Monday, December 26, 2016

The Time I Made My First Film: An Ode to dinner.

Junior year of high school, our Theater Arts director challenged our class to make films. It was supposed to be the first annual Media Valley Drama Film Festival. No one in our class had any experience making films at all and none of us really had any equipment. But damn, was I super excited. I had always been pretty interested in film and always curious on my aptitude for it and my director had just handed me the golden opportunity to dip my toes in its warm waters.

We broke off into teams. I partnered with my creative consultant and best friend, Lindsay Carnes. Together, we had already written several scripts and screenplays under what we called "Jopie & Co. Productions." The "company" was named after the first script we had ever written together; a short sketch about a young boy who is transformed into a unicorn. Despite our director's protests that there had to be more members in our group, Lindsay and I were certain of our abilities to complete the project as a creative duo. Our rules were simple: short films of any genre with a maximum of 5 minutes per film (these rules were simple, but we broke them anyway).

The first thing we had to do was (obviously) come up with an idea. Lindsay and I had always done this by just talking for a while until something sounded funny enough to inspire a story. After a rather ridiculous story about Lindsay's brother and a very awkward dinner, we settled on the tale of a young, socially awkward man, meant to be a projection of my own social anxieties, attending a small dinner party with a coworker and the coworker's partner. We titled the film "dinner." and began to draw up ideas. 

We recruited three of our friends (who were part of an opposing production) to be our actors and editors. I began drafting a short, flexible script after deciding to leave much of the actual meat of the film up to the improv skills of my actors. The story would begin with the awkward man, now named "Paul," arriving to the house of his coworker, "John," and his partner "Sandra." As dinner unfolded, "Paul" was to awkwardly announce his undying, but unrequited, love for "Sandra," leaving everyone in a very uncomfortable position. It was to be short, sweet, and almost painful to watch.

We were given two weeks to complete the project, so naturally the great creative minds behind Jopie & Co. decided to wait until 3 days before the due date to actually begin production. It was to be filmed at my house with my shitty, 7 year old video camera (the only video camera available to us poor students). At the last minute, one of our actors (the guy who was supposed to play "John") dropped out, leaving Lindsay to fill the role. "John" became "Joan" and the lesbian pairing of "Joan" and "Sandra" was born, adding an extra layer of awkwardness to "Paul's" love confession. We filmed for roughly 10 hours over the course of two days. I encouraged all my actors to improvise and do as they wished, as long as they stuck to the basic story structure I had laid out. 

On the third day, we gather at the house of Aleyiah Pena (who played "Sandra") to edit the film on her MacBook Air using iMovie, the only software available to us at the time. Grant Kanak, who played "Paul," did not attend the editing session, and yet managed to cause every problem we ran into. As we attempted to cut the film down to 5 minutes, as per our requirements, the slow-talking, awkward pauses left for us by Grant dragged the plot of the film on. We managed to get the film, and its killer (but pirated) soundtrack to fit under 10 minutes and decided to beg our director for forgiveness instead of permission. 

As we arrived to school that Monday morning, "dinner." in hand and pride in our hearts, we beamed at the thought of our classmates witnessing our great, but also kind of awful, achievement. As we gathered in the auditorium, ready to let the great MV Drama Film Fest begin, Lindsay and I excitedly volunteered to present our film first. We stood upon the stage, huge smiles on our faces and presented the great and awkward "dinner."

The film rolled, our classmates laughed, and we beamed with pride and a little embarrassment. As the film ended, we were met with roars of applause from everyone BUT our director. Other films played and finally, after 3 days of watching, we got to vote on the films we thought were winners. The next morning was to  be the presentation of the awards. Lindsay and I were set to award "Best Comedy," secretly hoping to snatch the award for ourselves. As the awards dragged on we were chosen as "Best Soundtrack," "Best Cinematography," and Grant won "Best Actor" for his role. We did not win "Best Comedy" officially, however, by vote count it was nearly a sweep. Our director, however, did not allow us to take home the trophy as "dinner." also walked away with "Best Picture."

As our director presented the award for "Best Picture" she rolled her eyes and said "I didn't really like this one, but it seems like you guys sure did," before announcing us as the winners. It was really rude, but I didn't really care because I was so overwhelmed with the pride I felt. It was magical to make something so true to my friendship with Lindsay and so true to my sense of humor. Being recognized for it was just the cherry on top. 

"dinner." eventually spread through the school and was met with rather mixed reviews, although some people emerged as huge fans. It was almost a cult-classic to the MV Drama kids that year, despite the people who didn't enjoy it. The movie was technically rough, made with a shitty camera and four losers with no experience, but it helped me see that people enjoyed my stuff, thought I was funny, and could see me having a future in this. Really, "dinner." it was inspired me to go to film school. That movie gave me a sense of direction and filled me with the confidence I needed to pursue my passion. It was rough and its pretty stupid, but holy hell do I love it. 

No matter how far my career advances and how much amazing content I make, I don't think I'll ever be as proud or as in love with anything I do as I am with "dinner." warts and all.

If you're curious to see this beautiful shit-show, feel free to check it out below: