Video Producer

Lights, Camera, Christmas!

What do you get when you combine a musical, Priscilla the hypnotherapist, a food container, and a snide “It’s never done that way”? A 7-minute movie musical about a bickering family coming together on Christmas Eve, of course!

This past weekend, I was involved in a 48-hour film project. Well, technically this competition was 77 hours, but it’s still part of the 48 Hour Film Project franchise.

Laura looking at film camera
My friend and director, Christian, teaches me about setting focus. Photo by Dawn Cates.

These one-weekend film competitions take place in cities all over the world. However, this past weekend was the Four Points Film Project, the online-only competition with global entries.

How does it work?

When you register to compete in a 48-hour film project, your team receives certain requirements the Friday evening of competition weekend, which you need to include in your film:

  • Two film genres (you need to select at least one)
  • A character
  • A prop
  • A line of dialogue

Typically, teams will use Friday evening to write their scripts, confirm their actors, gather props and costumes and set up their schedule for the next day. Then, Saturday is the actual day for shooting, leaving Sunday to edit the film.

Winners of each competition get their films screened at an event called Filmapalooza, and the top films from that event get screened at Cannes!

So, what’s with the Christmas Eve musical?

My husband and I volunteered to be writers for my friend’s team – myself focusing on the story, with Ryan writing the dialogue. And because I want to know more about the filmmaking process, I was also slated to help out with the actual film shoot.

As luck would have it (or lack there of), the two genres our team got were Musical and Coming of Age. Now, I need to blame myself a little for jinxing our team. Leading up to the competition, I kept joking that I hoped we would get Musical as a genre because I love musicals so much. Now, this was a joke, of course, because trying to compose, write and film a musical in one weekend is incredibly difficult (more on that later). And when our director asked me what genre I really did NOT want, I said Coming of Age because none of the actors we had lined up were the right age for that kind of story line.

So, yes, here we were with two difficult genres. But with a little ingenuity, A LOT of brainstorming, and the godsend of royalty-free music, we were able to settle on a holiday movie musical.

The other requirements:

  • Character: Priscilla Powanda, a hypnotherapist
  • Prop: a food container
  • Dialogue: “It’s never done that way”

Writing lyrics at 1 am

Teams receive their prompts on Friday at 7 pm. We spent a lot of time brainstorming and looking at the resources we had available before we could even settle on Musical as our genre. Then, it was time to flesh out the story, which the director and I tackled. It was 10 pm before we had that done and Ryan could even start drafting the script.

While Ryan worked on the spoken dialogue, the director and I worked on the musical numbers. We found royalty-free music on Incompetech, selecting the scores that best matched the feeling of each song. Then, it was time to write the lyrics, which took MUCH longer than I expected — partly because we selected some pretty difficult music and partly because I’m a perfectionist (maybe not the best thing to be when you have limited time).

Song lyrics in notebook.
First draft of the lyrics for the opening number.

A little before 2 a.m. I was just finishing up the last the of lyrics, and then I quickly (and quietly) recorded a sample of the opening song, which the actors could use as a reference.

14-hour film shoot

I arrived on set (the director’s house) at 10:30 am after a fitful and short night of sleep, but full of adrenaline and ready to go. The first task was transforming the house into a holiday wonderland ready for a Christmas Eve dinner.

It’s easy to underestimate how much time set-dressing takes. There are all the little details you don’t think of — getting rid of the clutter on the shelf in the background that could be distracting or making sure the stockings have the characters names on them.

Laura painting names on stockings
Putting those crafting skills to good use! Photo by Dawn Cates.

After some quick consultation on the song recording, I helped take the lead on the set dressing. It required a lot of work and attention to detail … and I loved it! It’s no wonder I have interior design on my list of the careers to explore.

Once, we got to actual filming, I did the slate and took notes for each shot. Yes, I did get to say things like “Christmas Musical, Scene 4A, Take 2.”

Laura slates the next take.
It’s all about the digital clapboard. Photo by Dawn Cates.

And because I’m just a teensy bit bossy, I also butted in a little and gave recommendations here and there on shots. Luckily, the director is a very patient and understanding friend.

We began filming around 2:30 p.m. and finished just before midnight. It was a long, grueling day but quite the experience!

Thoughts

I really love the energy of being on a film set — everyone pulling together and pitching in where they can.

Writing was fun, but I think I’d enjoy it more if I was on less of a time crunch. Also, I realized that I’m much more familiar with theater where your script is almost all dialogue, while with film/TV you can have a lot of unspoken moments and you don’t necessarily need to pack the pages with dialogue (unless you’re Amy Sherman-Palladino or Aaron Sorkin).

This was the first time, I did set-dressing, which, as I mentioned before, I really enjoyed! I would definitely be interested in doing that more.

Because of the frenzied timeline of this shoot, I didn’t have the opportunity to learn all that much about actual filming — setting up shots, working the camera — so I’ll be looking to get more of that experience in the future.

I’ve actually had a story in mind for a short film, so I may need to get that script complete and then try my hand at directing …

In the meantime, please enjoy our final film, Four-Part Holiday, and wish us luck on the competition!

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