With it being so easy to make and post anything on YouTube, it’s become even harder to explain why making a seven-minute film in forty-eight hours is such a challenge. But if you’re interested, here is a bit of a view into the movie-making process, which we follow in abbreviated format on these weekend ventures.
Even on the heels of our stressful weeks of family medical issues, we couldn’t give up the notion of having Tohubohu participate in the 48 Hour Film Project. And while we did have a more difficult time writing, filming, and editing our film, the results were worth it. But let’s start at the beginning...
When Bill went to the kick-off party and drew “horror” as our genre, he was thrilled by the challenge it presented. When he told me as I was driving back from Virginia Beach, I was less so. I knew it would be very hard to capture the tension of a decent horror movie in seven minutes, and had no ideas to even contribute. (As opposed to last year, when the concept presented itself in a dream.) I believe that my exact words were, “Good luck with that,” as I continued to make my way back home.
After Bill’s initial brainstorming session with our writer, Robin Brande, she took on the idea totally out of her comfort zone and developed it into a first-draft script. The two of them continued to work throughout the night to capture the right tone, feature our great actors, and incorporate the required elements. (Prop: a horn; Character: Marco or Muffin Gabbowitz, a person who works with animals; Line of dialogue: “Do you think you can do that again?”) I, um... went to bed.
Working until 6:00 a.m. on Saturday morning left us very little in the way of prep time for the day’s filming. Fortunately, Bill had visited the locations earlier, and did have a good idea of where the scenes would take place. Also having worked on the script so much, he knew what he wanted from the actors. What we were missing was a clear sense of the filming schedule, along with the rested brain capacity to develop one as the day went on. Or to remember little details, like bringing one’s daughter back from the set.
But this is where building a spectacular team comes in, because all of our cast and crew truly stepped up. It’s safe to say that we would not have a film if they had not all been so proactive, so competent, so passionate about their jobs. When I forgot to start the actors running lines, they did it themselves. When I didn’t have dinner plans set, our host came to me with the suggestion of a cookout, which he set up and arranged. When I prepared my weary mind to clear the set of our filming improvements, I was told that it was already done. When Bill realized that an actor wasn’t there, a crew member filled in. When Bill left our daughter at the other house, a kind actor brought her back to our staging ground.
I can’t possibly credit all of the work done to make this film look spectacular, but I’ll try to hit on a few things to give you a sense of the movie-making aspect. Lee and Meredith had scouted out locations in the quaint Del Ray part of Alexandria, and allowed us to use their house not only for filming but as our base of operations for the whole long, long day. They also arranged for us to use another house one that I fell in love with for other scenes. Both places gave the movie texture with the interesting look of the rooms. Check the odd angles in the kid’s room and the central 1890s fireplace in the group scene.
One important thing that makes a movie look like a movie and not a YouTube video is lighting. It’s easier to understand how involved the process is when you know that the crew taped black covering behind the windows to make the filming look like it took place at night. And then set up enough lighting to be able to see the actors, while still retaining the mood. Both the kid’s bedroom scene and the group discussion scene were filmed in the middle of the day.
Set dressing makes it all believable. The kid’s room was only a bare bed, but the addition of a childlike quilt and pillowcase, stuffed animals, and a trombone gave it a realistic look. Keeping the filming tight left the rest of the undecorated room out of the shot. Sometimes the sets are in what isn’t shown. Seeing the room behind “Karen” in her confrontation with “Daniel” would have been distracting in a scene that was all about building tension. Throw in some lighting choices, film angles, and color correction in editing and you have one intense scene.
And speaking of that scene, I checked lines with the actors Jennifer and Nick as they ran through it and boy, was I impressed. They ran lines, sure, but they also talked about where they were as characters for the scene. Nick asked questions about his character’s emotional state. Was he defiant? Regretful? Apologetic? Unhinged? How would each of those artistic choices affect the scene? I watched him and Jennifer go through all of these adaptations, and the final version is amazing.
And I have to mention Jennifer being so into the last scene that when she didn’t hear the director’s call to cut, she continued with such emotional intensity that the crew thought that she had crossed over personally to some dark place in her own experience. Now that’s acting!
There are so many other things that went into making this movie. We had two people working on the horror makeup, and one patient teen actor who not only sat through it, but then stayed in the makeup all day until we could film her scene in front of a green screen. (Which we decided was the better option than putting her in the scenes as originally intended.) We had editors putting the film together as we finished each scene, so that Bill could work from a well-done rough cut instead of from scratch. Tracking the film takes along the way makes the editor’s job possible, and keeping the boom mike close to the action but not in the shot is a skill that is hard to explain. Even the simple notion of making conversation in actors’ downtime went a long way toward making everyone feel comfortable.
In our longest day of filming yet, we wrapped up at 1:30 a.m. Bill went into the office to go over the preliminary edit and then came back to the house for a few hours of sleep. On Sunday he headed back downtown to finish editing the film and add sound effects, music, and credits. Oh, and play with sound levels and color correction and technical film kind of stuff. I worked from home, selecting the musical tracks, suggesting edits for time, and generally checking in on Bill’s support system.
The extensive edits needed to bring it down to the required time limit took over too much of the day on Sunday, making a final, unexpectedly lengthy file transfer enough to cause us miss the deadline for submission by five minutes. Really a shame. But we’re proud of the film and of our team, and can’t wait to do it again.
Last night we had our screening at the AFI Silver Theatre, and now you can see it too at Tohubohu Productions. I hope you enjoy it.
By the way, if this sounds like something you might be interested in, the 48 Hour Film Project takes place in cities all over the world, and many groups need to fill positions in the weeks and days leading up to the competition. On the website, you can indicate your interest in joining a team, and there are often meet-and-greet events to help fill positions. Also, Tohubohu Productions is interested in filming shorts on a less grueling schedule, and we’d love to see some scripts to consider.