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Saturday, 21 March 2009
The Road Back to Wellness
Topic: Makin' Movies
A week ago I was in Portland at the invitation of Scott Cummins to attend a DVD release party for the cast and crew of the short film "The Road to Wellness" that was done for the 48 Hour Film Project last August. As usual, I wasn't just a guest, I got roped into helping prepare. I gave Scott advice on how to "age" the DVD covers, wrote the text for the back hat describes the film and DVD features in a style that fits with the fictional book cover design of the case, then helped Scott set up the bar, and put out all the food. Why is it I'm always useful and not purely ornamental?

Anyway, the party was a success, with a bartender paid to keep the evening well lubricated, and even Scott's kitty, Gloria, braved the crowd to see what's up, rather than retiring to the bedroom for the evening as Scott had anticipated.

It was good to see the crew and cast...especially Kelly Guimont (who acted as 1st A.D. and also brainstormed story ideas with me), and Kyle Vahan (who played the nameless hitchhiker in the film, but was previously Solar-Man). I was disappointed by two significant no-shows: makeup tech Janet Price and Production Assistant (and Sheila in "Secret Identity Crisis") Jenny Criglar.

When everyone was there Scott screened the revised cleaned up (color corrected and minorly edited) version of the film he'd made for the DVDs, making a big show of his new Riverscape Pictures logo, and getting a laugh by using Erik Braa's joke Movie Trailer Guy voice at the end (not on the DVD).
Since I wasn't in Portland long enough to see the film screened after we completed it, I'd never before seen it with a largish group, and even though this was a lot of people who'd worked on it and their friends, it was still a different experience with 20 than it was with a handful.  I was pleasantly surprised that people laughed at the following exchange:
DESTIN:  You need a jump.
JANE:      How'd ya know?
DESTIN: Your heart is on your sleeve...and your hood is up.
Surprised because the actor who played Monsieur Destin is French,  and I thought his accent and delivery sort of mushed that joke, which was a favorite bit of mine. It was nice to see it still works.

Of the three films I've worked on for 48 HFPs to date I've been involved in the scriptwriting of all of them, and I find this one the hardest to watch. I'm conflicted, because I'm actually proud of what I managed to write overnight. It was a very unusual piece of writing for me in that it was just a series of conversations about where these people were going, and how the woman's car, which never gets her to her destination, represents how she's on the wrong road with her life.  It's not perfect, sure, but it was a good stretch.  But the execution fails the story on some level, and I feel partly to blame for this. Because I so burned myself out on "How the Bunny Got the Bear" I made a deal with Scott where I would sleep in the morning of the shoot, since I'd be up most of the night writing, and then come onto location later.  It was a good idea in terms of making me functional, but it was a bad idea practically speaking.
The pace of a 48 HFP shoot leaves little to no time for reviewing a script. The crew has to just blast through the shoot and get all the scenes done. As such, without the author there it's easy for the crew to miss some of the subtleties of the script. In this case it hurt the film a lot because a lot of things in the script are metaphorical and representational, with lines not necessarily meaning what they said, but addressing the character attitudes and the theme. When under-pressure actors change a line, or drop a word, the meaning can be affected. In the film as shot, this is particularly true of the climactic action, where it was vitally important that the character of Jane hook up the jumper cables wrong, is nearly zapped, and realizes that she has to reverse the connections. Since I wasn't there when they were planning the shots, the crew misread the action I'd described and had the hitchhiker do the incorrect hookup. That tiny change of action guts the ending, because it's Jane who's the screw up, and has to realize she's got to turn it around. By simply putting the cables in the wrong hands, it undermines the point and robs her decision of motivation.

If I'd been there for the whole day, I would have noticed when the crew strayed off key points and could have steered them back, and explained why it was important that this or that be done this or that way. I didn't. I got sleep and failed the project on some level. I learned my lesson there.

Posted by molyneaux at 10:20 PM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 19 May 2009 10:18 PM PDT
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