Director David Butler with Cinematographer Regis Becker
Ever have a project where everything went perfectly? I did. It was called "I Will Not."
Here's how it happened.
For years, David Butler and I have been considering the possibility of entering the 48 Hour Film Festival.
The premise of the festival is that each team has to write, shoot, edit and mix, a short film within forty-eight hours. The contest begins at 5pm Friday and the films have to be delivered by 5pm Sunday. The best film wins. To make sure you don't cheat, you have to draw a genre out of a hat and include a common prop and line of dialogue into your film. It was intriguing. We considered it twice before, but we were too busy with pay work to do it. Finally, in 2006, we decided we had to do it.
David had all the resources: lights, cameras, editing equipment and the good will of Baltimore's talented cast and crew. He also had that powerhouse Lynda Meier on staff as a producer. When the decision was made to enter the film festival. David and Lynda got on the ball immediately. First, they assembled a kind crew that would be willing to give up a Saturday for free. (The rules state that you can't pay anyone to work on the film.) They also assembled a cast. That was a little more difficult since we had no idea what kind of movie we were going to make: drama, comedy, musical, western, martial arts, action, horror, etc. So, working with actor Matt Ryb, they assembled a varied team of actors and actresses which they hoped would fill any need. David and Lynda also acquired a number of locations, homes, offices, etc., that they felt should fulfill any need.
The weekend before the shoot, David and I tried to cheat. We tried to think of a few scenarios that would work across genre lines, but we quickly gave up. There were too many genres and variables. We would have to play it straight and a week later we found ourselves at the starting line with representatives of all the participating teams in the Baltimore area at a bar of the Cafe Hon in Hampden waiting to receive our genres. Between the two of us, Dave and I knew a number of the participants. The mood was one of equal excitement and dread. There was much fear among teams about being the poor SOB who drew the western genre out of the hat. Baltimore really doesn't lend itself to westerns. And it was little comfort to hear that, if you drew western, you could do a musical instead.
David and I were nervous too. Or, at least I was. I felt we had to win. We were both professional filmmakers. It would look really bad if we lost to some high school kids from Parkville. Lynda kept saying that it was all about the challenge and the fun, but I felt there was more on the line than that. I am not really competitive by nature. I don't always have to win. However, I do not like to lose.
The time for the drawing came. David put his hand into the hat and pulled out Detective/Cop film. I didn't have a cop film in mind, but at least it wasn't the dreaded western genre. (I don't think the team that drew the western genre finished their film in time.)
Three items also needed to be included in the film: a character named Joe or Joanne Murphy, who was a Phys-Ed Instructor; a prop, medicine; and the line of dialogue, "Just give her some time to figure it out." Immediately. David was on the phone with Lynda rallying the troops. Now all we needed was a script. One thing was for sure. Our hero was going to be a detective, not a beat cop. Where were we going to come up with all those police uniforms by the time we had to shoot the next morning!
David and I brainstormed some ideas on the way from Baltimore back to Butler Films' base camp in Annapolis, MD. Nothing stuck until I remembered something the lovely star of my second feature, Tracy Melchior, had told me about her SWAT team husband. She could never bring him to Hollywood parties because if he saw someone do something illegal, i.e., take drugs, he would arrest him. Aha! That was our story. It would be about a detective who was unlucky in love because he would end arresting each girl he dated for some minor offense. His reputation becomes so notorious that some of his co-workers bet him that he will arrest the girl he is about to go out with on a blind date. Our detective takes the bet, not realizing how difficult it would be not to arrest this girl!
By around ten or eleven, the script was done and David and Lynda were casting the film and lining up the locations. There couldn't be many. We had a large crew and couldn't waste much time making company moves. The talented Matt Ryb got the role of the hapless detective, and, in a surprise move, David and Lynda cast Sarah Brandes, as the inappropriate blind date. I say surprising because Sarah is primarily known as a crew person in the props and sets department. Everyone was buzzing with activity. Locations were being secured. Equipment obtained. Wardrobe acquired.
Then I enjoyed a rare luxury. I got to go home and sleep. The rest of the production team would be working through the night before catching a few winks on the floors and sofas of Butler Films. However, I would soon return to duty. In addition to writing the film, I would also be editing it.
The next morning I reported to duty in Baltimore at the advertising agency GKV, which kindly offered their offices to us for use in the film. We used their accounting department as our detectives' office, and we used their lobby as our restaurant. The props and sets people did a great job. If you pay close attention you might find yours truly on one of the wanted posters hanging on the walls.
Keep in mind everything had been done the night before.
Another fun thing about the job was that I had the opportunity to get my wife and her friend Xuan in the act as extras during the restaurant scene. Unfortunately, they left the building during a break and couldn't re-enter since the doors were locked. After about an hour or so I began to wonder what happened to my lovely bride and began to search for her. (Neither she or Xuan had a cellphone on them.) I eventually found them, and, although they did not enjoy being locked out, the experience did not sour them on the motion picture business.
I didn't have much opportunity to watch the shoot. I was assigned to a cubicle to transfer the high-definition footage from the P2 cards from our two Panasonic cameras to our hard drives, and, if possible, begin editing on location. I didn't get the opportunity to start the edit on the set. By the time I transferred one card, the next one was ready. I actually stayed at GKV working while David and the crew went and shot the exteriors at a nearby location. When they left to shoot the home footage, I went to Annapolis to begin the edit
The clock was definitely clicking loudly by the time we began editing in earnest around 7pm. We had two cameras rolling on every shot so we had a ton of footage to work our way through. There wasn't much time for soul-searching. If a take worked, we didn't second guess it. Once a large chunk of the film was completed, David began color correcting it on another computer. I think the picture edit ended around 4am Sunday morning. Rather than crash on the floor, I opted to drive back to my home. That was probably a mistake. I know I was weaving a bit. But I survived. So did the car.
After a couple brief hours of sleep, I was up and ready for the sound mix. Andrew Eppig at Clean Cuts had volunteered to mix our film. Dave, Lynda and our cinematographer Regis Becker were already at Clean Cuts when I arrived. I was unsure whether Dave and Lynda had slept at all, but I know Rege caught a catnap or two during the edit. I'm not putting him down. His willingness to stay through the edit and the sound mix proved his devotion to the project! Andrew did a great job with the mix, helped in no small part by the wonderful location sound provided by Rick Angelella, the dean of Baltimore soundmen. The film kept getting better and better, but the clock kept ticking and ticking. Before long, we had to stop work and rush the film back to Hampden to turn it in.
The mood was somewhat euphoric. Not just for us but for all the teams that gathered to turn in their films. It is quite an accomplishment to write, shoot, edit and mix a coherent film in forty-eight hours. I, for one, no longer cared if we won or lost. However, I thought we had a good chance!
The films were screened a couple days later at the Baltimore Museum of Art. The audience was filled with filmmakers and their friends. Practically all of our cast and crew came to the screening. Then the lights went down. I was frankly quite surprised how good most of the films were. However, I believe it was the work of Andrew Eppig and Rick Angelella which gave us the edge. Most of the other films looked good, but suffered from poor audio. Often times I could not even make out the dialogue in some films. That was a pity.
Then the results came in. We won quite a few of the awards:
Best Sound Design.
Wow. I couldn't believe it. Not only that. As a result of our win, we were invited to participate in the International 48 Hour Film Festival HD Filmmaker Showdown. But that's another blog!
Here's the film: