It was shortly after 7 Friday night that I wondered whether we were doomed. We’d gone into the Detroit Windsor International Film Festival Challenge knowing we’d have to make a film in 48 hours — no more than eight minutes, incorporating several assigned elements, in one of six genres, this last to be chosen randomly. Those were: Action-adventure, horror-thriller, crime, sci-fi, mockumentary and chick flick. We had vague ideas of a story for five. Some we liked better than others, and only one seemed un-doable with our standing team (chick flick). The rules would allow us to throw back one genre, but we would be required to take the next one. Before our two representatives went to the assigning event, we told them that if they drew chick flick to draw again, and we’d take whatever we got.
Diane, one of our reps, called a few minutes after arrival with bad news. Two more genres had been added: Superhero and musical. Musical? Musical?! We counted ourselves very lucky to have a musician on our team, but making an original musical in 48 hours seemed more daunting than a chick flick. We had a new bete noire. Diane spun the wheel, and it came up…Superhero.
We took it. The worst-case scenario of spinning again and getting Musical was too much to risk.
I’m not going to tell the whole story here — it was an entertaining and interesting weekend, and I’d like to tell it somewhere I have a chance of getting paid, but here are the highlights:
Our required elements were these:
We had to use the Ambassador Bridge and one more location, which was determined by throwing a dart at a board. Ours hit the campus of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. We had to have a used-car salesman in there somewhere. We had to use a “for Dummies” book as a prop. And our line of dialogue was a real gem: “What’s that? It smells like cheese.”
It’s hard to make a superhero movie without tights, capes, special effects and the ability to drop women off tall buildings. Believe it or not, we had a green screen, but with only 48 hours to work with, it couldn’t be the foundation of our movie. So our superhero had to be antiheroic, reluctant. To compensate, we honored the other conventions of the genre — we gave him an origin story, an adversary (the guy with the limo) and a happy ending.
The bottom line of fast filmmaking is, you can’t be too picky. Good enough frequently has to be good enough. You have no, or barely any time to rewrite, reshoot or even think very much about what you’re doing. But we were fortunate to have a great crew, entirely assembled from Craigslist. Michael, our director, said several times how amazed he was by the power of Craigslist. I concur.
We finished, but just barely. Remember that scene in “Broadcast News” we talked about a while back? It was just like that. I was the Joan Cusack character. We left our headquarters in Royal Oak with the bare minimum to turn in (a mini DV tape; no time for the DVD burn) at 6:32 p.m., headed for the dropoff just north of downtown at 7 p.m. We made it with 9 minutes to spare. But three teams finished after we did. My favorite was the last one, which by my watch arrived at 6:59 and change: A Chrysler Pacifica rolls up, its door opening before it was fully stopped. Out jumps one guy and sprints for the building at top speed. Another guy jumps out behind him, ditto. Behind him was a third guy, running a little slower, holding an open Mac PowerBook with an attached remote hard drive — still burning the DVD. After all were away, the driver backed into a parking place, got out, shook his head and said, “This car will never be the same.”
More as the week develops. Screenings are next Sunday, when we find out if we placed. In the meantime, just remember: It’s not a movie until someone yells, “Let’s get a move on, people! We’re losing light!”