Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Monday, December 6, 2010

"Maestro Percival": A Brief History of A Short Film

Director David Butler, right, and cinematographer
Regis Becker, left, plot a shot.

"Maestro Percival" was shot for the 48 Hour Film Project Panasonic HD Shootout.  It was, in a sense, the championship round of the annual 48 Hour Film Project.

For those unfamiliar with the 48 Hour Film Project, I suggest reading my earlier blog on my film "I Will Not"" which was filmed as part of the international contest.  The contest takes place in 76 cities around the world with over 40,000 participants.  The rules?  Teams of filmmakers have 48 hours to make a film from scratch -- script to final audio mix and color correction.  On Friday, the team leaders meet and a draw a genre out of a hat.  It could be anything:  Crime, comedy, musical, western, martial arts, silent, romance, drama.  You get the picture.  All the teams in that specific weekend in that specific are given certain elements which must be included in the film.  They tend to be a line of dialogue, a prop and a character name and occupation.

The shootout is a little different.  It is an invitation only contest.  Only five teams, each of which won the contest in their native cities, were selected by the 48 Hour Film Project executives to compete in the shootout.  We would be the only team making a film in Baltimore, but the other rules applied.  We still went to Holy Frijoles in Baltimore and drew our genre out of the hat.  It was comedy.  The other elements would be shared with the other teams in the other cities.  The line of dialogue:  "Cut the nonsense, let's get to it."  The prop:  An electric razor.  The character:  A violinist named Edward Percival.  (I think the character could have been Edwina as well, if my memory serves me correctly.)

The team had been assembled weeks in advance.  Pretty much everyone who had participated in the award-winning "I Will Not" had agreed to come back for the encore.  I think director David Butler was a little hesitant to ask everyone to give up another weekend for free.  (Paying people is a no-no in this contest.)  However, everyone was only too happy to step back in the ring for the title bout.

Lynda Meier, left, and David Butler, right,
look concerned, but there was no need to worry.

Once again, the immediate pressure was on me.  We had actors, camera crews, sound crews, location people, prop people and makeup people were already to go, but couldn't do anything without a script.  I am not sure where the idea came from.  I believe David had been talking with someone about a potentially funny idea of a company whose boss was a zombie.  That was all I needed.  We already had a photography studio as a potential location so I quick adjusted the original idea of the zombie boss to the zombie photography subject.  Our plot, what little there was, involved a photographer who gets his shot at the big time when he is asked to shoot a world famous violinist for the cover of his new album.  Complications arise when it is discovered, after his arrival, that he had died the previous day.  It was a playful meditation on what, or should I say, who, people are willing to sacrifice for success.  The script was done in a few hours which allowed me to head home for good night's sleep while David and uber producer Lynda Meier assigned roles to the actors and gave everyone else their assignments.

David Butler, Sandye Kaye, Peter Mullett, Rege Becker

Locations were easier this time.  The entire film would be shot in or immediately around the photography studio in downtown Baltimore.  The cast and crew was ready to go by the time I showed up in the morning with my lovely wife Deborah.  Debbie had been an extra in "I Will Not," but, sadly, this film did not need any extras.  (Still, we managed to give Assistant Director Frank Ferro his customary, Hitchcockian walk-on.)   If you watch both films, you will see mainly the actors and actresses, whom I like to call The Matt Ryb players.  We also added Jon Jolles, who normally works in crew capacities, as the overly-ambitious photographer and Ken Arnold as our zombie violinist.  Another notable addition was Cheryl Donaldson, whom I was working with at the time on the ill-fated Italian Restaurant movie.

Behind the camera we had Baltimore's cream of the crop.  Caprice Ericson, who went to Towson (State) University with David and myself, located.  Stewart Stack gaffed.  Ryan Gallo gripped.   Sandye Kaye made up.  Paul Flinton listened while Mark Mariaca boomed.  Regis Becker shot the film backed up by Peter Mullett, whose previous career as a Swinging London fashion photography should be made into a book.

Frank Ferro, Caprice Ericson, Stewart Stack, 
Rege Becker, David Butler and Matt Ryb

The wintry shoot proceeded smoothly despite the fact that it seemed like every other person on the set was sick.  That's just as well since we had a reporter on set watching the shoot.  Before long we were back at the Butler Films nerve center for the edit.  David and I edited the film.  I started at the beginning and he started at the end.  I can't remember when we finished but it was late.  I did manage to weave my way home on the highway in the pre-dawn.

We reconvened the next morning at Clean Cuts where Andrew Eppig was doing his magic.  I do credit the success of "I Will Not" to our sound team, both on location and in post-production.  There were so many clever films in the competition.  Sadly, although most of the other films looked fine, their dialogue was often inaudible.  Never underestimate the value of good sound, fellow filmmakers.

David laughs with Jon Jolles

We had the final film back at Holy Frijoles with a half-an-hour to spare.  Now we had to wait.  The final five films would be screened at the 48 Film Project's first annual film festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  David and Regis decided to attend.  The rest of us stayed by the phones.  After all five of the films were screened, Dave and Rege weren't too optimistic.  The New York team had a really good 9-11 film.  They didn't think our goofy zombie film had a chance against it.  Fortunately, Dave and Rege are better filmmakers than prognosticators.  We ended up winning.  Go figure.  I guess sometimes all the world needs is a goofy zombie film.

David Butler and Regis Becker, right, accept the grand prize

After that, we had a Baltimore cast and crew screening.  Laughs were had.  Alcohol was consumed.    The film subsequently played in a number of film festivals around the country, but I don't think we exploited as well as we should have.  After "21 Eyes" and the other shorts, we had spent a lot of time at film festivals.  One could argue too much.  Still, it was nice when the Frederick Film Festival had a mini-David Butler showcase with all three of the shorts we made together:  "I Will Not," "Untitled Film, No. 9," and "Maestro Percival."  (The festival also featured Peter Mullett's dramatic short "Parting Ways.")

Matt Ryb, Sean Paul Murphy, Ken Arnold
at the Frederick Film Festival.

Here's a click to the story about the film:

Will Success Spoil the 48 Hour Film Project?

And here's the film:

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