Giddy filmmakers wielding cameras overtook the greater Madison area last weekend as not one, but two filmmaking groups issued challenges: the yearly 48 Hour Film Project, and the collaborative guerrilla outfit Wis-Kino's biannual 36-hour Kabaret.
Both organizations dare teams to produce a short movie based on an assigned genre or theme in the same amount of time most people in Madison spent sleeping in, going to the Farmer's Market, relaxing and maybe hitting up Maxwell Street Days.
It's happenstance that the two organizations scheduled their challenges for the same weekend. Both groups are essentially the same in spirit, and many participants have done both in the past. Wis-Kino is more collaborative and focused on exhibition, while the 48 Hour Film Project is more focused on competition (it costs an entrance fee of $135, but the filmmakers who win their city's project have the chance to get their shorts into an international 48 Hour Film Project competition and into festivals).
77 Square followed around a couple of 48 Hour Film Project teams this weekend to witness the behind-the-scenes sausage-making that goes into creating a four- to seven-minute short film in two days. Audiences can see the finished films at the Orpheum Theatre on Thursday, July 23, or next week at the High Noon Saloon.
Friday, July 17, 6 p.m.
Dozens of filmmakers crowd into Electric Earth Cafe on West Washington to draw their team's genre out of a hat -- fantasy, musical, romance, superhero, detective/cop. Reactions vary between yells of "Yesss! That's gonna be great!" to serious, quiet nods.
The room skews heavily male. Amelia Swedeen and her boyfriend, Evan Stiegert, both 18 and '09 Madison West grads going into film at college, participated in the 48 Hour Film Project last year, and say they've noticed and discussed the gender imbalance.
"It's a male-dominated industry," said Swedeen, "but I think that it's changing."
In addition to the assigned genre, 48 Hour executive city producer Sierra Shea announces the challenges - a character, a line of dialogue and a prop - that all teams must incorporate into their films. In this case, they have to use a character who is an energy consultant named Joan or John Charles, the line of dialogue "Please, I beg you!" and, for a prop, a bowl. There's a smirking silence after she says "bowl."
The restraints on time and theme are very important to the process, Shea later said. It gives creativity and gives filmmakers a framework.
"It becomes about doing , and less about talking," she said. A University of Wisconsin graduate in filmmaking, she praises Madison for its supportive community of filmmakers. "I think the population would be quadrupled if the weather wasn't so bad."
Shea sends everyone on their way: "Good luck and have fun!" Most groups are off to brainstorm over dinner. On his way out the door, Tony Wood of Team Smoking Monkey says breezily that he's ready to "embrace every challenge that we get."
Several groups report being done with their scripts as well as having mapped out most of their plans for shot sequencing.
Saturday, July 18, 1:30 p.m.
Team King Carnahan Creative, winners of the 2008 Madison 48 Hour Film Festival, have started filming their romance, "Demande en Mariage (The Proposal)" on the patio outside Barriques in Fitchburg. Like many teams, King Carnahan Creative is led by film professionals looking to have fun. King and his wife, Julie Carnahan, worked for years in Los Angeles in film and television ("Waiting For Guffman," "Mad TV") and now run their own video production company.
The rest of the team are friends and family. Actor Semmi Pasha, who "does long division over at CUNA Mutual" by day, reads over the script intently and laughs as he fusses with the red satin tie in his waiter's costume ("I look like the Joker from one of the older 'Batman' movies").
Team Makeshift Media is taking a break with subs and a pitcher of beer at the High Noon Saloon. Its members spent the morning shooting outdoor scenes at a trailer park for their tragedy, "Southern Discomfort," a "Memento"-like riff on the joke "What do you get when you play a country song backwards?" (You get your dog back, your job and wife back, and get out of jail.) Now they're ready to shoot a bar scene.
Wisconsin Public Radio producer Doug Gordon, best known to Madison audiences as Scottish zombie comedian Angus MacAbre and director of "The Zombeatles," plays the lead, Joe. His wife, played by Adrienne Ranney, just left him for an energy consultant named John Charles. Even before director Ben Wydeven starts rolling the camera, Gordon slouches morosely in character at the bar.
A producer by profession, Wydeven sees the 48 Hour Film Project as good practice for his longer projects. Anyone can spend years writing, he said, but production -- no matter what the film's length -- is always a short, fast process: "It's a mad rush to see if we can work together."
Team Smoking Monkey is filming a wild-eyed dance number for its fantasy, "The War of the Elf Brothers." It all started when the team started batting around the question: What would fantasy characters fantasize about? The conclusion: They'd enjoy a hepcat's night out on the town.
Tony Wood, wearing fake teeth and a fake beard, gasps after each athletic take of dancing on the marble steps. "Oh, my heart's beating like a rabbit!"
Team King Carnahan Creative is finishing at Barriques. It manages to escape any real rain, just "a couple of light, misty drops," said King. The overcast sky actually made it easier to film because it didn't have to worry about the sun moving and throwing shadows on the scene. Now he and Carnahan are scrambling to find a couple of native French speakers to read voiceovers for "Demande en Mariage."
"In the biz, we call that a wrap!" exclaimed Wood as Team Smoking Monkey packs up its camera after shooting a scene on the Square by Genna's, capturing the neon lights of the West Main Street strip. But it's not time to kick back. The crew is off to edit -- "We have to keep the clock ticking," said Wood.
Sunday, July 19, 4 p.m.
Team Makeshift Media, reduced now to a core of three, is feverishly editing in producer Randy Lee's one-bedroom apartment downtown in a tangle of laundry, camera equipment, and cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Old Milwaukee and an evil-looking energy drink called "Rockstar Juiced." The trio is in the zone. A lonely slice of cold pizza sits forgotten on its cardboard baking sheet on the kitchen counter.
"Hoo, I've had a lot of coffee today," said Lee as he snips together footage in Final Cut Pro on his computer between slugs of PBR. "I don't even know what's going on here."
Wydeven is editing sound effects on the couch in his pajamas but jumps up often to debate Lee and videographer Brian Alberth on where to freeze frames.
"Boom, right there!"
A door-to-door evangelist in a cream-colored suit rings the doorbell. They let him in good-naturedly, and there are handshakes all around. But the pastor beats a hasty retreat once he realizes what he's walked into.
"Southern Discomfort" is done! Now comes the tweaking, like taking down the volume on the sound effect of a Sharpie marker squeaking on a cardboard sign.
The 48 Hour Film Project participants trickle in to drop off their final products at Jade Monkey Lounge in Monona, culminating in a mini rush right before the deadline at 7:30 p.m. Shea collects the DVDs and tapes in a box -- she'll be mastering them all onto one tape for Thursday's premiere screening. The filmmakers are babbling happily on the bar's sunny patio, sleep deprivation and relief gleaming in their eyes.
IF YOU GO
What: 48 Hour Film Project Premiere Screenings
When: 7 and 9 p.m. Thursday, July 23
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 216 State St.
Admission: $10 for one screening, $15 for both (each features different films)
What: Best of the Madison 48 Hour Film Project
When: 5:30 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1
Where: High Noon Saloon, 701 E. Washington Ave.