to do it straight up serious, would come across as unintentionally comical.

So we made it macabre and intentionally comical instead.

The writing went fast, and Bernie and I were feeling really great about our story. It had a beginning, middle and end. It was a good way to approach the genre, and it would allow our musical genius to score the hell out of it. We had a draft finished in about 3 hours and we spent another couple of hours tweaking it, though we knew there would be a great deal more to tweak once we got to set in the morning.

We had two complications which could not really be avoided. One, we wrote a large amount of action to occur at night (since it is naturally creepier), which meant pushing our call time to noon. When you have so few hours to make a movie, you usually want to start as early as possible to try to finish by a decent hour. We were already handicapping our ability to run ahead of schedule by making the bulk of the work take place at night.

The other complication was even trickier. We only had one location -- the director's house -- which required very careful cast and crew around freshly painted walls and new furniture. Let's just say, our horror film ended up being somewhat bloodless, due to the location and other variables.

Saturday morning Bernie, the director and I are up early, discussing the script. We work through some conflicting opinions on the ending and smooth out the issues. Then we make a run to buy printer paper and DV tapes. I hauled my printer to set so I could continue working on the script and printing new pages throughout the day.

At least, that was the plan...

Except for some reason, I couldn't get my printer to work with my laptop. I spent an hour in the hot sun (and have the sunburn on one arm to prove it) wrestling with my laptop and my printer. Finally we got one of Bernie's laptops to work with the printer, but it was no surprise to me when later in the day our drafts got out of synch. As I made changes on my laptop, I'd copy the file to a USB jump drive and move the file to his laptop to print it. This got tedious pretty quickly.

We finally got our first shot off at 1:30 PM. Not horrible, considering call time was noon (and we had some late comers). Things seemed to be rolling along pretty smoothly.

Then, my sister phoned me.

I just woke up from a nap, she tells me, and there's water coming through our ceiling and down the walls of our living room and YOUR bedroom.

I don't swear much on my blog but... SHIT. I raced home to survey the damage. Fortunately, my sister managed to catch this problem in time to cover some of the furniture and save ourselves from major damage to our belongings. Still, water was seeping through the ceiling of our living room and dripping down the walls of my bedroom. Not exactly good.

I went back to set while plumbers and mold specialists were called (at 8 o'clock Saturday night). Verdict: broken pipe in 3rd floor wall/our ceiling. This is the third broken pipe in our building this month. The last one cost us over $20,000 in plumbing work to fix. At this point, a bake sale to cover the enormous repair bills the HOA is racking up won't quite do it. We'll need to take out a building loan to pay for repairs now.

Back on set, it's finally gotten dark, and so the major scenes are being shot. While I was gone there were some line changes I wasn't privy to, but the co-writer was so, I guess I have to be ok with that. Score one mark for wanting more creative control in the future.

We wrapped at 2:00 AM, at which time the editor was already logging tapes...

To Be Continued...

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