Become a Member!

48 hours from brain to screen

Post by Christian Neuhaus on 4/22/2007 8:49pm

April 30 update: The 48HFP movie described here is now available online. This is a “Special Edition” with some audio improvements by Russell Reed.

7 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, a screening of Madison 48 Hour Film Project movies will take place at the Orpheum Theatre. $10, $6 for students.

48HFP07_brainstorming.JPGSince 7 p.m. Friday, teams of Madison filmmakers were working on short films as part of the 48 Hour Film Project (48HFP), an international competition that’s accepting entries from Madison for the first time this year. Each team randomly draws a genre and all teams are assigned the same character, prop, and line of dialogue to incorporate to their movies. The movies also have to show something readily identifiable as a Madison location. The film must be at least 4 minutes long and no more than 7 minutes long, and the submission deadline was 7:30 p.m. tonight.

I’m on a team whose members mostly come from a Dane County software company where we’re employed. The team includes actors, filmmakers, musicians, people with a working knowledge of Spanish, and even someone who’s participated in two other 48 Hour Film Projects, in St. Louis. Producer Russell Reed picked the team name “Floor Pie,” which was on the short list of names to consider for our Simpsons trivia quiz team.

We had two representatives at Escape Java Joint to draw the genre and receive the required script elements. I was at the Memorial Union, where we were going to have a group story and script brainstorming session; if we meet there again for 48HFP, we’ll have to make sure that the UW Varsity Band concert and Humorology aren’t also happening that night. Shortly after 7 p.m. I got a call notifying me that we would be doing the “Road Trip” genre and that the script would have to feature Christmas lights, a handyman or handywoman named Ray or Rae Roberts, and the line of dialogue “That was smooth as butter.”

We wanted to introduce a significant twist on the road trip genre; one idea was even to do a road trip movie where the characters were stuck in traffic the entire time. There were about ten team members participating in the story discussion, and we settled on the idea of a road trip featuring an angel and a demon in purgatory, and expanded that to include a mortal the angel and demon were accompanying. The travel would be accomplished through hitchhiking, which would be another variant on the road movie formula (and would spare us the physical difficulties of shooting in or around a moving car).

Brainstorming went until about 9:45, with people sharing various theological, character, and plot ideas, as well as more detailed suggestions (we considered having the character die by accidental hanging in the process of taking down Christmas lights in June, for example). By the end of the session we worked out the general story to tell along with many potential details. The next step was for filmmaker Rick Stemm and me to go through a volume of suggestions that could fill a twenty-minute movie and create a four to six- page script that could be shot Saturday morning and afternoon, and that musicians would use as the basis for creating an original score.

Over beer and Margherita pizza in Cambridge’s Tru Tavern, we determined what scenes and interactions we wanted to feature in the script, an outline of scenes and interactions between the mortal and the denizens of limbo/purgatory, and general character notes for the angel, demon, and mortal. We had an idea for how to use Ray and the Christmas lights but not the required line of dialogue or how to incorporate Madison. Since it was taking place outside the normal plane of existence I thought of doing something with the “X square miles surrounded by reality” observation, but wasn’t able to do so in a way that seemed natural.

The next steps were to go to Stemm’s home, set ourselves up at two desks in the basement and write the actual script. The extensive preliminaries made it possible to split up the work of writing scenes (I had a laptop with me) while maintaining a general consistency between authors. Over the course of writing I figured out a way to work in a Madison location in a way that was a decent fit within the context of the story. Regarding the use of the “butter” line, we had something similar to a “Blitz moment,” which reflects the strange places a writer takes him or herself over the course of late-night, high-pressure writing. Our character had a decadent hellbound driver who slows down as if he’s going to pick up the hitchhiking mortal and speeds away, and he says the line as a kind of taunt as he goes down the road.

At about 2:30 a.m., we sent the script (which ended up being seven-and-a-half pages) out to the team by e-mail. In the message we mentioned that it wasn’t as explicitly funny as we thought it would be, but it was true to the story we decided to tell. We also came up with a working title shortly before sending it out: “Route Sixty-Styx.”

Later that morning the team gathered for filming. We made some quick casting decisions, selected clothes for the characters, and cast and crew spent the much of the day outside on some desolate roads. The weather was good but windy, which interfered with some of the dialogue recording and required re-recording of some lines the next day. By 4:30 the filming was finished. The rough cut was ready late this afternoon and the final cut was dropped off at High Noon Saloon around 7:20, where The Roman Candle Pizzeria supplied free food for 48HFP teams. Eight teams turned films in on time; registered teams who missed the deadline can still have their films shown at the screening.

An exciting experience overall that gave me a chance to see creative talents that were all the more impressive given the limited amount of time available for preparation and execution. I look forward to next year.

From the drop-off event at High Noon Saloon:


Christian Neuhaus


Christian Neuhaus is a writer whose comic short plays have been produced by local theater groups. You've Ruined a Perfectly Good Mystery!, a play he wrote with Dane101 contributor Rick Stemm, sold out its world-premiere run in Madison, was part of the 2011 New York International Fringe Festival, and was voted Favorite Theater Production in Isthmus's 2011-2012 Madison's Favorites poll. He interviews Madison theater artists for the MadStage Podcast and is part of the Are We Delicious? ensemble, which develops a set of eight short plays within a single week.