Ever since the Weekend Warriors handed in their entry to the 2014 Boston 48 Hour Film Project, I’ve wanted to write about the experience I had during those 48 wonderfully amazing, hectic, and tiring hours. Now, after nine months have passed and registration for the 2015 competition is about to open, I’m finally taking the time to write down those thoughts and why being a part of this project has been the most rewarding experience of my college career, and possibly beyond.
For some background on the 48 Hour Film Project (48HFP), you can check out my friend Brandon’s write-up — he actually managed to do his in a timely fashion — where he also goes into some of his thoughts on the weekend too. The basics are: you get 48 hours to produce a 4-6 minute short film and each team is assigned a genre, a character, a prop, and a line of dialogue.
This post will attempt to paint a picture of what this weekend was like from my perspective. Some of the details may be fuzzy (it has been nine months), but I want to try and convey all the hard-work that went into making “Heist”, the fun we all had, and the photo-finish finale that gave a few of us some grey hairs. My hope is to get across exactly why these 48 hours really shaped my perspective and reinforced my desire to be an editor for life.
Brandon and I were the representatives for Weekend Warriors who received the information at the kickoff event. The kickoff took place at Lir at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, May 2. While we waited in Boston, the rest of the team gathered in Andover, MA (about an hour away) prepared to get the engines started and the screenplay gears turning. After the kickoff ended, and we called up the hive-mind and relayed the information. Brandon and I then went on a mini-adventure to pick up his car and various filming supplies before heading to Andover. By the time we arrived around 10:00pm, the group had almost completed a rough draft of the script and by 11:00 p.m. we had our first read through. Compared to stories from years past, where it was normal for the script to be completed early the next morning, Weekend Warriors was off to a rip-roaring start. Everyone got some food and shut-eye before an early Saturday morning start.
Saturday was all about filming, starting around 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning until about 9:00 that evening. A few issues arose during the shoot, the most significant being a missing tripod incident where a friend, graciously, took a commuter rail train all the way out to Andover (I think his total commute came to three or four hours, roundtrip) to bring us a part we had missed during packing.
Throughout the day, my main job was importing the footage, syncing audio and video, and doing a preliminary assembly cut of everything we shot. By the time we wrapped late Saturday night, I had a couple scenes of the final film cut and a lot of the remaining footage ready to start editing (syncing and naming the clips takes a long time, much longer than you might expect). For the next couple of hours, I chugged away in my own little makeshift editing suite (i.e. a dining room table, earbuds, and a couple of beers) as the rest of the cast and crew relaxed and went to sleep on couches, chairs, and scattered about the floor with blankets and cushions to get some much needed rest.
Around 3:00 a.m. on Sunday, I tiptoed my way up to the director (who is also named Matt) and woke him up to check on the progress I made so far (a rough cut on the first half or so of the film). After some notes and words of encouragement, Matt went back to sleep and I sneaked over to check on Brandon (who was also our second editor, in addition to wearing many other hats) and see if he wanted to sub-in for me. It was obvious he needed more rest and I was still wide-awake, so I continued chugging away at the edit. By 6:00 a.m. I had a good rough cut of most of the film and finally tapped out to get a few hours of rest.
Now we were in crunch time. Despite being way ahead of schedule, Sunday turned into one big blur as we frantically rushed to the finish. Brandon finished the rough cut by the time I woke up around 9:00 a.m. which put us into a good place, but we still had to shoot some pick-ups, figure out what we were doing for music, create the necessary visual effects and graphics, mix the audio, work on coloring, export the project, burn it to DVD, and hand it in, all by 7:30 p.m. We weren’t freaking out right away, but as the day progressed, everyone gradually became more antsy, running around the house, and yelling up/down the stairs to get people’s attention. We gave ourselves a deadline of 5:00 p.m. to start exporting, no matter what. Sure enough, and I’m not entirely sure how we managed it, our final export started at 5:00 p.m. as myself, Brandon, and several others piled into a car heading back to Boston.
Pretty much all that was left to do was wait. The export finished right as we pulled up to Emerson College around 6:00 p.m. or so. We made our way up to our Boston headquarters (i.e. our dorm rooms) and began burning it to DVD. All was going according to plan and we were going to meet our new self-imposed deadline of 7:00 p.m. to be out the door and on the way to the drop off to ensure plenty of time to travel eight blocks (about a mile) and meet the 7:30 p.m. cutoff.
That’s when the problems began.
Around 6:45 p.m. we ran into our first scare. The title of our film is “Heist” and for a brief moment we didn’t know whether we spelt the title correctly. Is it H-I-E or H-E-I? Uh oh. Thankfully, everything was OK and we had spelt “Heist” correctly. Later, we would laugh at this moment and it has even been recreated for posterity. That pales in comparison to the next problem we faced though. Five minutes later, around 6:50 p.m., the DVD finished burning and myself, Brandon, and his brother Sean were ready to head out and enter our submission. Of course, just to be safe, we wanted to check the DVD and make sure everything looked and sounded perfect.
No more than thirty seconds into what was supposed to be a quick quality-control check than we started to hear major audio problems. Simply put, it wasn’t the final mix and we heard a whole bunch of raw camera audio including directions like “action” and “cut”. “No big deal,” we thought, “maybe it’s just the beginning part that’s messed up. Let’s skim through the rest and see.” No joy. The entire audio track was messed up.
Well, now it’s 7:00 p.m., time is running short and we’re running out of options. Our biggest constraint is now getting to the drop-off on time, so we left the dorms and started making our way to Lir on foot. In the elevator, I realized we had both a good video track (what was already on the DVD) and a good audio track (what was exported by Tim, our audio guy). All we had to do was put the two tracks in DVD Studio and burn a new copy, no new export from Avid required. This reduced the time it would take to create a new DVD from 30-40 minutes (if we had to do a fresh export from Avid) to only three or four (for burning a new DVD).
So the three of us are walking down Boylston Street, laptop open, attempting to burn the DVD. Unfortunately, errors kept popping up preventing us from completing the task. What could be going wrong now? Oh, of course, it’s because we’re speed walking down the sidewalk with the laptop bouncing along with us which is preventing the laser from writing to the disc. Now what? We’re still about seven blocks away and only 30 minutes left until the deadline. New plan! Shove everything into the backpack and sprint down Boylston to the destination. So off we went, running like maniacs in a race to the finish! What happened to finishing the script at 11:00 p.m. Friday night and being way ahead of schedule? Anyway, we arrived completely out of breath and exhausted, opened up the laptop (on a stationary table), and burned the DVD. As expected, it only took a couple minutes and we handed it in at 7:16 p.m. Fourteen minutes to spare. Phew!
That’s what myself and about ten other people all did from May 2-4, 2014. I got a chance to edit a narrative film for the first time since senior year of high school and test all the skills I had learned in college. It was my first real-world project using Avid Media Composer to edit. My first project that I had a “professional” sound mix for (i.e. someone, not me, who actually know what they’re doing). My first time working with such a large crew, trading positions and sharing the post-production workload. It gave me a chance to relive my high school days where making a film was something I did for fun. Just grab a couple of friends, write a script, shoot it and edit it together. No need to worry about permits or scheduling or crew calls; just spur of the moment decision making and having to solve problems as they arrive. (Yeah, that happens on real sets too, but “Heist” was more fun because we all did one job or another all day — no sitting on apple boxes for hours at a time waiting to set up for the next scene).
“Heist” was what making films in high school was like. It brought back the pleasure and enjoyment to filmmaking for me. We got to figure things out as a group as we went along, greeting each new problem with enthusiasm and a team effort. It helped me realize that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. This weekend was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. I’m eagerly awaiting this year’s competition and can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store for the Weekend Warriors.