Dun, Done, Dun, Done!!!

So, it’s Tuesday night here in ol’ Woodbury, Minnesota and I’m about as excited as a fella can get. I’m completely rested up from our mad-dash weekend of filmmaking and I’m so pumped about how things turned out, I just can’t stand it.

My new film (written and directed by yours truly) is called High School Drifter and it turned out 800x better than I ever expected. Seriously. We raised the bar on this one and I feel like I’m ready to do another one next month if I have to.

We had all the right gear and everything. I have a bad haircut.

So…if you’ve been following the rules and stuff about the 48 Hour Film Project, you’ll know this about the movies:

1. We didn’t know the genre until Friday night.
2. It had to contain 3 elements that will be present in all of the other entries as well.
3. We had exactly 48 hours to get it done.

Here’s what we knew beforehand and what we had lined up to work with:

1. A location: In this case, a high school in St. Paul.
2. 13 actors. Seriously. I think we overdid it on the talent front. 13 actors in a 7 minute film? Crazy.
3. I wanted there to be ninjas in my movie.
4. One of our actors REALLY wanted to do action-y stuff. Plus, he can crack a bullwhip.
5. Somehow, I wanted to have a custodian in the movie who could kick some butt.

Sounds like recipe for an absolutely terrible movie, doesn’t it?

Big J, Lo-Ol, and I went to the kick-off event which, ironically enough, was in the same building I used to work at before taking my new job. On our way there, we stopped at Ragstock, which is a 2nd hand clothing store. It’s where all the cool alternative kids buy their clothes. We wanted to find a jumpsuit for our custodian. We spotted one and not really knowing what size he wore, held it up to me. It looked like it might be a bit long, but we bought it anyway. $5.

A new breed of action hero. Riki is Mr. Perkinson. Call him ‘Perk.’

At the event, we learned that there were 89 other teams competing. Imagine that. 89 other crews were out burning the midnight oil and slaving over their little films the same time we were. How friggin’ cool is that? At one point, Big J (my producer) looked around and said to me:

“I don’t like filmmakers.”

I can’t help but agree to a certain point. A lot of filmmakers in Minnesota act like they’ve gotta have a gimmick or something to make them stand out. We saw all sorts of goofballs in really dumb sunglasses, ‘arty’ t-shirts and piercings that just looked awful.

All I cared about was picking a good genre. We got stuck with ‘Romance’ a couple years ago and I just didn’t want that one again. Yuck.

Well, after what seemed like forever, I got in line to pick my genre out of a hat. I pulled out the piece of paper and unfolded it.


I was heartbroken. The category is forgiving in that you can pick one or the other, but still. A western in a highschool? What were we going to do? I trudged back to our seat and showed J and Lo-Ol what I picked. Their faces sank.

“We’re screwed,” I said, envious of the people who picked Comedy or Action/Adventure.

We then waited for the 3 elements that all 90 films must contain. They were:

Character: Mr. or Mrs. Perkinson, a subsitute teacher. (we got lucky with that one!)
Prop: A fish. (great.)
Line of Dialogue: “You look very familiar.”

Mr. Saucy yells at Jenny who just wants to be a princess.

With that info, we took off for our meeting at our location, the school.

There, almost all of our actors were waiting in earnest to hear what genre we picked and to hear what kind of movie we were going to make. It was a little intimidating. I’m not a shy guy, but standing in front of about 20 people (cast and crew) and telling them what my plan was made me kind of nervous. Plus, the A/C was off.

“So, hi everyone,” I said. “I’m Thomas and I’m going to be directing this mess.”

(a couple cheap laughs)

I introduced everyone in my crew and we went around and had the actors introduce themselves, too. After that, it was all eyes on me.

“So, we picked musical/western,” I began. “And I’m pretty sure musical is out the door. I don’t think it’s possible to write and score a bunch of goofy songs and make it good. Plus, I’m not sure how many of you want to sing.”

I looked around at the expectant faces and I felt like a general about to lead his troops into a deadly and brutal skirmish. I took a deep breath and said:

“So, I think we should do a movie about a janitor who fights an elite ninja death squad and he can do all kinds of cool moves and say funny things.”

The looks on the actor’s faces were priceless. I was almost positive that a few people would leave and even more would refuse to show up the next day for filming. Their jaws dropped. Someone cleared their throat. One girl raised her eyebrows like it was going out of style.

A member of the elite ninja death squad rides a small bike.

“How is that a western?”

I explained to them that they didn’t expect us to build a wild west set and bring in some horses. We would include elements of a western into the mix. There would be a showdown. The main character would say western-y things. Also, there might be a cowboy hat in there.

Anyway, we waded through other suggestions and ideas and some of them were downright impossible. I told them that I had a plan and that as ridiculous as it sounded, I wouldn’t just make a big pile of crap for a film. I sort of had a vision.

I think.

After we came up with some very vague character ideas and stuff, we told them what to bring to wear. We assigned our big actress a the part of Ninja Death Squad leader and our action-guy was to be our hero, the custodian named Mr. Perkinson. We sent them home and Big J turned to me.

“Write, Troupe,” he said. “You have like 2 hours.”

I sat down and was looking over all my elements. Fish, students, ninjas, school… Good lord, what was I doing???

After 2 and a half hours, I had a script. I printed it off and handed it to my crew and they sat down and read it. It was quiet. Too quiet. No one was laughing at first. All of a sudden, a woman who was married to our camera guy and our go-to person for the location laughed. I was sure everyone else thought it sucked.

The ever patient ‘students’ prepare for music class.

Big J looked up after he finished it.

“It’s too long.”

He did this to me before, when I wrote the script for our film from a couple years ago. He didn’t say he liked it or hated it, simply that it was too long.

I told him he backed me into a corner, having 13 actors/actresses to work with. I said that if we planned it out right we’d be able to do it. For some reason I was completely confident about the whole thing.

At about 1am, I e-mailed the script to our actors and we prepared for what would be a long weekend.

Saturday was an early morning. We had about 4 hours of sleep and had to do some grocery shopping before getting to the set. We bought all kinds of crap to feed our talent and keep ’em happy. We had our main star try on his jumpsuit and…

It fit like a glove!

We got cracking with filming and literally went from 8am until almost 9pm. All of this for a 7 minute film. I won’t bore you with the details, but here are some exciting things that happened during the shoot:

– A girl who played a student was locked into one of the lockers. She was claustrophobic and I had to calm her down so I could direct in how to get herself out.
– I invented a way to launch fake fish guts against a wall.
– Only one actress proved difficult to work with.
– Our grip got his car stereo stolen from his van during the shoot.
– A toilet mysteriously started flushing and wouldn’t stop for 15 minutes.
– We had the guy who did the voice of the HOM Furniture commercials play the principal.
– I wanted breakfast sausages to fall out of a character’s mortal wound during a pivotal scene. It worked.
– There were tornado sirens going off as we packed up at the end of the shoot.

Playing an insane science teacher is hard work. Just ask Clint.

All things considered, our shoot went amazingly well. We did our best not to waste anyone’s time and no one got too angry with each other. There was no yelling really at all. That’s a rare thing for people who are tired, cranky and stuck in the same place with each other for a long time.

But…that was only half of it.

At 11pm or so, we arrived at Big J’s work to edit the thing down. We had 3 guys sitting around me so I could tell ’em what to cut and where. It was surreal. For so many of the projects I’ve worked on, I had to wear so many hats. Writer/director/camera guy/special effects/craft services… To be sort of the guy everyone was asking was pretty cool. Not that I like to be bossy or anything, but it’s like they knew it was my movie and my vision and wanted to make sure I was down with what they were doing.

We worked around the clock. A couple of us had to sleep for a bit. I stole a 2 hour nap. I literally walked into one of the offices in the building, sat in a chair, put my Nintendo hat over my eyes and didn’t wake up until my arm fell asleep….2 hours later.

A couple dudes working with us didn’t sleep at all.

Oh…the really cool thing? A local band called Sherbetty came in to see some of the footage and they sat in another room and recorded a soundtrack to the movie. How sweet is that? They asked what we were looking for and I described our main character and the western feel the whole thing should have. After about 4 hours, they laid down a bunch of tracks and took the movie to a whole different level.

Anyway…we had an edit put together sometime around 3am and we all wanted to cry. The movie clocked in at around 11 minutes. It could only be 7 minutes in length. 8 minutes with the credits. I was ready to jump out the window.

One of our editors didn’t even flinch. He sat back and clipped off little chunks that were unneccesary. We were convinced that he was only chipping away seconds that wouldn’t amount to much. After a couple hours, he had it trimmed down to a lean and mean 6 minutes and 56 seconds.

“Yes!” I yelled, all punchy and delirious from lack of sleep. “We did it!”

We spent the rest of the time plugging the music and sound effects into the movie. I sat in the sound studio and picked which licks from Sherbetty we wanted to use and where. We selected over-the-top sound effects for the fight scenes, really gross noises for the gratuitous violence, and just had a blast doing it. Of course, I could barely keep my eyes open come Sunday afternoon, but I managed to see it though to the end.

Big J delivered the movie to the drop off with about 5 minutes to spare. We all agreed that we were going to do something like this again and soon…maybe not in just 48 hours, though.

So…that’s that. My new film High School Drifter (get it? it’s sort of like High Plains Drifter, except it’s in high school) is going to premiere at the Riverview Theatre on Thursday, June 19th at 6:30pm. It’s stuck in there with a bunch of other entries in the festival. I think HSD will play 3rd from the end.

If you live in the area and want to see it, totally come on down. The judges will pick their top 3 and the audience gets to vote for their 3 favorites as well. Call me optimistic, but I think we’re gonna give them a run for their money.

I made a western. Who woulda thunk it?

Man…if only my work consisted of writing books and making films. How sweet would that be?