In 2011, I formed a team for the Austin 48-Hour Film Project and we made it in to the Top 10 and took home the awards for “Best Cinematography” and “Best Use of Character” for our short, The Walker. In 2012, I took a break from the competition and this year I was ready to get back in the game. What I love about the 48-Hour Film Competition is that it’s a tremendous opportunity to condense all the scheduling, pre-production, filming, post-production, and stress of a short film into a single weekend. Within just two days’ time, you and your team have a finished product in hand that you can actually look at and (hopefully) be quite proud of. The 48-Hour Film Project requires everyone to volunteer their time, and because it’s a contest, you get a chance to bring a lot of talented people on board to work for free on a project that you otherwise might feel bad about not having a real, actual budget for. Plus, with its competitive nature and the clock ticking, it’s overall a very fun, collaborative weekend.
On Friday, August 16, the 2013 Austin 48-Hour Film Project kicked off at 7:00 PM CST. And there were bacon cupcakes. The director of the event this year, Alyne Harding, read off the prop, character name/role, and line of dialogue required to be in all the films. The prop was a bucket; the character/role was John or Joanna Getts, an expectant parent; and the line of dialogue was “It’s BYOB so you know what that means!” Then all the teams had to pull a genre out of a literal hat at the front of the room. I went up there and drew “Thriller/Suspense”. I was at the kickoff event with my friend David Johnson, who was on the team for screenwriting, so we discussed whether I should trade in that genre for a “wildcard” genre, some of which were quite risky or just overall dumb in my opinion. We decided to stay with “Thriller/Suspense” and met up with the rest of the team at Wahoo’s on South Congress to start discussing ideas. From there, we headed back to my place and started to video chat with the whole story team to continue brainstorming to find a story we liked. One idea that struck us as particularly interesting was a concept based on a girl who was pregnant bringing her boyfriend to meet her father for the first time and it leading to some awkward exchanges before an ending revealed that the characters were all in the mind of a little girl in her room playing with dolls. I’m sure it’s been done before, but it still felt like a fun, creepy ending that resonated with us. Then Jensen came up with a similar story with the boyfriend discovering a man tied up in a closet in the house and facing a dilemma as for what to do. I really liked this story concept and after a lot of discussing, we eventually fleshed it out into an idea that involved the realization that the family were cannibals by the boyfriend. Then it would still end with the twist of the little girl playing with dolls and implying that the girl, the unborn daughter in the story, was about to join her parents for human flesh for dinner.
As I went to bed pretty early in the morning to get a few hours’ rest, Jake Savell stayed up to finish up the full script based on that outline. His strong sense of comedy really shone through as I got a chance to read the first actual draft Saturday morning. As the coffee was brewing and breakfast tacos were served, the team arrived as I distributed the printed scripts to read. Our two acting leads were Ryan Hooker and Carissa McAtee. Most of the day of filming was a rush and a blur after that point as we met up at David’s uncle’s house in Roundrock for our shooting location. Joe Ricks was one of our other leads in the film, playing the role of the father. He had improv that night, so we had to get him out around 6pm. Seeing as it was about noon, it seemed really doable. As the crew started setting up, I had the cast rehearse for several hours until it seemed like we were ready to go. Much like my short film Dee’s Final Fling, we taped up curtains on the outside of all windows of the house to black out the light and set the scene during the night hours. This proved to be one of the biggest pitfalls of our day as the humidity, heat, or something wouldn’t hold any gaffing or duct tape up and the curtains kept falling. It wasn’t until after 4:00pm when we had just one shot of one scene in the bag as every PA and crew member was having to hold the curtains up outside the house while the sprinkler sprayed them that I made the call that we compromise and set the whole film at daytime. In retrospect, it’s something we should have done all along, but at the time of writing it certainly felt appropriate creatively to have the story take place at night. We mustered together a quick setup and were able to get actually rolling by 4:30. And over the next hour and a half, we shot about half the entire film. This was primarily due to the extremely hard work by all the crew and cast and its a miracle we got all the scenes with the father done by the time Joe had to head out.
After that, our man of the hour was Sonny Carl Davis, a well-respected Texas legend of an actor whom I was privileged enough to get to work with as the lead in my 2011 48-Hour Film. Somehow I was lucky enough to get him to be involved on this film as well, and we had cast him as the man trapped in the closet and who was freed by the boyfriend character. Sonny, in full method approach, asked me to begin wrestling and tackling him to get into character, physical appearance, and mindset of someone who had been captured and held hostage. The cameras rolled as Sonny gave an incredible cameo performance in our little short film. He’s a scene stealer in pretty much anything he’s in. And truly, I was blessed with a full cast of actors on this short, probably my favorite cast I’ve ever worked with. Anyways, we kept shooting until about 11:30, packed up, and hit the road back into Austin to start editing. In the meantime, Lee and Rahul were both having to deal with manually syncing the audio and video due to some technical issues we were having that were wasting too much time. Sunday was the biggest blur of all as Lee, running off zero sleep, edited like mad until I stepped in the last few hours to bring the film together. Sunday morning we also had the chance to be interviewed (at my house!) by KVUE News of Austin. The reporter and camera crew came by around 9:00am and Lee and I were interviewed in a segment that aired that evening. Of course I was too busy stressing out and trying to finish the film to watch, but here’s a link to the video of it.
In the final hours, I decided to cut the scene of the little girl playing with her dolls as the twist ending. Largely, this was due to the scene just simply not working. The ending as it was already was much stronger and the way the scene with the girl turned out, it just didn’t make much sense, felt tacked-on, and wholly unnecessary. It was a good thing it was cut, but unfortunately it cost us a lot of time before that. We were racing the clock to get a version of the edit solid enough to export, but this didn’t happen until nearly 6:45pm. At exactly 7:11pm when it finished exporting, we made a rush to the turn-in location for the contest in two separate vehicles with identical flash drives of the file and taking different routes. We both made it at about the same time, and miraculously by 7:29pm. And fortunately for us, it turned out they asked for two flash drive copies regardless. We did it! The bad news upon further inspection was that some of the synced-audio became messed up in the final export and created an echoed effect for parts and completely-off audio at times. It was disappointing since it was otherwise a pretty strong edit for turn-in. I’m pretty sure it’s what cost us the chance to move forward in the competition this year. However, at the screening a week later, the audience responded extremely well to the whole film as we got the biggest laughs and reactions of the night and it was a great premiere. I spent the next couple months fine-tuning the edit and I’ve been so happy with the final version and the response to it. Obviously 48-Hour Film Project was another stressful experience with all the things you wouldn’t expect to go wrong, but it’s been yet again one of the most incredible experiences in filmmaking I’ve had.
I want to give a huge thanks to the entire Team Escape Plan Productions: Jensen Yancey, David Johnson, Sam Marie Jackson, Rahul Putha, Lee Bacak, Ryan Hooker, Carissa McAtee, Joe Ricks, Sonny Carl Davis, Kirk Van Sickle, Jenna Shorter, Brandon Willett, Chris Weachock, Justin Payne.