Seven Minutes in Celluloid 

i48 presents 33 masterworks of frantic filmmaking

i48, Idaho's first 48-hour filmmaking competition and festival, is the kind of community event that carries at least 48 days of guilt for non participants like me. I (and you, too!) know that if given the opportunity, as local filmmakers and event organizers Andrew Ellis and Greg Bayne of Small Pond Films have done, should of course make a frenzied weekend stab at filmmaking--even if only to give my great-grandchildren something to laugh at while they eat their Soylent Green.

But for once artistic guilt has gripped our quiet community, as Ellis reports a total of 33 teams, more than three times the expected number, participated in last weekend's epic i48 event. The rules of the contest, as witnessed by Ellis in a similar Washington D.C. event, are: Each film crew has 48 hours to write, film and edit a movie of seven minutes in length or less. To ensure the spontaneity of each production, Ellis and Bayne assign randomly drawn team genres and required film elements on Friday night. These include the use of a certain prop (a fly swatter), a character (news reporter Dale Heckenbecker) and a Michael Hoffman-penned line of dialogue ("We're making way too much of this"). The rest of the film, in a twist perfectly encapsulated by the existentialist adage, "Freedom, horrible freedom!" is left up to the teams.

At Friday's instructional gathering a few teams breathe sighs of relief upon spying their genres: usually "sci-fi" or "horror." Others, like Goldy's waiter and first-time filmmaker John Utter spit out the name of his allotted genus as if putting a curse on an infidel. "Drama!" he bellows at me, his team and the gods.

"Drama?" his team gasps in horrified unison.

"Drama!" he cries again, not realizing that he is mastering the genre simply by loathing it.

The team with which I threw my documentary lot, entitled Team Virgin (after their collective lack of film credits) and consisting of local attorneys Mark Perison and Michael Bartlett, Elmore County Prosecutor Aaron Bazzoli, Boise City attorney Ty Ketlinski, graphic designer Amy Rediker and technical guru/Hewlett Packard design technician Bryan DeWeese was slightly luckier in their draw. Not only did Virgin obtain the prized genre of comedy, the first impulse of almost any creative crew on a tight deadline--hence Ellis' impassioned plea to make films from "8 genres, not 33 different films that are parodies of their genres"--but the team also had the unparalleled stroke of luck to be able to hook their technical wagon to the experienced amateur filmmaker DeWeese. In an introductory excursion such as i48, knowing someone who knows someone who owns a camera, can use it and can also instantly judge the technical plausibility of team ideas is almost as important as the ideas themselves, or even having one's own trailer. After the instructional gathering we meet, amidst pizza and EZ-Cheez and the storms of braining commenced.

The experience of such an evening, fueled at first by beer, later by caffeine and finally by the purest kind of deadline-anxiety, is best conveyed through a timeline. 8 p.m.: Both teams are still weighing the merits of two movie ideas, one about a hit man and another about a car salesman, through a series of mini-skits, off-the-cuff one liners and frantic M.A.S.H.-esque wordplay. They are having just enough fun that I find it exceedingly difficult to heed Starfleet's "Prime Directive" and not become an ad hoc Virgin. 8:15 p.m.: A neighbor walking by Perison's yard is unwittingly witness to a heated and lengthy debate over the philosophical query, "Is a hit man changing a baby's diaper funny enough?" The answer, at long last, is no. 8:44 p.m.: Alarm sets in for the first time as Perison informs his laughing crew, "Alright, we'd better start." Nobody knows quite what that means, but they agree. 9:20 p.m.: Team members have already compared their plights to those of Scorsese and Lucas, concocted several opaque cinematic odes to Quentin Tarantino and The Simpsons, but most importantly have knocked out a short skeleton script which will provide the foundation of Team Virgin's seven-minute epic.

The issue of length is of paramount importance at this early point in the filming process--although Freudians might argue that "length anxiety" is primal to any artistic endeavor. At 9:25 p.m., the team is petrified that their film idea, a skit about a man using car salesman-techniques to sell a car through a classified ad, will fall well short of i48's four-minute minimum. At 9:35 p.m. they're worried the exact same script is too long. By 10:00 p.m. they no longer seem worried, but I am convinced the film will stretch into double digits. In the name of anthropological propriety, I don't reveal my concerns. Instead, I leave the party after the third time I hear garrulous Bartlett yell at equally garrulous Bazzoli, "You! Don't talk! Let's write!" It's fun to watch lawyers get this nervous away from a courtroom.

On Saturday, the team reconvenes at Bazzoli's Meridian home for the filming of what has now been officially titled Or Best Offer. Bazzoli, Bartlett and Perison handle all of the acting in the film--whose ultimate length is still an unspoken but ever-present concern. But the technical challenges inherent in this type of filmmaking aren't the day's most interesting themes. That award surely goes to the artistic rage that inevitably erupts out of even the quietest team members after a handful of interruptions from nearby lawnmowers, weed whackers, band saws, wind, finicky sunlight, diesel burning 4x4s and chatty children on bikes. The world outside of The Movie, once a well of inspiration, is now just a mass of irritants.

After 20 failed takes and two hours spent on the film's climax, in which the car salesman Gil (Bazzoli) weeps for his inability to pay for Gil Jr.'s elephantiasis operation (I told you this crew was lucky to draw comedy), the divas finally come out of these lawyas. Though Perison maintains afterward that the struggle to complete scene "L" was only "a bit of a pain," I watch as four lawyers, all extremely well-versed in Idaho legal code and the consequences written therein, repeatedly joke (though less of a joke each time) about everything from the forced closure of a major suburban thoroughfare to the phrase, "If anybody sees any kids on bikes approaching, take them out!"

The finished version of Or Best Offer, after editing, credits and the insertion of several choice royalty-free musical cuts by DeWeese, clocks in at 6 minutes and 57 seconds. More importantly, though, exhausted Perison reports that, "I've watched the movie 20 times, and there is stuff that I'm still able to chuckle at." He says this with more relief than triumph, but don't believe that the movie isn't a source of great satisfaction for Team Virgin. "It's finally made us transition from 'people who talk about stuff' to 'people who see how it's done,'" Perison explains. "To turn an idea, which anybody can have, into some thing is just really amazing--regardless of the actual size."

If you missed the i48 screening on Tuesday, May 18, you can request a copy of the DVD of the films by e-mailing gbayne@cableone.net. Also, stay tuned for BW's review of the DVD in next week's edition of BW.

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