48 Hour Film Project – Part 2 (Saturday)

It’s Saturday morning…who’s gonna play with me??? 6 in the morning baby, I gotta long day ahead of me.

The Music Box Theater. Our home for 12+ hours…

I swear that was the song (by the Eels) playing in my head when I woke up ready to tackle our movie. The script for FutureSand was done and all I had to do now was show up, tell people how to act and what I was thinking about when I wrote such and such part and it’ll be simple right?

Well…not quite.

Kids, here’s what a 2 hour script looks like.

First of all, getting to the Music Box Theater was a trick. If you know anything about Minnesota, there are 2 seasons: Winter and Road Construction. It gets to a point where you can’t wait for it to get warmer and then when it is, you can’t wait for it to get colder so all of the construction dudes are out of work for the winter. Land of 10,000 detours.

Again, I’m getting ahead of myself…

Last year, Jason and I had to do all the shopping for food and stuff for our cast n’ crew. This year, we had PEOPLE for that. It’s still weird to think that I’m not part of every little aspect of my dumb movies. But, in this instance, I was okay with it. The one thing I DID need to get? A sandwich. I knew of a place to get one that weighed 2 pounds and was just insane looking. So, I swung by, got that, some Caffeine Free Diet Coke (delicious) and some OJ (real OJ) for everyone. I ended up getting 2 sandwiches, just in case…

Once I was at the theatre, I was sort of floored by how much stuff was already happening. Our crew was there and as soon as I was in the door, Brian (our DP, or director of photography a.k.a. camera guy) was asking me about the first shot.

We had a bit of a situation. We needed to move further into the theater as the day went on. At 5pm, an event was happening in the lobby and we needed to shoot accordingly. Thankfully, we thought of all that before we left for the measly few hours of sleep we each got. I told him we somehow needed to make it look like our heroes were coming out of the sand without people being able to see Nicollet Avenue. I knew we had a VFX guy with us and we talked to him about how to make it happen.

Riki ready to go green.

Meanwhile, he was already in the theater setting up a green screen. I’ll admit to not being overly technical, so I sort of let him set it up and we’d figure out what to have the actors do later.

Watching the magic of green screen.

Oh, yeah…the actors! We were lucky enough to get Riki Robinson (who played Perk in High School Drifter) return. We also had an ex-wrestler/actor named Bill Borea join our cast. Jason wanted us to somehow use his and Riki’s talents in a fight of some sort. Thankfully, I worked that into the script. We also had Kathy Kupiecki, who is a talented actress. She also used to date my younger brother, so it was like a mini family reunion of sorts. We also had Joel Allard, who is a musician/actor/renaissance festival guy and friend of Jason & Dirty Abbott (our editor). Rounding off the cast? A last-minute addition actress named Katie Willer. We’d never seen her act and knew virtually nothing about her. When I’d met her the night before in our ‘brainstorming’ meeting, I figured out the best part for her to play.

I wish I could get into Katie’s head: What is this piece of crap I’m in?

Anyway, from the get-go, I was ‘on.’ We decided to make the entrance into the theater kind of dramatic. We set up some fake doors, stapled thick plastic over them to look like the place was barricaded from the storm outside. We thought we’d make it look like our heroes were breaking in for shelter. Bill would pull a board free and then slice through the plastic with a knife. Very cool looking.

The fun part? On the first take (of which we couldn’t screw up) I shouted out: “Oh, that’s bad-ass!” The not so fun part? We were rolling sound, so I almost completely ruined the shot. Yeah…that’s what happens when you’re tired, excited, and haven’t directed anything for a year.

We spent WAY too much time here. First scene took us over 2 hours. Yikes.

After we shot that, which took us FOREVER and totally put us behind schedule, it was time for the green screen shot. You know, a lot of people (myself included) make fun of the actors in the newer Star Wars movies because their acting is so wooden. The reason? Nothing around them is real. All of it is digitally created and these poor people are surrounded by green screen. So, suddenly, I’ve got my actors in front of a green screen and I’m shouting things for them to do. A cool thing? We had a wind machine, so it looks like they’re in the thick of it.

“Okay, look up!”
“Bill, point at the theater out there in the middle of the sand.”
“Riki, I need you to nod.”
“Can you do the vulcan thing with your hands, Kathy? To block the sand, but still see where you’re going?”

You get the idea. I wasn’t sure how it was going to look and it was at that moment, I began to wonder if I was making one of the worst films ever. I still didn’t love the script, I wasn’t sure how any of the visual effects would look, and we were already horribly behind.

It’s hard when people are waiting for YOU to decide. For reals.

From there we did a TON of stuff inside the theater itself. We had the soldiers telling war stories, and we had our first ‘fight’ type of scene. Thankfully, we had the talented Michael Anderson (who’s done fight coordinating before) on our team. He showed Kathy how to slap Katie and make it look good. I stand in awe of the guy and wished we would’ve had him when we did our fight scene in High School Drifter. Ah, well…

We’d originally set aside 3 hours for the big fight scene, but as things started to take longer than anticipated, that chunk of time was quickly eaten away. Jason, who sort of needs to keep us on track (as the producer) kept reminding us that we were falling dangerously behind. We didn’t have any REAL reason to be done overly early, but if we didn’t get our crap together, that would eat into the editing time and all of the other post-production things we needed to get done. Our plan was to be done by 8pm.

Jason had that look on his face the entire weekend.

Oh, and did I mention that Kathy had to be done by 6pm to make it to her gig at Theatre in the Round?

Here’s one thing I can tell you about having lots of people working with you on your film. It’s awesome, but it’s also exhausting as all get-out. I was constantly being asked stuff by everyone around me, from Lori my assistant director, who was great at getting people to quiet down before takes, to Jason and Brian the DP. I swear, any time I sat down, the dude was calling me…

Brian and I working out the blocking on scene 1. I swear this shot isn’t staged.

“Thomas Kingsley…can you take a look at this?”

It’s funny. I don’t think my butt touched a seat for longer than a minute or two before I was up and getting something else going.

Apparently this is how they should hold their guns.

The one thing I think I did better this time around was that I spent some more time with my actors. I sort of gave them a ‘template’ of what I was looking for from each of them. Something like this:

Bill: Tough and gruff. Sort of like Michael Biehn in ‘The Terminator.’
Riki: The good guy. Likeable, but sort of conflicted.
Kathy: A take-no-B.S. woman who’s survived plenty, but is starting to crack.
Joel: Sort of a horn-dog. It’s the end of the world and he’s hitting on chicks.
Katie: Scared beyond belief. Sort of in the background and gets treated like dirt.

Anyway, we were able to cobble something together for the fight scene and again, I turned to my expert on this. My only demands were that Bill gets punched in the ‘seeds’ and that Riki breaks his cigar (which leads to something else that I’ll let you see when I post FutureSand here later). The rest was up to him.

We didn’t know how the heck to shoot that scene without seeing lights, or grips or other stuff that shouldn’t be there in the back ground. Brian had his work cut out for him. We also had to remember to change up the clothing since the fight was supposed to take place two days later. Thankfully, my actors were much more in tune to that that I was. They’d remind me…

I think I’m describing the 2 pound sandwich here. Hmmm…not sure.

“Hey Thomas, since we sort of dressed down, we shouldn’t have our scarves and crap on still, right?”

Bless their hearts.

Once the fight was done and I was ready to take a nap or just sit for a minute, we were all ready to eat some lunch. Again, this was taken care of for us. Rebecca, our production manager, took care of getting a bunch of mini sandwiches from Subway. We ate like kings (I ate standing up) and we were immediately back at it, desperate to try and catch up.

Not sure what we were doing, but I love that sign.

Oh…one of the cool things we did this year was have our editor, Dirty Abbott, on site editing as we went along. This was a huge change for me, but here’s how it worked. Our camera shoots on things called P Cards. They’re basically huge memory cards that our footage gets recorded onto. Once we fill it up pretty good, we switch it out and someone runs it downstairs to where Dirty is set up. He starts to pick the good takes and assembles it using the script as a guideline. This allows us to see a rough cut of the movie quicker than if we were to just put it ALL together later.

Dirty Abbott, cooling out in the basement.

The problem? I couldn’t help but feel like the way the movie would go together would be in someone else’s hands. It’s a hard thing to give up and I really struggled with that, even though Dirty is one of my best friends and I trust him with ‘my baby.’

Anyway, we powered through the rest of the shoot and I was happy with what we got. We didn’t have to cut anything from the script. Essentially we shot everything that was on the page, even if we wouldn’t be able to use it for the ‘festival’ edit. We knew we’d do a director’s cut later, so we were thankful for all that. Everyone got done on time, no one got hurt and I think everyone involved was happy with how the shoot went. The guy who runs the theater (who makes a cameo as a corpse) was ECSTATIC about everything. Over and over again he was like: “This is the coolest thing ever. If you ever want to shoot something else here, just let me know.”


After Jason and Dirty went off to edit, I stuck around and helped the grips and everyone get the theater back in order. We actually didn’t mess the place up so bad, so I felt good about that. I got a chance to call my son, Travis, who was in Mankato with Laura (my wife) and Jake (my littlest guy). I hadn’t talked to those guys for a while and when I got on the phone with him around 8pm-ish, he sounded beat.

ME: “Hi buddy, how are you?”

TRAVIS: “I’m gooooood.” (his words drag out when he’s tired)

ME: “I just got done shooting our movie.”

TRAVIS: “Is it for kids?”

ME: “No, it’s not for kids. Maybe some day you can watch it.”

TRAVIS: “Okay. Bye.”

He’s not one to mess around on the phone, that Travis.

Once we were done at the theater, it was time to say goodbye to the crew that helped make the shoot possible. All of our awesome grips: Jonny, Dusan, Doug. Our gaffer (who was with us last year) Tony. And of course, Brian, who is irreplacable behind the lens in my opinion. I packed up and headed to Jason’s work where the next portion of the show was underway…

Let me say right now that at this point in the process, my sense of humor was pretty much depleted. I’d just spent over 12 hours on my feet, running around, thinking on the fly how each scene was going to work and answering a million and a half questions. Lightning fast decision making and sort of being ‘on’ for that long is EXTREMELY exhausting. So, when I got to the place where the editing, music and sound stuff would take place, I was sort of wiped.

When I learned that I wasn’t really going to be able to sit in while the ‘rough cut’ was being assembled? I was sort of pissed. Well, not sort of. I was really unhappy about this. That, and Dirty was sort of messing with me. I’d ask him:

ME: “That part where Joel is doing that thing…”

DIRTY: “Yeah, that’s gone.”

ME: “What about…”

DIRTY: “That didn’t work out. We’ll lose that, too.”

I didn’t know it at the time, but he was totally screwing around and trying to be funny. Again, in retrospect, it’s funny. But just then? Ooooh…I wanted the guy dead.

So, we sat and we waited. I tried in vain to order Papa John’s pizza for all of us and couldn’t figure it out. Our set photographer, Greg Schaal (who took most of these pictures) did it for me instead. The band, Sherbetty, came in and got ready to record some music for us, too. They helped us out last year on High School Drifter, so I was stoked that they were back.

After a long time, it was time to look at the rough cut. I think it was somewhere around 11pm. We all gathered around and watched to see what Dirty put together out of all of our hard work and sweat.

…and it looked awful.

Now, that’s not to say it was Dirty’s fault. I sort of thought “Oh, man…this sucks. We didn’t capture any of the cool stuff that we wanted from the less-than-award-winning script I wrote. But you gotta remember kids (which I seemed to forget)… It didn’t have music, it didn’t have sound effects, none of the visual effects were done. It was literally a barebones skeleton of a movie. Even so, I couldn’t help but be disappointed…and tired.

Long story short? Dirty went back in to tighten things up and I sulked on a couch with my swollen feet up, putting pizza into my gob. I got to talk to the band a bit and learned that Jason was hoping for a John Carpenter-esqe sound to the movie. I wasn’t sure it would work, but was excited to learn they wanted to write a song (with lyrics) for the end credits.

After a couple hours, it was time for us to see another edit of the movie. The band was jamming as we watched a much better cut of FutureSand. Somewhere around 2am, we realized there was nothing much more to do. Jason stuck around while the band recorded their stuff and I headed home. I ended up getting to bed around 3:30am or so.

The plan was to be back to finish things up the next morning around 7am.

Flashback: Friday night…not sure I love my script.

Ah…moviemaking! Isn’t it glamourous???