Trying to get into filmmaking often times means you help out others who have experience. This way you hopefully learn the tricks of the trade and come away with an idea of how to create your own film. With this in mind, I decided to help a team for the Baltimore 48 Hour Film Project. And oh man, did things go badly.
First off, it is important to note that the Director had a bunch of her friends volunteering to help out. And from what I saw: making a film + friends = nobody is getting anything done. This is how the entire day of filming went. A group of more than eight friends happily tagged along as Production Assistants (PAs), but barely lifted a finger. And whenever the Director of Production (DP) tried to start filming, either the Director was in another room, or in the same room, but preoccupied with her friends.
Showing up at the first shooting location at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, I was greeted with a copy of the script. It was two and a half pages and was a comedic instructional video on how to be a mobster. When I say comedic, I mean it in the dullest sense here. Apparently 12 hours to write a solid script was not enough for one of the Director’s friends. The DP and I shot a look at each other and he said, “we’ll have to make this work.”
After shooting one quick scene at someone’s mother’s house, we all went to Loch Raven Reservoir for our second location. And when I say that we all went, just about all of us went except the Assistant Director (AD). This is pretty much unheard of because the AD is supposed to whip everyone into shape and make sure the filming moves along.
While at the reservoir, the shots went pretty smoothly, until we got to the scene with the detective. The actor had to take a few moments to throw up before some of the takes because he drank too much the night before and was severely hung over. I would assume the fact that he was wearing a suit in the sweltering heat didn’t help either. Interesting thing was, this detective is actually a police officer. When we finally got the right shots, the detective was driven home.
Our next filming location was at a house where we would turn the basement into a bar. Lighting was tricky down there, but it eventually came together. As the filming went on, the DP set up shots of the ceiling and asked the Director if it was good. Every time she said it was good. This was done to prove the point that she was not paying attention. As the Director became increasingly less available, the DP, lighting guy and even I started to direct some of the scenes. She was too busy dealing with things the AD should have been dealing with, or getting some food to eat when nobody else doing work on the film had eaten since 6 a.m. (this was now around noon).
Amongst the frustration and disorganization, one moment of fun and hilarity sprung up. For one scene, the wannabe mobster was supposed to get splashed with blood while cutting up a body with a saw. I was asked to squirt the blood, which was in a maple syrup bottle. We did two takes with no success as everyone laughed uncontrollably from the noise of the air escaping the squeeze bottle before the blood squirt. It does sound funny. Finally we got the shot. It was over the top as the lighting guy, acting as the Director, yelled repeatedly to splash again and again and again. The entire contents of the bottle ended up on the actor and the stand-in Director yelled, “that’s pure comedy!”
Following the blood spray, PAs were asked to clean up. Almost all of them started to leave the room and so I started cleaning up. Eventually two other guys jumped in to help. At that point I was ready for the day to be over. And it pretty much was as we went to the final location, ate some frozen BJ’s Wholesale Club lasagna and did the final shots out in the heat, which the Director seemed more concerned about than getting the right material for the film. Things finally wrapped up and the three people who did the most work on the shoot, myself included, bolted to our cars and to my place for some beers.
Thinking about what we shot, I felt the film could really come together and be respectable. And then I got a text message from the DP the next day. He said the Director had edited the film and it was running two minutes in length. Problem was the Baltimore 48 Hour Film Project requires a minimum of four minutes. Then came the line that almost made me sick to my stomach: “she added two minutes of filler.” I remember thinking, “we didn’t even shoot enough for two minutes of filler.” This is clearly something that should have been avoided. The rule is for every one page of script, you get about one minute of film. With a two and a half page script you would never get a four-minute film. This was the biggest oversight that could have happened.
Before actually seeing the final product I cringed to think what two minutes of filler would do to it. But as it would have it, the filler did not destroy the film. What did destroy the film is that it was not funny and many of the cuts edited into the finished product were ones the DP and I would not have picked. And the blood scene was cut down to just a few seconds, dropping its comedy factor significantly.
In cases like these you work hard on something but ultimately have no control over how it will turn out. The whole project was a fiasco, but on the bright side I got experience and met some cool people. And as it was said to me later, “you learned exactly what not to do.”