The Peoples' Champion, Part I

It's about time we rundown our latest 48-hour film, The Peoples' Champion.

This was our third year in the Almost Famous Film Festival challenge. The first year we were surprised to place very high and win a number of awards. Last year, we made a much better film in all regards, but didn't place as well. It's been tough to figure out what the judges are looking for, and the competition has certainly improved as well.

I was really excited coming into the challenge, and I think everyone else was as well. We had more experience this time around, and I've upped the ante in camera and sound equipment. We have a full-time boom operator now. Gabe and Brock seemed to be doing some serious skill sharpening leading up as well. We even set up a bunch of guidelines for things we'd like to accomplish in terms of story structure, dialog, and look of the film.

We also had a couple great locations available, the Stop N' Look and Soul Invictus galleries, on Grand Ave downtown. We scouted these locations on this months' First Friday art walk, and got permission to use both free of charge.

The Stop N' Look is basically just a white art space with a super-long hallway, but it's got a lot more style than that. The art space has a big window facing the road with intricate ironwork covering it. The space is white, but it has some well-worn character to it. The hallways takes a bunch of twists and turns, with little seat groupings along the way. The first stage of the hallway is very colorful, with vertical stripes of alternating colors set off by wood stripping, and the color alternations switch up a couple times along the way. Further back and around a corner there is a long, straight stretch with gray block on one side and corrugated aluminim on the other. Earlier in the night Brock had pretty much described this hallway as his ideal vision of a location, and there it was! Highly unlikely. In the far back, a dark section of hallway with a large sliding steel door leading out to a back patio area. Basically this place was a lot of cool locations in one.

The challenge guidelines were a little late in being posted to the web site, so there was a bit of tension building up and it seemed like we were losing time. Around 7:15 I called up Jae Staats the festival founder and he gave us the rundown:

Line of Dialog
I don't believe you.
Paper (a character must crumple it)

We really wanted to embrace the theme this time around (in past years it could be said we came up with an idea first and tried to wrap the theme into it later), so Brock began to dig into what it means to be a hero, looking up the definition. We tried to play around with what heroism could be about. It could certainly be about a super-hero, but the more interesting ideas were about people that didn't know they were heros, or people that were looked at as heros but were not. We thought about anti-heros, and people in situations where they could have been heroic, but failed to act, and how that would effect them.

The main two ideas that shook out were about a band about to call it quits that comes to realize that they are in fact heros to other people, and about an American Idol-style competition called American Hero which put hopeful, yet wofullly unprepared, normal people in harms way. The later one would have been a satire on how America sets people up as heros. In the end, the band idea "won out," but that itself is controversial.

I'm getting backlash about my undue influence on this decision. In my defense, this was the story that would fit the location we had, the location that had Brock's ideal hallway in it, and it was an idea that everyone could relate to in our collective interest in music and bands. Everything pointed to this being the film to make. (OK, in fairness everything pointed to us making a film about the game Guitar Hero, but that didn't get off the ground) On the other side, no one really made a case for the American Hero film that made it seem like anything more than an outrageous physical comedy film (Brock later revealed the satire aspect of it).

Truthfully, I would have much preferred to just have Brock and Gabe hole up in a room and emerge four hours later with a screenplay. At least then its in finished form, and there wouldn't have been anything to debate about it. Whatever came out, it would have been great, and we would have found a way to make it. If we do one of these challenges again, that's the way I would like to set it up. That way everyone else gets a few more hours of rest, and everyone just gets to do what they do well.

In any case, the main roles were Gabe as the lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Shane, Angie as bass player Haley, and Aaron Meyer as the drummer Marley. The other roles were Angie's cousing Jenifer as Laney the devoted fan, the very accomplished Bob Dolan as the club manager, and Matt Gieger as sound mixer DJ Don Dynamite. Aaron, Jenifer, Bob, and Matt were all first timers with MOC, and Aaron and Jenifer were true first timers to acting.

So, we got up in the morning and packed up both cars. The Camry got loaded with all the instruments: drums, guitars, amps, cables, mixers, etc. The Corrolla got loaded up with the filmmaking gear. Both cars were packed out. We got to the gallery and got access to the space, and were told to keep a really close eye on our cars and gear, as this wasnt' a good neighborhood. Now, I knew it wasn't a great area, but I didn't now the full extent of it. So, the rest of the day proceeded with a fair bit of paranoia about our stuff and our physical well-being.

Honestly, it didn't take all that long to get into the flow of shooting. We shot a scene with Angie and Matt, then the band and Bob, then Bob and Aaron. Eventually we worked out way to a key scene between Gabe and Jenifer, and this is where the first real tension cropped up. Jenifer had a pretty unweidly little monologue to get through, without a whole lot of preperation and experience. Even when she did get it out, it just didn't ring true, and everyone seemed to pick up on that. So, on the fly we all started pitching suggestions of different ways to convey her meaning, and it quickly devolved into confusion and frustration for everyone. It also seemed like time was slipping away, which it was, so we rushed through.

After that, we got some shots of the band members walking through these long hallways. Then, we setup the main room for the band performance. At this point it really hit us that it was still very bright out (the sun hadn't even begun to set at this point) and that it needed to be dark outside for the band performance. So, there we had rushed through some things, only to realize we had to sit around for a while. To top it off, we didn't have a lot of extras for the crowd at the club. So, we chilled at the Paisley Violin across the street sipping overpriced drinks and called around to get some people downtown. Eventually it got dark, people showed up, and we ran the camera for about five minutes and picked up everything we needed for that scene.

We packed up, cleaned up, and it felt like the night was done, it really needed to be done at that point, but we still had to shoot the opening scene of the film in a hotel room. Gabe went ahead and found the nearest Motel 6 (there were some grungier and perhaps more interesting hotels nearby, but too sketchy for Angie to deal with). We checked in and loaded up and it was like we starting all over again. At this point I know at least I was really just pushing myself physically to get through this. I could barely move, and barely had the will to do it. Really, I think everyone was very worn out at this point, and the scene we shot may play a little flat as a result.

We headed back home and edited until around 4am. We got started again around 9am and the rest of the day was pretty uneventful. We found ways to put it all together. We're pretty much solid these days in terms of production value, lighting, camerawork, sound, etc., so there were no major technical problems to overcome. We grabbed some handy TMINM music and laid that into the mix. We had to hustle on the net to find some musical instrument sound effects, since the instruments were locked up in a car we had no key to at the time, but that was the only real hiccup. We finished it, exported it, and had it on its way with lots of time to spare, which is somewhat of a contrast to previous years.

So, what do we think about the film? To me, it's one of the first films we've made that deals with real people. As I think about it, most everything else we have done has been out there in fantasy-land as far as characters go. A lot of genre expirimentation, but very little in terms of normal human characters. So, this is pretty cool to me. It's subtle. Everything else we set out to do in terms of foreshadowing, setting up and paying off, having a backstory for each character, staying tight and character focused, it's all there. It's pretty short, but effective. I think like most of our films, it's tough to watch for a while as the madness of the production recedes into memory, but it will grow with time. I'm just now really starting to enjoy some of the films we made two years ago, so it's a continuous process.

Will the judges get our style this time around? We'll have to wait and see. Results coming soom.


Gabe said...

The character development exercise Brock and I went through greatly helped the writing process. And it was a big help for me as an actor as well. Although, I was disappointed with some facets of my performance, I was a bit happier than my previous efforts.
I was feelin' for you Josh! All those takes doing steadicam. Maybe you should be in Everlast now. Your probably all chiseled out. ;-)

Joshua Provost said...

The $14 steadicam really delivers in the wallet, but not to the back. I'm just glad you left it with a 5-pound weight on the bottom and didn't surprise me with a 45lb or something.

It's a real challenge to take a character that is do disengaged... and make him engaging somehow. I think you did an awesome job. From the very beginning, you can tell this guy is totally anti-social and misunderstood.