Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Keith Wasserman: On the 48 Hour Film Project

Keith Wasserman was a member of team from Movie Magic Media that participated in the recent Boston 48 Hour Film Project. Teams had just 48 hours to produce a movie in a genre they were given, and they had to include three specific elements. For this years movie, their team had to produce a War / Anti-war genre movie, and it had to have a chess piece as a prop, a character that was an Aunt, and the line of dialogue, “I didn’t see that coming.”

This Thursday, June 9th, at 7pm there will be a screening of all the films at the Kendall Square Cinema, One Kendall Square, Cambridge.

At last Sunday's Boston Media Makers I spoke with Keith about what it's like participating in a 48 hour film project (you can view their completed film on Vimeo, listed below.)

Q: This is your fifth 48 hour film project?
I think it’s the fifth or sixth year. I’ve taken a year or two off.

Q: Have you been working with the same group of people each time?
I have been doing it with, for the most part, the same group of people. I think the first three years I did it with the same team. The first two years I was the writer, and the third year I was the editor, working with same DP and the same composer and the same director.

After those movies, I decided to put together my own, completely different team, where I brought in a new editor, and I was the director. That went okay. And then I took a year off

For the last two years I have worked with the same editor, who is now the director, and the same DP and the same composer from the earlier years.

Q: How many people are in the team?
This last year my team was ten people, including the three actors.

Q: What were the roles?
Writer/producer, editor/director, D.P., Gaffer, Special Effects Artist, Production Coordinator, Composer.

Q: Is that typical?
If you’re smart, less is more, the more you can accomplish, because you only have 48 hours to write the script, etc. It’s an exercise in chaos. Earlier, during the first two films, we found we had more people in the writing room, and you get everybody adding their two cents and speaking up “what about this,” and “how about that?” … in film production everybody should have a job, and you do your job and sort of let the director’s vision inform the DP, so we’ve streamlined it.

Q: For those not familiar with it, how does a 48 hour film project work?
Friday night, at the kick-off event, you draw a genre from a hat, so you don’t know what genre it’s going to be [until then]. And every team is given the same three elements, which is a line of dialog, a prop and a character. Every film needs to incorporate those elements.

Q: How did that 48 hours breakdown?
Friday night we wrote from 7 to 10. Micah - who’s the director - and I, we brainstormed a concept and then we met up with the DP and the composer at 10:30 and we hammered out the concept and got a little input of what they think, to create kind of brush strokes; 'what’s the texture?' 'what’s the tempo?' 'what’s the feel?' and then the composer went home and started writing cues, and I went home at midnight and wrote the script from the concept.

Then we had a 7am production start, so everybody was there. We started shooting around 9:30 - 10 by the time we were lit and what not. We shot all day until about 10 at night, and then we went directly into the editing studio, had a rough cut by 3 am, went home, slept for about 5 hours. Came back to the studio at 9 or 10 and had the rest of the afternoon to get the final cut, lay in the soundtrack, color it, sweeten it and deliver it by 7.

Q: What was the biggest problem you encountered?
The biggest problem turned out to be a gift, and it was that at 10 o’clock on Saturday morning, our fourth actress up and quit. She said “You know what, this isn’t for me,” and she left, which forced us to scramble and collapse some of the characters and refine the story a little bit, which turned out to be a godsend.

Q: Do you find you learn things each time, or do you have a process down, now, and you just do it?
Last year we hit a stride where we had one actor, with two cameo’s. But really it was one actor and there were about three lines of dialog in the whole thing.

In film you want to show, not tell. You want to move a story visually, so the challenge is how do you make something that’s visually compelling - and moves the story along - but is condensed and concise enough to be a five minute film that we can make in 48 hours?

The inclusion of having an effects artist on our team was huge. Last year we had Sc-Fi, this year we had a War. Or anti-war, you could choose.

But the Writer writes, and communicates that to the Director, who gets a vision. The Director communicates to the DP, who makes it look right, and then the Composer comes in. You don’t have overlap, you don’t have too much distraction from what the job is.

Q: What would your biggest piece of advice be to someone doing it for the first time?
Script it Friday night, Shoot it Saturday, edit it Sunday

Q: Why do you keep doing it?
I think it’s an amazing exercise. We have our team now. These are my friends, and we all work in the industry, and we’re always like “oh, we should do something,” but we never do because we have families. But the 48 hour comes along and its an opportunity for us to say “okay, we have a structure, somebody’s giving us a deadline, let’s do it.”

And then it’s an exercise really…artist’s don’t like rules, and yet we need them, and they’re helpful. And artists don’t like deadlines, but we need them, and they’re helpful. So I think doing the 48 hour film project is an opportunity to impose some structure and see how creative we can be within that structure, which is just like working in the real world with clients or other people who are asking you to make this, or do that.

Q: Has it helped you in your regular production life?
On a personal level, I come from a theater background, and the first time I was working on a film set and it took four hours to light a scene that lasted 30 seconds, and my reaction was; “this is ridiculous! This is how a movie is made?”

And then over the years, as I’ve worked on different sets and seen different types of films being made, from documentaries to music videos, I’ve learned more about what the process is like. On some level, making movies is grotesquely irresponsible, with the type of money it takes, so I really appreciate that you only have 48 hours, so you really need to be respectful of everybody’s time and respectful of the ideas. We make these movies for no money. We volunteer our time, we volunteer our gear, and we’ll spend a hundred bucks on props, we’ll run to Home Depot, and so for $150 bucks and donated time we can make something so beautiful.

Q: How do you feel about what you ended up with?
Oh my god I’m so proud. I feel as though these last two films we’ve made, you can lop off the opening title card that says this was made as a 48 hour film project and just put it out there and it will absolutely hold up as a film that could have taken a week to make with a $5,000 budget.

Boston 48 Hour Film Project
Date: Thursday, June 9th
Time: 7pm
Place: Kendall Square Cinema, One Kendall Square, Cambridge
Tickets: $10

Movie Magic Media’s official submission to the 2011 Boston 48 Hour Film Project.

Directed & Edited by Micah Levin
Written & Produced by Keith Wasserman
Director of Photography- Benjamin Eckstein
Music & Sound Design – Jason Jordan
Visual Effects – Will Cavanagh

Lauren Michelle Alexander
Sarah Douglas
Gigi Raines
Micah Levin


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