Tuesday, March 24, 2009

And We're Back!

An old pop-punk band once sang, "It's good to be bad if it's better than bored." I think that's a fair assessment of the situation, but as I've grown up, I often find myself substituting "busy" for "bad." Either way, it's better than boredom, a condition I have not suffered from since moving to Madison.

Misbehavior and activity both are easy to overindulge in, but this past week, activity took a clear first place in my list of priorities. I can tell by the bags under my eyes, the week-old pile of unfolded clean clothes in the living room and the dirty dishes stacked next to the sink. And, far from being bored, I was red-lining like an overstrained engine for much of the week, but it didn't feel half bad.

And I got to get back into the filmmaking groove for a weekend!

Come to think of it, I was reminded a lot of college, and a little surprised at how easily I fell back into the ol' triple-the-caffeine-regimen-and-grind-on-through mentality. But buzzing around like a hummingbird of some kind took its toll on my blog entry total for the month, and I apologize for that. I assure you there's plenty to talk about, and I'll try and catch up as best as I can.

For starters, my buddy Griff just got back from serving his country for 15 months in Iraq (and not his first tour either) and I was stuck in a city council meeting the night of Saint Patrick's Day. Sure, they're two seemingly unrelated factoids, but the chance to welcome an old buddy home in style and a need to do something Irish prompted us to road trip it down to Chicago to see Flogging Molly at the House of Blues.

It was my third or fourth time seeing the band live, but I was still blown away by their energy and talent. And it was damn good to have Griff home.

Tuesday's city council meeting went off without a hitch, even if I was a bit tired out from staying out until four in the morning, and then some of the best people in Madison treated me to a fantastic Wednesday night on the town in celebration of the earth's 24th trip around the sun since the day of my birth. I tried (and failed at) sleeping off my hangover before work on Thursday, then braved a County Board meeting with a wicked headache. And then there was Friday.

I've always been a distant admirer of Wis-Kino. It's a local collaborative of Madison film makers, and I went to a few screenings in its heyday, but never really dug in with any gusto. My mistake, but following an unpleasant taste left in our mouths by a brush with the Wisconsin Film Festival, some colleagues and I were aching for a means of cleansing our palates. Lucky for us, Wis-Kino's 48-hour film Kabaret was right around the corner.

The idea? Assemble a team, report for duty, receive the "secret ingredient" and build a film around it in less than 48 hours. There are no trophies, no best actor awards, no flowery speeches -- just those who run themselves into the ground trying to make their five minute film and those who don't. Anyone who knows Tim, Aaron and I knows we don't do projects halfway, so the weeked rapidly turned into an exhaustion race to see who could kill themselves the fastest.

We put together a good crew of people and got our assigned secret ingredient -- "bailout" -- and then we got right to work. Here's a timeline of the weekend from my perspective, and because it's getting late and I need to catch up on a little more sleep.

7:00 PM -- The primer screening begins at Hilldale. 48 hours from now, our final project will be due. Aaron drinks a lot of whiskey.

9:00 PM -- The crew rallies at a handy nearby location where we finalize our assignments for the weekend. Then we begin one of my favorite processes, writing by committee. In two hours we have a concept tied together by a string of potential gags.

11:00 PM -- A few crew members head home as we get into the nitty-gritty of script-writing. Half a dozen of us sit down at computers and begin writing individual scripts.

11:30 PM -- Draft deadline: We get back together, none of us with a complete script, and take turns reading what we have. Kilgore insists on placing a joke about fatties in the film. The rest of the committee insists it would be wasted air in a five minute film.

2:00 AM -- We have outlined a script. Tim carries two pages of scribbled notes and six different scripts covered in cross-outs and circled text back to his apartment and sits down to hash out the final draft. The rest of us hit the sack by 3 AM.

4:21 AM -- An email arrives in my and Aaron's inboxes. The subject header is "script." There is no text in the email and no attachment. I am fast asleep and don't notice. Tim may be so tired he can't properly send an email attachment, but he has nonetheless completed the final draft of our script.

8:15 AM -- I am up and consuming coffee at a prodigious rate. I call Tim to make sure he's bringing extra copies of the script, as we will not be able to print any.

9:00 AM -- Cast and crew rendezvous at the Lindsay, Stone and Briggs ad agency, our primary locale. We set up base camp and start work on the costumes and props we will need. Our prop, costume and grip master Ellie quickly becomes my new hero.

9:30 AM -- I meet Steffen, our cinematographer, for the first time. He also becomes my hero. I take him through the script, then walk with him through each of the areas we will be shooting in and discuss shots.

10:30 AM -- Scene by scene, I start pulling our cast to run lines. For a five minute film, there's a lot of damn memorization in this flick.

11:30 AM -- I remember that I, too, have lines I need to memorize. This comes as a great shock to me, as I have not acted in some time and worse, we're supposed to start shooting at noon.

1:00 PM -- We start shooting. It wasn't learning my lines that slowed us down, but obtaining a makeshift camera dolly that had disappeared somewhere in Madison.

3:00 PM -- We begin rolling film on the fire escape scene. This is somewhat treacherous, and I am alternately convinced that Jeff is going to fall to his death or Erica is going to keel over from heart palpitations. None of this influences me when we push through the entire scene without pausing for a break. We are chasing daylight, goddamnit.

3:05 PM -- Crowds alternately gather and then break up below us, watching the drama unfolding high above them over and over again. Jeff's lunatic giggling and Tim's attempts as a "police officer" to talk him down are apparently fairly convincing. One high schooler shouts up to us between takes she almost dialed 911. I was two steps ahead of her and called Lt. David McCaw at the Madison Police Department at 2:30 to let him know what we were up to.

5:30 PM -- We wrap the treacherous fire escape scene after Aaron nearly kills Erica by reaching out to grab a flying piece of bailout check and Erica thinks he's going to jump. I decide I'm never going hiking with Erica.

6:00 PM -- We wrap the last of our outdoor shots on the ground. The cast and crew are getting crabby -- low blood sugar. We take 60 and get some good eats nearby. It's the first non-bagel food I have had all day.

7:30 PM -- Aaron puts on a fresh pot of coffee, we shake off the exhaustion and get back to cracking. We shoot the last group scene and dismiss some extras, then shoot the one-on-ones. Cast members start dropping like flies as they're dismissed.

12:00 AM -- We start rolling on our last scene at a different locale, the vending machines at Midwest Family Broadcasting. The infamous line, "Salsitas, NICE!" is born in a moment of divine improvisation. We wrap and roll.

2:30 AM -- Sleep.

8:30 AM -- Consciousness hits like a baseball bat... Coffee, shower, Lindsay Stone and Briggs.

9:30 AM -- Aaron and I get cutting at his office after he picks up the captured video from Steffen. We don't quite have the coverage we want for the conference room, but we can make it work.

10:00 AM -- Strutt shows up, and we have a 15 minute sit-down as I take him through the script and explain what we will need for a score.

10:15 AM -- Strutt leaves LSB for his house on the south side, where he will compose the film's score.

12:23 PM -- Somehow, there's an email from Strutt with a link to eight distinctive pieces of scoring for moments in the film... I am in awe of this man for about the twenty-third time in my life.

1:36 PM -- Timmy calls, then joins us in the editing studio. It seems surreal to be editing frantically with them on something that's not "Your Signs." I deal with it.

3:04 PM -- Erica calls... I tell her it's going to be tight. We're worried.

3:40 PM -- Kilgore texts me for the third or fourth time that afternoon, antsy to see progress. He tries to bribe me with ice cream. I cave in.

4:00 PM -- Kilgore shows up without ice cream. We let him see our progress, then send him off for ice cream.

4:30 PM -- A lot more non-editors have started hanging around the studio, which has some nerves on edge, but it seems like we're going to make it now.

5:00 PM -- We have a rough cut that runs 5:20. We need to get it under 5:00.

5:20 PM -- Our cut now runs 5:04. I say it's close e-damn-nough. Timmy throws a line back at me from a year and a half ago when we were working on the Christmas Special sequel: "We've gotten it this close, let's cut it all the way down."

5:30 PM -- We start our rendering process. A power outage or hard drive failure now will ruin our lives, but none seem forthcoming.

6:00 PM -- I am laying on the hard floor breathing deeply, listening to the computer click. I hate rendering.

6:05 PM -- Our render is complete. Aaron starts burning the project to a DVD.

6:20 PM -- We have two DVDs with the screening-cut of Monsieur Maintenance on them. I tell Aaron he is to submit the second copy if I am killed in a fiery accident en route to Hilldale.

6:45 PM -- I am not killed en route to Hilldale, but submit the film to the guy at the door, count the number of entrants above me on the list, then pump my fists into the air and proudly declare, "Third Place!" He looks at me like I don't get it. I look at him like he doesn't get it. We were probably both right.

So all in all, a trying but rewarding experience. My favorites of the night were Rob Matsushita's "Extremed," starring the fabulous Emily Mills, and Josh Klessig's Ethology. The Decider did a write-up on the Kabaret which is definitely worth a read. Those itching to see the final cut of Monsieur Maintenance can check back here in a week. Tim, Aaron and I agreed we want to tack about ten seconds back onto the film and clean it up, and then we'll be posting it on Youtube.

And it sounds like we'll be rallying the same crew to participate in the July Kabaret. Steffen, Ellie, Jeff, Kilgore, Erica, Katie, Adam and Branton were just too good not to work with again.

Now I'm going to sleep, damnit!


Emily said...

Yay! I did so enjoy your film, and am super psyched that a) you all participated, and b) will be back in July.

I was two steps ahead of her and called Lt. David McCaw at the Madison Police Department at 2:30 to let him know what we were up to.

That puts you and your crew head and shoulders above most. I can't tell you how many stories I've heard about film shoots being broken up by cops because they thought the robbery/hostage situation/fight was real. :P

Pop said...

Any room for an old duffer on your next extravaganza?