Just finished a virtually sleepless weekend of sweating, worrying, writing, discussing, directing, eating and editing. Yes, it was time for the 48 Hour Film Project. For those not familiar with the 48, it is a national competition (though we undertake it strictly as an exercise) in which teams of filmmakers make an eight-minute film within a 48-hour period. To insure that the films are created from the ground up, teams are assigned certain elements that must appear in the film: prop, line of dialogue, character and genre.
To producer Tracy Martin and myself, it's an annual test... just to make sure our production skills are staying sharp. Rather than just gathering a few friends and shooting in the backyard, we assemble a full-scale production team, and run everyone through the wringer within that two-day process. It guarantees a great-looking end result... but it infinitely complicates the process of making the film.
This year was particularly grueling, because the scale of production was bigger than ever... and we didn't go into the project with a head full of stand-by ideas. When I handed out my script Saturday -- the day of the shoot -- at 5:00 am, it was... one might say... spare. Heads were scratched... looks were exchanged. "This is it?" was asked. I would mutter an excuse and duck out... to find a secluded spot and curl into a fetal position.
Back it up a minute. Let me fill in a few details. We're allowed to secure a location in advance of the Friday 7:00 pm starting gun. Tracy was scouring the area for a nice large location with lots of visual possibilities. For a while it looked like we were shooting in a jail/prison... but that space was not available at the time of our shoot. Then Tracy called and said, "I got a friend who has a church. Do you want to just shoot there?"
"A friend who has a church." How does she do these things? Who does she NOT know in this town? I shouted "Sold!" and the first piece of the puzzle fell into place. Between that point and the starting gun, I tried to think churchy thoughts... mentally revisiting the Pentecostal services of my childhood (Chattanooga's Woodmore Church of God, where my mother was the organist).
I wanted to explore the idea of fear and desire... two huge ingredients of a charismatic church service.
I re-read some of my treasured Jack T. Chick comics. Those not familiar with Chick need to get their souls to his website pronto: Chick Publications
. My personal faves are: Somebody Loves Me
, A Demon's Nightmare
, and Bewitched?
. Then I re-watched some of my favorite church-themed films, those created for the ministries of Estus Pirkle: The Burning Hell
and If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?
. They, more than anything else, influenced my mind on that fateful weekend. Let me just pause to say the Estus Pirkle films are SUBLIME
, especially if you grew up in that kind of environment. I tried to watch Marjoe
again, but UPS didn't get it here fast enough. Anyway, enough backstory. I had some cultural references... the cauldron was starting to bubble... but it didn't have time to cook.
My first reaction, when we drew the genre "martial arts," was sheer panic. But upon a little meditation, and some consultation of reference guides as to what exactly "martial arts" means... it actually helped bring a story into focus. I didn't want to make a karate movie, that much was obvious... so I thought back on some of my favorite Honk Kong films -- such as Tsui Hark's Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain
. These are martial arts films, but with a more spiritual foundation (Buddhism). And, since my son is a Star Wars
fanatic, I thought about the Jedi -- that they are true martial artists because their powers lie in a mixture of spiritual centeredness, mind-control and precise physical combat skills. Reverend Horace Lovejoy... Jedi. It started to click...
The starting gun sounded.
I may not have had a script, but I had something even more valuable... the confidence of an extremely talented cast and crew. They had faith that this peculiar sketch of a screenplay might work. Others didn't bother reading the script. They just went with it. Everyone threw in their own ideas.
Saturday around 7:30, Bruce Bennett showed up with audio files of the music he had prepared with Paul Mercer. He arrived in his 1970 GTO. Pam and Erica (makeup team) slapped some brylcreem on his head, Sean (costume guy) threw a mechanic's shirt on him, and Bruce made his screen debut (and so did the GTO).
The cast was amazing. They totally saved the day. Anne Towns stars as Hope (one thing I was clinging to at that moment), a frazzled mom who is taking her child (Michael DiNardo) to church. She is received by two friends of hers from the high school days: Faith (Sarah Falkenburg) and Vanessa (Shelby Hofer). They sit in on a sermon by the visiting evangelist Reverend Lovejoy (Daniel Burnley). But then we filled the congregation with a supporting cast of local actors. I've worked with most of them before, and I gotta say, they are dedicated, hard-working, talented and are always popping with great ideas and instincts... even when they've been sitting around for nine hours... make that eleven hours... waiting to be called. But when the altar call came... they responded. Permit me to offer special thanks to three very talented, always reliable actors whom I've worked with in the past: Jim Adams, David Doerrier and Sally Shornick. They gave me their day, they shared their talents. But because of the unpredictable nature of the shoot... and the equally unpredictable variables of editing... they are virtually unseen in the film. I mean, you see them... but only their backs and shoulders. I know... actors are used to being cut out of films... but I am particularly sorry that their roles were diminished... because it was such a challenging day. It was primarily my own fault for not better planning the shots in relation to the editing to happen later. Please work with me again.
But... they did get to listen to a rousing sermon by Daniel Burnley. In the script, it just said, "SERMON" and "ALTAR CALL." I took this to Daniel. He offered me a kindly smile... took up his Bible in one hand... raised a handkerchief in the other... and all heaven broke loose.