Another spring-time in Boston means another go at the 48 Hour Film Project. I’ve blogged about past 48 HFPs here and here, and participating in this filmmaking weekend event is something I take pretty seriously. I think it’s a great exercise in working quickly and efficiently and I encourage all filmmakers at every level to give it a go. I think it is a challenge for even the most experienced among us, and is just great to create a piece, start to finish in just one weekend.
Watch our film first and then I’ll talk a little about this year’s requirements and the process of putting this one together:
This was the 8th 48HFP that I’ve DPed and the 3rd working with my core team of director Micah Levin, writer/producer Keith Wasserman, and composer Jason Jordan. Our genre this year was “Silent Film”. When I first got the text that this was our genre, I have to say I was quite thrilled. I think 48 Hour films often show their weakness in poorly written or acted dialogue, and we always try to go about minimizing that in our films. This was a chance to create a visual and musical landscape that would help to tell our story. Plus it meant that logistically, on-set audio was something we weren’t going to have to worry about. (And the entire day we shot as I heard construction noise or airplanes I kept thinking how great it was that this was not an issue.) But there were other challenges in coming up with a story to tell through a silent film. We had pre-planned for locations (in and around Marblehead, MA) and had our actors secured, and had talked about a general tone we wanted for this year’s film. We wanted to do something a little less dark and moody as we’ve done with our last two 48s. Something more upbeat or heartwarming. Ultimately after a couple hours of tossing around ideas (which generally came back to the dark and moody) Micah came up with the core idea that we used in our film, and he and Keith went off to develop the story.
No film project is short on challenges, but I’d say that this one went pretty smoothly.
We shot from about 9am-9pm on Saturday using Keith’s house in Marblehead as home base and for interior locations. Marblehead was a wonderful location, that feels very removed from the rest of Massachusetts and Boston, so we did our best to showcase the different environments of this coastal town. We lucked out with some fabulous weather which made it a treat for shooting outdoors (although that said I spent much of the day shooting with a jacket over my head to shade the monitor….. still waiting on a new EVF from Alphatron which will help this situation out). Our actress Gigi Raines had an active day of climbing rocks, kayaking, and biking around the not-so-flat streets on a rickety old single speed bike. She gets mad props for being open to whatever we asked her to do and I had a blast filming from kayaks and the back of a pickup truck.
Probably the most eventful part of filming was ending our exteriors with shooting on a small island off the coast. We had 2 kayaks, and I filmed Gigi from one kayak (which Micah paddled) and then on the return I got in the 2-person kayak with Gigi. The island was accessible by foot during low-tide, so 2 additional crew members, Stephanie and Peat walked out to help us out on the island. We were told that we had 2 hours until the land bridge got submerged. That was NOT the case, and we realized halfway through filming on the island that the bridge was half gone, so Stephanie and Peat waded knee deep along jagged rocks to get ashore while we finished up. But I think we timed things perfectly in terms of getting some beautiful magic hour light on the island for the climax of our film.
We raced home to shoot our final exterior scene with Keith and his daughter Lila (who was up past her bedtime) so we were VERY pressed for time getting our 3-year old actress to perform as she was clearly over tired. She did great and we ended up with some very cute moments.
I left Keith and Micah with the footage on Saturday night and they headed to Jason’s studio in Cambridge to post the film. I actually had a work shoot the next morning at 5am (I don’t recommend doing this on a 48HFP weekend) so I raced home to get a few hours of sleep. I met up with the team in the early afternoon to see how things were going. Micah showed me a rough cut when I got there and was blown away (and I was watching it before the music had been laid in). Micah is a great editor and director and it’s always a pleasure working with him. I could hear Jason working on the score in the next room and was getting goosebumps from what I was hearing. I mostly wanted to stay out of the editing process and actually waited to watch the piece with final music until we were completely finished.
We definitely felt the race against the clock on Sunday, as little tweaks were made, and things fixed, and 7:30pm was growing closer and closer. We basically knew we were going to do a version one output and send Keith with it to the drop off then continue working and see if we could get a revised version in in time. The biggest snafu was that an output setting got messed up on version one and we realized that the audio had been output as 8-bit. This was VERY noticeable and I thought Jason and Micah were going to have a heart attack while we were figuring this out. We figured out the issue but did send Keith off with that version. One other setback was that I had shot to my KiPro at ProResHQ setting (the highest it can do). We cut in HQ as well and they only accept ProRes (not HQ), so once we output a QT Movie, the process of encoding to ProRes was longer than we had expected. In hindsight, whatever quality gains by shooting HQ (which I’m guessing are minimal) was not worth it. We spit out the new version with fixed audio and a few fixed edits, and Micah and I raced to the drop off with the file transcoding to ProRes on my laptop in the car. By the time the file spit out to the USB thumb drive we had about 10 minutes to spare. For a team that generally prides itself on finishing WAY early, this was cutting it too close for comfort, but we got it in nonetheless.
We shot this film on the Sony F3 with a Aja KiPro Mini. I used a mix of Nikon zooms and primes. Nothing fancy. These lenses I think work pretty well and are a good value. This was one of the first projects I shot using the SLOG setting on the F3. I thought this was a risky choice as I’ve only played around with the shooting/post process of SLOG a few times, and thought on a project with such a quick turnaround that it might not have been that smart. On Saturday morning when I got up, I planned just to use the Abel Cine Range profile, but when I read the script and looked at the weather and realized we were going to be dealing with some pretty contrasty outdoor scenes, I elected to give SLOG a try, thinking that the extra latitude would be of value. I am still learning a bit on the best way to shoot/monitor SLOG, but on that day we just viewed without any LUTs (both on the camera) of the external monitors. I still think I have more to learn about grading SLOG, and this was all done myself with FCPs 3-way color corrector and Magic Bullet Looks. I think it looks pretty good, but I may see about having a pro colorist take a crack at it because I am curious to see what they can do with it.
Ok, this post is way long (luckily I put the video at the top), so if you’re still reading you get a pat on the back. Anyway, I think this is the 48 HFP film I am most proud of, and I feel like everything really came together perfectly.
(Pics by Stephanie Saltzman)