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Filmmaker lessons learned participating in Los Angeles 48-Hour Film Project.

Making ‘The Vineyard’ for the Los Angeles 48 Hour Film Project: Lessons Learned

I was always told that the promulgator of Murphy’s Law worked in an Information Services department, but, now I know better – he was a filmmaker.

Vineyard PosterIn August of last year, I decided to enter the 48-hour Film Project – Los Angeles. The contest organizers give you a genre and a number of elements that must appear in the film (so there can be no cheating), and you have 48 hours to go from idea to finished movie.

I’ve made a few short films and have enjoyed the process. The nice thing about living in LA is that there are many actors and technical people nearby. They will often participate for free in projects like this in order to build their resumés.

I started building my team about a month before the contest. This was actually kind of late – overconfidence on my part. But, I had good co-producers in Lora Bofil and Ana Trinidad, and an experienced director and casting expert in Vin Morreale.  The 48-Hour Film Project presented classes in advance and we had plenty of gluten-free and vegan food to feed the actors and crew. This was going to be a breeze.

Friday evening, at the start of the contest, participants line up outside the contest HQ, this year at The Regal Cinemas at LA Live. Each group then gets a chance to draw a genre, with an option to draw a second time if the first one is not to their liking. Our first draw was “Silent Movie.” Vin and I looked at each other and we both shook our heads “No.” The second draw was “Chase Film.” We sped off.

Vin contacted actors while I handled coordination and scouted locations. There were vineyards near my house – it used to be a major wine producing area. That inspired Vin, and he wrote late into the night. Our film would take place in a vineyard.

Filming The Vineyard
Crew filming on location for “The Vineyard”

California is in the midst of a severe drought, the likes of which has not been seen in centuries. We went out to film the next morning and it began to rain. We persevered, damply. We didn’t know that the streets near the vineyard where we chose to shoot seemed to be favored by motorcycle clubs. They drove back and forth, loudly.

Despite these challenges, the team pulled together; the shoot was going well. Then, late in the afternoon, I received a call from our editor. He had not finished the paid gig he was working on, and wouldn’t be able to help us. I let Vin know, and our Director of Photography (DP) overheard. He volunteered to do the edit. Good thing we had a Plan B.

That night, back at my house, as we sat around thanking people and congratulating each other on finishing the camera work on Saturday, leaving plenty of time to edit, the DP got a phone call. Paying gig tomorrow – he wouldn’t be able to edit.

After some discussion, Vin decided to edit the film. He would take everything back to his apartment, do the edit, and I would pick up the final cut Sunday afternoon and drive to LA Live to turn it into the contest. Good we had a Plan C. Although, it’s generally not a good sign when you get to “Plan C” and we weren’t done with plans, yet.

LA Live
After the screening at LA Live, from left, actress Kathleen Maressa, sound engineer Todd Hendrickson, and producers Leo Sopicki and Lora Bofil.

I arrived at Vin’s apartment on Sunday afternoon. He was editing on an Apple laptop computer. It was an heroic effort on his part, but the filmmaking equivalent of sticking needles in your eye. As the deadline approached, he finished the edit and told the software to render our final cut. When it completed, there was nothing on the screen but solid green. I called the contest organizers. They told me that if we didn’t make the Sunday night deadline, although we couldn’t compete for prizes, we could still have our film shown at LA Live if we got it to them by Wednesday.

Plan D. I took the footage with me and aimed to have the editing done by Wednesday.

So, we didn’t win anything, but we produced a film that the participants could be proud of, and we got to see it on the big screen.  Two Lessons Learned: One, never end up having to go to Plan D; Two, if you surround yourself with talented, dedicated artists, you can make your movie.

 

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About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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