Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Meat Locker Interlude

Taking a short break from the Star Wars Celebration V postings while I gather more thoughts and photos. In the meantime, the final director’s cut of our 48 Hour Film Project submission is now online. If you’ve got eight minutes, you’ve got time to visit … The Meat Locker.

I’m going to write about making the movie and the Cedar Lee screening below, so you probably want to watch it first. And if the embedding doesn’t work, here’s the YouTube link.

Spoilers in …

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Since I’ve already summed up the weekend and the creation process, I wanted to share a couple notes here regarding things that are only in context if you’ve watched the movie.

The title: We had absolutely nothing in mind while writing the screenplay, but when we were finished, we wanted a title that a) had a sort of ’70s hard-assed-but-cheesy cop-flick title but also b) hinted – just hinted, mind you – that there was something here about a cow. Nothing really clicked. In fact, we called it a night around 3 a.m. with the working title Rare Justice. When the whole team reconvened around 7 a.m., it was writer Joe Wack who walked in and said, with no preamble: “I’ve got it.” Point is, while the title obviously was inspired by The Hurt Locker, it was only long after the writing was done that someone said, “Wait a minute, isn’t that movie about a bomb disposal unit?”

The cow: We had a cow suit available, and we used it. And while we threw around dozens of cow jokes in the early writing, in the end we decided it would make a better movie if we simply played the whole thing straight. (I think the only half-joke nod we left in was Frank’s description of the bomb as “a modified O’Leary.”) There’s this hard-drinking, bitter, divorced guy on the force, see, and, well, he’s a cow. One of my favorite moments comes just before the reveal, when we see the close-up of Frank’s hoof on the motorcycle handle – because the bell around his neck ringing at just that moment, right before the cut to the full-on shot, was totally unplanned. And yes, Frank is a guy. And yes, he has udders. Maybe that’s what bothers The Lieutenant so damn much.

The chase: Perhaps one of the shortest chases in cinematic history – 8.9 seconds, I believe – this was a great scene to shoot, since it came toward the end of a very long, hot, exhausting day, and because we got to work in the quick stunt-double sight gag. For the record, Hilly’s stunt double donned the very costume she had been wearing. Not an identical costume in a larger version – the same clothes. Hilly was played by a slim 13-year-old girl – something her stunt double was clearly not. And Keith’s post-production editing of this scene, from Frank’s study of the bomb to the tackle, is just incredible.

The screenplay: The whole experience was a ton of fun, but as a writer, my favorite stretch of the weekend was that Friday-night-into-early-Saturday collaboration session. I’m maybe a bit strangely proud of the work we put into writing this. I think we hit the tone we wanted as far as shouting out to the cliches of the genre while creating something unique, and I liked puzzling through situations and character backgrounds and figuring out how to layer different pieces of the story and even >gasp!< work some metaphor in there, too.

The music: I still find bits of the score looping through my head, thanks to Kevin MacLeod, who writes this sort of thing and shares it online at Incompetech.com.

The Cedar Lee world premiere: There were 33 films entered in the Cleveland 48 Hour Film Project, and ours was one of a dozen shown on Thursday, Aug. 5. The screening was a blast. We got laughs where we wanted them and several strangers told us afterward that they had included us in their voting for Audience Favorite. (Each of the three screenings awarded one of these, and figuring that all the participants would likely vote for their own movies, the balloting required exactly three unranked choices from everyone.)

Honestly, I thought The Meat Locker held its own, considering none of us have any professional moviemaking experience. Two films at our screening clearly stood out, especially in terms of production – one of them, in fact, won the overall Best Film award as well as the Audience Favorite from our screening – but I thought our effort put us in one of the next two or three slots.

Still, we didn’t get nominated for any of the awards. I obviously would have liked us to get a writing nod (none of those three nominations came out of our screening group), but where I really felt shafted was the “Best Use of Prop” category. I mean, come on – Frank ate the flowers. And yes, Joe did, in fact, chew up actual daisies for that shot. That’s commitment.

In the end, yeah, it’s a goofy little movie, but it made for an unforgettable experience.

Next summer: The Meat Locker: Special Edition. Spoiler alert: Hilly Shoots First. (Noooooooooo!)

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August 21, 2010 Posted by | Current Affairs, Fiction, Film, Ohio, writing | , , , , | 2 Comments

Moviemaking, nostalgia and Star Wars toys

Fresh off last night’s world premiere of The Meat Locker (an incredibly fun evening about which I’ll write more when I can share the movie online), and on the brink of leaving for Star Wars Celebration V on Monday, it seems a good time to share this bit of nostalgia:

That’s a scrap from the floor of my room in the house where I grew up. My youngest brother and his family live there now, and they’re replacing this carpet – which, it should be noted, is the only original remaining carpet from when we moved into the house in 1976.

This particular piece includes the evidence from this recollection in Collect All 21! (Chapter – “Along A Different Path: Taking Star Wars into Our Own Hands”)

When I was in middle school, I fished our family’s old 8mm movie camera out of the crawlspace, shelled out my allowance for batteries and a light bulb and tried to make my own Star Wars films.

One winter, I took it outside in the snow, dug a makeshift Death Star trench – I added twists and turns to make it, you know, more exciting – and then filmed my own point-of-view attack run, never thinking that, duh, I was holding the camera by its handle – in other words, upside down.

I was a little more successful with the flick I made using my little brothers’ Scout Walker. I managed to do some fairly steady stop-motion animation of the AT-ST’s head rotating back and forth, its side guns twitching up and down, and then I had my brother Adam work its legs, stomping them up and down while I shot a close-up. Then we stop-motioned the top hatch opening and a Scout Trooper emerging (okay, he didn’t so much “emerge” as he popped into existence from one frame to the next) and then – gasp! – quick cut to a skyward shot and a streaking meteor that was, in actuality, a lava rock my parents had brought me back from their 15th anniversary trip to Hawaii. And again, not so much streaking against the sky as being dropped by my brother with my textured white ceiling in the background.

Poor trooper never saw it coming. Caught it on the noggin, and… as the black haze closed in on his battle-scarred mind, he barely felt his walker toppling, its legs crumpling, never to stride into war again.

Aaaaaaaaand – scene.

Trooper down!

The four-minute film reel containing this 30- or 40-second masterpiece survived long enough to make it onto a DVD we compiled as a Christmas present for Mom a couple decades later. Holding up the cardboard sign labeled “Assistant: Adam Booth,” – I’d taken top billing as director and cameraman, naturally – my youngest brother looks like he’s squinting into binary suns, the lamp on the movie camera’s so freaking bright. We actually melted a tennis-ball-sized circle of carpet during filming when I accidentally put the bulb housing on the floor after a shot.

It’s actually probably closer to racquetball-sized, for the record. And I can still remember the sour plasticky smell that tipped me off to the puff of smoke rising from my bedroom floor, and how for years afterward I would pick absentmindedly at the little misshapen fused lumps of carpet fiber.

August 6, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Current Affairs, eighties, Family history, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Spend Some Time In The Meat Locker

So, with No Ticket Productions’ The Meat Locker officially submitted on Sunday with 20 minutes to spare in the Cleveland edition of the 48 Hour Film Project, I can now say –

HolyFRAK what an insane and fun and sweaty and exhausting and hilarious and caffeine-and-sugar-fueled and rewarding way to spend a weekend!

I will divulge no spoilerage beyond this: We drew “suspense/thriller” as a genre, and The Meat Locker was the result. I’m sure we’ll put it online in the not-too-distant future, but in the meantime, if you want to come see it on the big screen, it premieres at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Cedar Lee in Cleveland Heights, along with 10 other short films from the contest. Get your tickets here! (Take note: The Meat Locker is in the Group C showing on Thursday night – groups A&B screen Wednesday, but the listing for all three screenings reads “48 Hour Film Project,” so make sure you get the right tickets.)

The abridged version of the weekend reads like this: The entire crew gathered at about 7:30 p.m. Friday and threw out tons of ideas once we knew our film’s genre. Then the four of us writing the script holed up in the basement and narrowed the possibilities to two very different movies, each of which we fleshed out as completely as possible without actually reaching the screenwriting point. We then picked the one which we thought we had the best possibility of pulling off.

(Digression: This morning, I found this story about the project online, and while I was excited to see 48 Hour Film getting some publicity, I confess to taking exception to the following allegation by another participant:

“We had planned to do horror,” Gutter said, noting that all teams go into the competition with some idea of what they are going to film.

For the record, we didn’t. The only content decision we made ahead of time was to give up the Western/Musical genre if we’d drawn that one and go for a Wild Card assignment instead.)

With the general story in mind, everyone else figured out what we’d need in the way of costumes and music and props.

Over the next few hours, four of us wrote the screenplay – and while all of us admitted afterward that we’d been nervous about how well this would work, it was an absolute blast from a writing standpoint. I haven’t done a good dose of fiction in far too long, and I’ve never written anything in a fully collaborative style like this, with ideas and lines and scenes flying around and developing and building off each other, and what with the deadline pressure and all, it was quite a rush.

Even though I was just flattened by 2:30 a.m. when we finished it, I still couldn’t fall asleep right away. (Maybe because a) Jenn insisted I tell her the story when I finally came to bed, and b) I had something like 5 Mountain Dew Throwbacks and maybe a pound of assorted snack chips and candy in my bloodstream.)

Saturday’s work began at 7:30 a.m. or so, creating a shooting log from the script and gathering costumes and props and setting the equipment up for the shoot.

By the time we were ready to roll, it was after lunch, and we filmed basically nonstop for the next 7 or 8 hours, with everyone pitching in on all jobs acting to filming to boom operation to logging the sound times and scene lengths to wrangling the cables. I’m really struggling to effectively describe the massive pile of effort that went into Saturday’s work, all of which led to a roughly 7-minute movie, but it was as hard a day as I’ve had in a long time, although it was also easily one of the most fun.

I crashed just after midnight, when the sound and video were still being uploaded into the computers. We all awoke to an email notice from our director that a rough, rough cut was done.

Those of us still there helped choose the various pieces of music for the soundtrack and offered editing notes and that sort of thing, and Jenn & Kelsey & I left shortly after lunch while the final polishing was under way.

While a big part of a project like this is clearly to just have fun, we all did share a focus on wanting to make the best movie we could, and even when we were being goofy, I felt like we all had the right amount of taking things seriously mixed in, and being part of that with my friends and my wife and my daughter was pretty damn cool.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | Current Affairs, Fiction, Film, geek, Ohio, writing | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s 48 Hour Film Project Weekend!

Jenn and Kelsey and I will be trekking Cleveland-ward this afternoon to assume our parts in No Ticket Productions’ inaugural entry in The 48 Hour Film Project‘s Cleveland edition.

The group of friends with whom we’re working has been pondering this for almost a full year, having only discovered the project right after the 2009 Cleveland weekend had passed. We’ve spent the past week or two gearing up and planning as best we can – just nuts-and-bolts and general assigning of responsibilities, since the whole point is to tackle the entire creative process within the 48-hour time limit.

Our movie – and 10 others – will be shown next Thursday, Aug. 5 at the renowned Cedar Lee in Cleveland Heights. (There are 35 teams registered: Two other group screenings are Aug. 4.)

I’ve never done anything remotely like this, and even though the whole thing’s just for fun, I really do want to be a part of writing something we can be proud of, and I’m kind of excited and gut-wobbly about the whole thing.

July 30, 2010 Posted by | Current Affairs, Fiction, Film, geek, Ohio, writing | , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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