Just yesterday I sat at my desk and picked out a list of films that I hope to see at Sundance this year. This will be my first time attending the festival and as a recent film school graduate I am very excited and thankful for the opportunity. I put Welcome to the Rileys on my list and eyeing one of its cast members, Melissa Leo, brought me back to a film festival that I had a chance to participate in while still in school at Emerson College. It was the Lake Placid Film Festival and one of my most beloved film professors, Pierre Desir, agreed to take a group of 5 students to the festival for a long weekend to see a couple screenings, including Leo’s academy nominated performance in Frozen River, and to compete in the student 24 hour film Competition, judged by a Frozen River producer, director Courtney Hunt (also nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay), and actress Melissa Leo.
After making the drive from Boston to Lake Placid we were housed in a large dormitory style room that shared a large common area with the other groups. The next day it was time to receive our 24 hour rules and requirements, each movie had to incorporate different aspects of the Lake Placid area, including a marathon, acid rain and a dog (not sure how that one fits in thinking back now, residents of Lake Placid must own a lot of dogs). We had time to brainstorm and then cast from a line-up of local actors.
Under the guidance of Pierre we location scouted while making all the necessary stops, the thrift store for costumes, the local all-purpose store for balloons, streamers, and chalk, and the hardware store for Christmas lights and a dog leash; then we ran around with our from-home props, including a banana suit and got to work. We were, if you haven’t figured it out yet, making a love story. We used two of our own crew, who had an acting background, in addition to the local talent, and we set about creating something simple and something short. We had a goal to edit this movie to be 5 minutes as opposed to the limit of 10. We shot all necessary moments, the meeting of the young, eccentric couple, the honeymoon period and then the simplistic moments that pulled them apart. This all led up to our finale at our most scenic location: the Lake Placid horse track/fair grounds.
We had decided to frame our story around a dance marathon at the fair grounds. Our local actor played the Dance Marathon DJ and our group duo played the last couple dancing. After hours and hours of trying to break the world dancing record, they were exhausted and that’s where we spliced in the memories of their relationship, good and bad, which led them to the final seconds before the marathon would end and they would break the record and win, but in that moment our female character realizes she doesn’t know why she’s still there and leaves.
When our movie played the next day I was surprised at the crowd’s reaction to that moment–horrified gasps and sad laughs at the boy left alone on the fair grounds. Our movie was definitely the most absurd; from its opening moment to its end it held onto a specific, colorful and zany vision. We also made a very big effort to have fun, which not all the groups did, and that was pretty key in this whole sleep-depraved experience.
So it was a wonderful moment when all of our fun paid off and our film, titled “Somebody’s Fool,” won the competition, mainly for our “fellini-esq vision” (thanks Ms. Hunt) and for sticking to a style from start to finish. If I could pinpoint why ours stood out that day I would say it was the style, but it was also more subtle moments, shooting our climax at magic hour, playing with silly dialogue, matching our shots to our art/costume design and most of all, being flexible. We were the only group who chose a non-running marathon and the other groups assigned specific roles to each person in their group, there was a writer, a director, a cinematographer, etc. but we didn’t do that. Sounds scary, right? Well, it’s not if egos are put aside. I’m not suggesting that any film be made like this, but for a 24 hour competition, it was vital even if we did receive some flack for this by the judges. By pooling 5 experienced student filmmakers’ minds we came up with the best concepts to suit our movie and we kept everyone involved.
So this second blog of mine told a story, but hopefully it showed you that I enjoy filmmaking and making projects happen successfully and also, that I understand that each project is different and each filmmaker has different needs depending on what they’re making and how they’re making it. The key is flexibility and learning how to make your specific movie happen, and of course, I also learned that winning feels good, so let me and SAGIndie help you improve your movies so you can win at your own festival competitions no matter how big or small they are!