The Sweet Science - Recap

I almost didn't sign up for the Almost Famous Film Festival's 48-Hour Challenge this year. It seemed like the annual promise to "never ever do this again" might just hold true this year. Still, as the reminder emails started to trickle in from Jae, I got the bug. I signed up December 30 or 31, just sneaking in at the early-bird rate.

I didn't even bother letting Brock and Gabe know. I didn't think they were still into it after last year. It was a no pressure kind of thing. I figured I would just make something simple at home on Saturday and take it easy. Something simple, funny, and short along the lines of Johnny B. Naked.

Well, I got an email out of the blue from Angel Ruiz. He is generally a writer/director (though he has appeared in most of his films as well), but was interested in just acting this year and was looking for a team. So, all this ended up coming up in discussion and the guys were actually interested in doing a film, and having Angel available, who is always in real good shape, sort of opened up some possibilities.

I was skeptical about Angel at first. In almost every way you can compare films, Angel's films are on a different wavelength than ours. He always has very well put together films, and always very visually interesting, but we lean more towards ironic comedies and arty dramas, while his sensibility has always been more bold action/horror and very flashy. It's two different worlds, really, but it turned out to be a fantastic collaboration.

We started tossing ideas around like we did last year. In fact, looking back at all the really good ideas we had going into last year's challenge, it had me scratching my head as to how we ended up making The Fuseman. I think it was just a process of elimination and late-night compromise. This film didn't fit the guidelines, this one didn't fit, this one no one understood... and we ended up making a weak film.

Well, we took a different approach this year. Brock had one flash of brilliance in the concept department, a twist on Everlast in which a boxer can see his opponents' lives as he fights them. We were pretty sold on the concept, and decided to just make a boxing film on Friday night, regardless of what the guidelines were. If it didn't fit well, we'd shoot something else on Saturday to submit to the A3F. We felt confident about it, no second guessing. This was going to be a great film, no matter what.

We got Angel on board, found Mario Guzman on the A3F Community page, and had Gabe ready to act as well. We started getting the crew together, and we had a Key Grip, Boom Operator, Makeup Artists, Still Photographer, and Craft Services, and nearly everyone showed up (we did have to call up an emergency Boom Op). No big surprises, for once!

Brock, Angie, and I went to the kick-off party at the Clarendon Hotel. Mario showed up as well. It was a fun atmosphere. It was a lot of suspense waiting for the guidelines to be announced. I think we were there around 5:30 and they weren't announced until 7pm on the dot. So, the video is playing, and the guidelines are starting to come up on the screen. They sort of got "typed" across the screen, one letter at a time. Big drama! The prop was a backpack... no problem (way better than a ladder!). The line of dialog was "this changes everything"... nice and short, not an awkward question like some years past. The theme was typing out before us... A Significant... and I'm thinking "significant other" maybe... that would have sucked... but it was A Significant Loss. Perfect for a boxing film. As far as I remember, we were the only ones jumping around and screaming.

There's two schools of thought when it comes to 48-hour challenges. 1) Have a strong idea and work in the guidelines or 2) start with the guidelines and let them drive you to an idea. We usually go with the latter, but this year we had a strong idea AND it fit well with the guidelines. That kind of synergy is, I think, what has made for some of the top-ranking films of recent years. There is a bit of good fortune involved.

So, we headed over to the Central Boxing Gym, for some fast food on the way and Brock wrote the script. We were a little slow to get off and running when we got there. We needed to start with the boxing action in the ring, but Matt wasn't there yet. We really wrestled with the lighting. The big questions was could we light the place so everything outside of the ring fell into darkness. There were some large mirrors on one side of the ring that kind of killed every attempt we made to light the ring, so we ended up covering them with Roy and Mike's help. We were also fortunate that Gabe and Roy brought some lights from the school, because the one's I had weren't strong enough, I think, and I had left behind the light boxes I had built to control the lights. We ended up tweaking the positioning of the lights and covering a lot of stuff with black cloth.

It was interesting to be in the ring. The place was totally dark, except for these two spot lights in the corners and Roy was hand-holding a smaller light to fill in the characters. It looked very dramatic just standing there.

Matt finally showed up, and him and Angel got into makeup and costume. They got in the ring, and it was actually tough to keep them separated. They really wanted to go at each other in the ring. We got some really good action shots, basically freestyle of them boxing each other around the ring. I shot with a 45 degree shutter, basically a 1/250th of a second. It gave a nice stroby look to the footage, very disconcerting. I shot mostly full wide on the lens and kept the camera close to the action. I was right in the middle of the blows and got hit a couple times as a result. They were all oiled up and getting watered down between each take. There was a lot of water, oil, and spit flying around, and the camera was quite slick afterwards.

Dan Berry was there as a Still Photographer. I was so distracted I hardly noticed him operating. I finished up in the ring, and was going to turn it over to him for a few minutes, but he had already taken a ton of pictures without me noticing. I haven't seen them yet, but they're on their way soon. He had to take off before we moved back to the training room, so we may not have good shots of Mario, which would be a shame.

We had shot about an hour in the ring and had two hours left in the facility. We moved to the back room, the locker room/training room. We set up a simple dolly shot to open the film and got that in a couple takes. We blocked the action and went into the performances. It's tough directing. I definitely enjoyed it for this film, bit was critical to have Brock nearby. I was trying to do my best Brock impression, trying to come up with ways of getting the actors to the performance I needed without explicitly saying how it should be done, and I hope I did a good job of not doing any line readings to the actors (when I needed to tell them where to start, I tried to state the lines word for word without any inflection or feeling, to keep it neutral and let them bring what they could to the characters). Still, there were a couple parts where we stalled a little and I wasn't quite getting what I intended, and Brock jumped in and saved the day, saying just the right things.

The lighting here was also pretty dramatic. I lit from the actor's side of the frame, so the foreground was in shadow. It was a good look. We ran right up to our deadline, and we got everything we needed except for one line of off-screen dialog we recorded the next day. Brock was pushing constantly, showing me a clock every fifteen minutes or so and pushing me along. It cannot be easy to be an AD, to be the bad guy constantly, but it's a necessity, and we never would have made it without Brock committing to do what had to be done.

We lost Rebekah, Zoe, and Alex and had a cast/crew dinner at 5 & Diner that went until 2am.

I have to mention Roy Shrum at this point. I had no idea he had filmmaking skills, but he was a real pro and has a lot of experience. Not sure why he hasn't been with us all along. He was a fantastic Grip, had good solutions to problems, and in the ring he really played a role, since he was hand-holding a pretty hot light and moving around with the camera and actors. It was really a creative role at that point, more than anything.

Also, there was Alex Zingaro, our Boom Operator. He was a very last minute fill-in, like the afternoon of the shoot last minute. He showed up and helped with general duties while in the ring, then operated the boom when we started shooting sound in the training room. I wasn't able to give him a lot of attention, but he's a real pro and must have been peaking at the monitor to find his frame lines. He made sure we recorded room tone, not once, but twice, after we had closed a door. Nice catch! The sound ended up very good.

Angel, Mario, and Gabe were all very solid. It was obvious through the performances and discussions beforehand that they gave a lot of thought to the parts. They didn't need the script much if at all, they had their lines down pat, which made it easier to get to the heart of the performances.

I got home, captured the footage, and then got about 8 hours of sleep. I started editing around noon on Saturday. I was in the seat until 8:30am on Sunday morning, with a brief break for pizza. Gabe, Rebekah, and Zoe came over with the pizza. It was good moral support and good feedback on the scene I had rough cut when they came.

Anyway, 20 hours later I had the picture edited, sound edited, added sound effects, added a music track. The final step was to convert to black and white and get it output to turn in to Jae. It was almost a shame to convert it to B&W. It's certainly a striking look and it will probably stand out from the crowd pretty well, but... the footage in color has a real nice look to it. I'll probably put both color and B&W versions on the DVD.

Overall, it's probably the best film we've made for a 48-hour challenge. We all feel really good about it. Could it use a little finesse? Sure, they all can, but I feel real good about this one out of the gate. Nothing to be ashamed of, for sure. Brock's talking about possibly writing a feature around this concept... cool!


Brock said...

Great write-up.

This was a fantastic shoot. I attribute it to the fantastic teamwork. Everyone had a job to do - they knew the job well, and they executed it to the best of their ability. The result? One heck of a film!

We've also wanted to make a boxing film for quite some time, so I also count this as a personal victory...little by little, MOC is touching on the niche subjects that fascinate Brock H. Brown: British India, boxing...

next up: Gabe the astronaut?!?!

Gabe said...

Yes, nice write up. It was a good time.
Astronaut!? What?

Brock said...

I always wanted to do a Solaris type thing with you...I think it'd be awesome. I never had a plot or anything, but I kept having these images with you in a space suit, you doing repair on a space capsule...real cerebral stuff like 2001 or Solaris. Maybe slightly ironic. Again, if I found the right plot and the right theme/message for the film, I'd be all over something like that. And I wanted to do it as a short too...although, again, if the idea was awesome enough, I'd probably just throw it back as a feature script to write. Although, I always thought it'd present some interesting visual challenges for Josh...and I know he also loves those types of films. Much too much though...

Speaking of which...I'm definately writing the boxer film after a script I'm rewriting right now. It got a huge response. That's a keeper.

Joshua Provost said...

That's funny about Gabe in space. It would be cool. It's funny what you can put together in your garage, like the Christmas on Mars film by Wayne Coyne (which I haven't seen, but I saw a doco about Flaming Lips where he was working on it extensively). We could take over Gabe's garage, make him park on the street, and build something crazy in there.

Cool to hear that you will write a feature about a boxer. It's a good starting point.

I was thinking back about all the films that we have done, of what would make an interesting feature. Beyond the obvious choice of Johnny B. Naked, The Feature, I actually would love to see Rendezvous as a feature, like a real time following of this guy as he is drawn into these events and his life unravels.

Second, would be The Subject. I actually think you could make a really wild experimental type feature out of this.

Everything else is just good because they are short films and short films only.

Brock said...

Hrmmm...short film wise, I'd go with:

Wildlifeless - My obvious choice. Although, I think there are only two real approaches to it:

1. Set it in India, post colonial rule when a small village is being ravaged by this near-mythical tiger. The villagers try to kill it on their own, but they can't, so they turn to an ex Great White Hunter to finish the job for them.
The film could be a tormented study of the hunter and his various hunts that continue to haunt him, culminating in the killing of the main tiger...sort of like Bringing out the Dead, but with a Big Game Hunter instead of, ya know, an EMT.

2. Expand the concept "Wildlifeless" to include more than just hunting and focus on displaced Brits still living in India after the pull-out. Make it a series of shorts, all tied together by the main theme of change.

Joshua Provost said...

Nice, I'd buy that for a dollar!

Gabe said...

Funny you mention a space movie. I've had images for a movie I'd like to do based on Hum's song, "Little Dipper," which is my working title.

Joshua Provost said...

One of my favorites.