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|October 9-15, 2008 Fast Film
The 24 Hour Shoot Out is bringing Boulder’s
filmmakers out of the woodwork
by Dylan Otto Krider
You’ll witness more bustle from the merchants setting up booths at the Boulder Farmers’ Market than most of Denver’s church parking lot incarnations can muster at peek traffic. A line has already formed for first pickings of the apparently choice produce being unloaded from one truck, and people wander about with their dogs, waiting for the stalls to open. Michael Conti calls it the life’s blood of Boulder as he hangs a banner for his baby, the 24 Hour Shoot Out, where filmmakers see what kind of seven-minute short can be produced in a single day. Community is what the Shoot Out is all about, and Conti’s hosting a screening of past winners to raise awareness of the fifth annual Shoot Out next weekend.
Conti wears a baseball cap and the kind of wire-rimmed glasses you demand to see on a filmmaker. His tent is strategically placed at the end of the Food Court with tables to take advantage of the captive audience. He slips in a DVD of past winners, and lets it play.
“It’s getting people out to make something, to create something, then sharing what you’ve created with everybody else,” Conti says. “You’re all having to work with common elements, within the same time continuum that’s presented to you.”
It turns out, Conti’s community is a finicky bunch. Within a minute of the video starting, a woman complains the DVD is an “assault” on her ears. After some finagling with one of the Market organizers, Conti agrees to turn the TV down a couple of notches, prompting someone in back to scream, “Turn it up!”
You can’t please all the people all the time, but you can make people feel ownership by bringing them into the process. The Shoot Out is open to anyone with a camera and $100 entry fee. Entrants are provided a tape and a list of elements that must be included in their film (to prevent cheating), and judges select 10 for a Sunday screening where the audience chooses winners in various categories. It turns out, there’s nothing quite so pleasing as knowing something is yours.
A man watching the screening says he has a friend who entered the Shoot Out in past years, and he’s gone to the screenings. He’s a fan.
Conti did hard time at the bottom rung in L.A. as a production assistant for low-budget B-filmmaker Roger Cormen. It wasn’t until he left L.A. that he started making movies, something he calls “Fastfilms” — one short film a month for six months. After moving back to Colorado to start his own video production company, he discovered the 24 Hour Shoot Out in Australia, and decided to start one here.
Three kids wander past the stalls and take their place on the front row, like pod people, not so much caring what’s on TV; that it’s on TV is the important thing. They recognize some of the locations from around town. Luckily for them, the current vid has puppets: dancing turds on strings, over a toilet. It’s a hit.
The production value is low, with a home movie quality that after a period of adjustment, lends to the charm. A charm the new Dr. Who lost when they budgeted for special effects. There’s a certain rawness you get when guys in foam Godzilla suits rigged with phosphorous sparklers stomp model train sets that Matthew Brodrick cooked the life out of in the recent remake. The apostles of the Adam West school of over-acting can tap into something that made Captain Kirk the most compelling of all starship captains, no Shakespearean actor could ever hope to match (Shatner was Shakespearean trained, but we can only comment on what makes it on screen). It’s bad, to be sure, but more Elvira than Sarah Palin; less Shining Through than Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.
I think of something Conti told me the day before in his office, which is hidden behind a massage parlor and accessible by fire escape. “At the end of the day, what does it really boil down to?” Conti asked. “Story. To tell a good story doesn’t mean that if you have a crappy camera, you can’t tell it.”
But there’s something else at work, methinks. It’s the same principle Samuel Johnson alluded to when he said, “A woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
Not only were these things done in a day, but edited in camera.
“That’s what makes this event different from any other event in the whole country — in-camera editing,” Conti told me. “You can’t take the visual into the computer and edit it.” However, you can edit the sound and add a music track, if you like. “If you have a bad visual and good audio, you make the video look better, but if you have good video but bad audio, you’re in trouble. So sound’s very important.”
That means to shoot the short film I’m watching now, with the scene of a woman professing her love for a man on his doorstep interspliced with flashbacks, had to be shot sequentially. Once you envision these actors shooting the scene on the doorstep, changing costume, rushing to another location, shooting, then changing and resuming their spot at this doorway, amusement becomes genuine admiration for what they’ve managed to do within those constraints.
Conti says there were two reasons for the in-camera editing: first, it opened the Shoot Out up to people who didn’t have editing software, and secondly, it presented a challenge to the pros. “From a cinematic standpoint, it’s the purest form of filmmaking,” Conti says. “Hitchcock used it, broadcasters, news reporters — they didn’t have time to edit it. You do the stand up, get the person and shoot it.”
For the pros, it’s a valuable lesson in preparation. A favorite story about Hitchcock was that he was so thorough in pre-production he would sleep when he got to set. The old hands like to come similarly prepared.
Of course, there’s another skill artists can lean on: improvisation. “I’ve seen filmmakers just show up, and they say, ‘We were drinking, and we heard about the Shoot Out on the radio, and we came to make a film,’” Conti says. Some have even made it into the top 10.
The first year, members of an ensemble, stand-up comedy group improvised a film that began with them sitting around a hotel room, discussing what they should enter in the Shoot Out.
If the workshop taking place at a nearby high school is any indication, most people will be relying on the latter skill set. A few weekends before the Shoot Out, experienced filmmakers and teachers help aspiring filmmakers hash out ideas and put together a mini-film in six hours as a sort of warm up. No one appears to be planning on using today’s ideas next weekend, and a majority doesn’t have any idea what they’ll be shooting next weekend.
A survey of the participants represents the fastest growing segment of filmmakers: the 17-and-under crowd. One awkward looking kid has gotten himself in a bit of a predicament. He has taken his nametag and stuck it to his forehead, and is now delicately pulling it off as he winces in pain. He’s home schooled, he says, and wants to make a zombie picture.
There are grade schoolers who want to film something with paper mache rat puppets an adult has made — she says she has 60 of them. One rat is armed with a machine gun, and another puppet has a photo of Hillary Clinton. When she pitches her film — the conflict revolves around a cat problem, a dog and another cat — the class thinks there’s one too many reversals.
There are writers here who want to learn how to do screenplays, a pair of middle-school kids with nothing better to do this weekend, and a few who want to make a career. “Weekend Warriors,” Conti calls them, who naturally believe the way out of their dead end jobs is a movie career — primarily lawyers and psychiatrists.
Who I don’t see represented are the 17 to 35 demographic who actually watch movies. Perhaps making movies smacks too much of homework for film students.
I think again of what Conti said about a crappy camera not preventing you from telling a story. From the pitches, I’m not sure how many stories Boulderidians are dying to tell. Their purpose seems more modest: to make a film.
“I just love the process,” Conti says, “just the going through it and ending up with something after being creatively constipated in L.A. for so long.”
Fast films were the prunes for his creative breakthrough. So, who knows? Bringing his home remedy to others might be just the laxative Boulder needs to start a movement.
On the Bill
The Shout Out Boulder 24 Hour Filmmaking Festival starts on Friday, Oct. 10, and the final screening takes place at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 12, at the Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030. For more information, go to www.theshootoutboulder.com.
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