Logan Must Make Star Wars

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Our new short film, “Logan Must Make Star Wars”, is now on the YouTubes!  (well, actually, it’s been up for a week or so, I’m just a lazy blogger).

It was a hell of an experience, as all these 48 hour movies are.  We were honored to win Best Story, Best Directing, and Best Comedy at the 10th Anniversary Almost Famous Film Challenge.

It’s probably our last 48 hour movie, as we’re moving forward into features (fingers crossed), but as both Sean Connery and Justin Bieber say … Never say never.

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Photo courtesy of Almost Famous Film Festival

Photo courtesy of Almost Famous Film Festival

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Thoughts On 48 Hour Challenges

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Forty-eight hour film challenges are competitive movie making competitions where you’re given just forty-eight hours to write, shoot, and edit a short film.  It’s exhausting but fun.  And, to add even more craziness to the process, but really to make sure you didn’t cheat by filming before the competition, you’re also given a list of necessary elements you have to incorporate into your movie.  Elements like a specific line of dialogue (“I have a bad feeling about this”), a prop (a vase of flowers), and sometimes a character you have to incorporate (a farmer).

Almost Famous Film Challenge - http://www.thea3f.net

Most of these challenges even give you a random genre.  Sure, it’s a wonderful challenge if you get a genre outside of your comfort zone, blah blah blah.  But what I find instead is that you end up with a collection of imbalanced, surly and mutated films where very few people were particularly pleased with their inherited fate.

I’ve always liked the Almost Famous Film Challenges best because they don’t do that.  Instead they have a “theme” that all the movies have to use, like “Heroism” or “Miscalculation.”  This lets the teams do what they do best.  The horror guys let their freak flags fly … the drama people have a whole bunch of crying and screaming … and we aim our target for as many silly laughs as we can get.  As a participant, and an audience member, I find the results more rewarding.

So my first 48 hour challenge was a complete disaster.

It was in Los Angeles.  An all SAG shoot (that was pretty cool), and I was invited to be the director by my good friends Brandy and Grady.  And it wasn’t the random genre that did us in … although we did get kinda boned there … we got mockumentary.  No, what did us in was “movie by committee.”  As the director I had virtually no say over the script and I wasn’t involved in the editing.  And with no real “vision” guiding the end result, like a normal movie, the final product lacked a comedic edge or any real teeth to it.  It just wasn’t funny.

"The Lords of Dragonhoth"

Two years go by and I get the itch again.  I always felt like it was the process, and not the actual nature of the challenge, that did us in.  The timed nature throws a lot of chaos into the experience, and on a film shoot chaos is death.  You need a “benevolent leader” to make sure everyone’s efforts are unified.

The solution, in my mind, was to make a 48 hour movie just like you’d normally make a normal movie … just, you know, really quickly.  In 2007 I gave the 48 hour challenge thing another go and we made “The Lords of Dragonhoth”, about a melodramatic night of role-playing (the theme was “Heroism”).  The result was a movie that we were quite proud of, and we felt represented our “squishy” sensibilities.

"The Hand You're Dealt"

“The Hand You’re Dealt” was our effort the next year, and in many ways it was a reaction to figuring out what the judges were looking for (more stylization, more energy, better camera work, etc.).

“The Lords of Dragonhoth” and “The Hand You’re Dealt” were completely invented on the night of the challenge.  With “Zombie Team Building”, we knew we wanted to make a zombie film no matter what, so we assembled the necessary props and crew, but we hadn’t written a single line of dialogue or character to honor the spirit of the challenge.

Brian's clever easter egg on "Zombie Team Building"

 

The great thing about these challenges is that it forces you to make movies.  Our goal has always been to not just make a good movie in 48 hours, but make a good movie.  Something that we’d be proud to have in our filmography.

So here’s some quick and scattered thoughts to end on:

– Have these challenges changed the way I shoot?  Did I shoot as fast as I do now?  We shot 46 setups in one day with “The Hand You’re Dealt”, but we topped that with an insane 81 setups for “Masters of Daring.” I’m not sure.  Probably.

– The competitive nature of these film challenges really kick your butt into gear and force you to up your game.  It’s fun to go up against the same teams each year and to develop private and anonymous rivalries.  But also you support teams with similar sensibilities and find yourself rooting for them to succeed as well.

– The downside to these timed challenges is that you don’t have enough time to let the stories germinate before you make them.  Production isn’t too compromised by the rush, but usually the writing is.  Editing is a bit too, but that’s easy to fix afterwards.  With our 48 hour movies I felt like we never had truly solid endings; that the third acts were always a compromised.

– There’s always a point, right about a lunch, during a 48 hour shoot that I feel complete and total panic.  I feel like we haven’t gotten anything we’ve wanted to get, that the movie isn’t coming together, and that it’s all completely and utterly sucktacular.  On “Masters of Daring” I felt that hardcore, but knowing that I felt that on the two previous movies, and I was happy with their end results, I just had to punch through the feeling and keep going.

– With each challenge we felt like we had to top ourselves.  “The Lords of Dragonhoth” had a crew of three and a cast of five all sitting at a table.  Three years later, “Zombie Team Building” had a crew of nearly twenty and a cast of six characters shooting it out with twenty zombies.

Making “Zombie Team Building”

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“Zombie Team Building” was produced with Inside Creative Minds for the 2010 Almost Famous 48 Hour Film Challenge.  For the challenge, the theme we had to use was “a white lie”, the prop was a mirror, and the line of dialogue was, “What just happened?”

A boy and his zombies.

The limit on the finished running time of the movie had to be a five minutes.  However, we elected (or maybe I did, and failed to mention this to anyone) to shoot a ten minute movie in the same amount of time and just turn in a five minute version for the competition.  It was ambitious, but since we were able to pull it off with “Masters of Daring,” I knew we could do it again.

I flew in from Fresno, California just four hours before the kick off.  The next 48 hours would prove to be an exciting and challenging whirlwind.

We were going to shoot in two locations … an awesome industrial exterior to open the movie, and then office interiors where we can run amok.  My girlfriend arranged for the outdoor location, and we toured it right after the kick off, but it fell through at the last moment.  It was for the best, though.  Splitting up the day with a location move would have killed us.

Bracken lines up the next shot

The office building we shot at, which producers Elyse Rukkila and Tray Goodman scored, was scheduled to be renovated.  That meant we had permission to destroy certain walls and splatter fake blood all over the place.  So cool.  I just wish I would have had time to enjoy, like the rest of the crew.  Yes, destroying the building became the favored pastime of the crew, who occasionally got out of hand.  I remember walking down the hall, thinking about an upcoming shot, when an axe handle burst through from the other side of the wall.

What I had originally conceived as a very visual, actiony movie, turned out to be quite character and dialogue driven.  Craig and I wrote what we knew of corporate culture, which was effectively secondhand experience, but it wasn’t until Bracken Batson chimed in with his first-hand experience that the material finally jumped to life.

The ten minute version of the movie included a scene where a zombie (played by Noah Klinge) bursts out of a wall and pulls poor Logan through the hole.  It wasn’t in the script, we just made it up on the spot, but I mean come on … if you can have a zombie burst through a wall … then ya gotta do it!

It can’t believe we pulled it all off in 48 hours.  Props to everyone for doing an amazing job, I’m so grateful.  And thank you to our zombie hoard.  At the Almost Famous 48 Hour Challenge ceremony, ZTB won First Place Comedy, 3rd Place Audience Award, Best Use of Theme, and Craig Curtis took home an acting award for his performance.

The film got a great reception at the Phoenix Comicon (check out the behind the scenes videos),  and coming up on September 3rd it plays at the Dragon*Con Independent Film Festival!

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To watch “Zombie Team Building” visit our website at Squishystudios.com!

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Lords of Dragonhoth – Old Blogs

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The following is a collection of old blogs originally posted on MySpace about the production of “Lords of Dragonhoth.” (Yay!)

This is an interesting look back to Feb. 2007, which was essentially the beginning of the “Squishy Studios brand”, as Dragonhoth was the very first movie of ours to bear the production company name.

Billy The Blood Donor was still in post-production, but at the time we still had no clue what to call our production group. The Lords of Dragonhoth was our first foray into the public arena of competition after a long absence in the local filmmaking community.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

48 Hour Madness

A gang of us stepped up to a 48 hour film challenge just recently. What that is, if you don’t know, if a competition where you’re given by the organization running a line of dialogue, a prop, and a random genre, all of which must be integrated into your movie, which cannot exceed the length of 7 minutes, and must be written, shot, editted, scored, and turned in 48 hours later. Yeah, so not much sleep.

The team was a noble band of skalliwags … Myself and Craig Curtis were both co-writers andco-the-guy-whose-fault-it’ll-be-if-the-movie-totally-sucks. Matt Mesnard was production manager, Basl (aka Jennifer) McIntyre was grip (and colorer of character sheets). Rob Stutsman again brought his knowledge of lighting backtalk to the stage. Our fine cast was made up of Brian Blackwell (my brother), Craig Curtis (as the Evil Gamemaster), Chelsea Monty (yeah, we actually had two girls on our movie set!), Jacob Burton (his virgin outing on filmmaking … we were very gentle with him), and the glorious Steve Noettle (who plays The Stranger in ‘Billy The Blood Donor’). Oh and Logan helped somewhere, sort of.

So our line of dialogue was “I don’t believe you.” Easy enough. The prop was a crumpled piece of paper, BUT it had to be crumpled on screen. And we didn’t get a genre … that was the big hit we were bracing for … no, instead everyone got the same Theme. The theme was “Heroism.”

After about an houror soof walking around Arizona Center, bashing our brains against each other … Craig, Logan, and myself finally settled on an epic battle of good versus evil … afterall it’s the movies that best incorporate the Theme, and that other stuff, that get the highest marks … Yes, a night of heroism over a melodramatic session of Dungeons and Dragons! 🙂

And so “The Lords of Dragonhoth” was born. We wrote the bastard into the wee hours of the night, coming up with a script that was 10 pages long … too long, we should have gotten it down because the final footage ended up being nearly a 14 minute movie (and remember 7 minutes is our cap). The production was long and hard and early and late, but went off without any drama. Before we started we had a big breakfast get-together at Dennys, where I consumed a lumberjack breakfast. Editing was grueling but fun nonetheless.

I did get some sleep, about 4 or so hours each night. No sense in turning in an incoherent movie made by the living dead. In total a stagering 80 groups signed up. You see, this wasn’t just about getting out there with our “A Game”, it was also about competition. In the end, however only about 60 groupsturned their movies in. And then began the long week of waiting to see the results. The way it would go down is … only the Top 20 would be screened in competition for awards. The lower 20, aka the Honorable Mention 20, would not but would still be screened in a movie theater anyway. The 20 below that, which I shall dub the Shameful 20, would not be screened. They had all made terrible movies and would have to learn their lesson. Yes, as I said before, a very long week and one very long night to see where we placed.

Yay! We got in the Top 20! Now begins the even crueler period where we wait for the screening night to see if we mearly scraped the Top 20, or if we are triumphant. There’s several possible award catagories, all with first, second, and third places, so there’s plenty of chances to take something home.

The screening is tomorrow night, and yes I am really nervous. It’s been a long while since I’ve had anything in open competition. And no, it’s not an honor just to be nominated. 🙂 I’ll post the movie after the screening so everyone can check it out. Yay!

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Friday, March 02, 2007

48 Hour Movie Results

And the winner of the 4th Best Drama of the entire film festival goes to … Squishy Studios?!? Uh …………… What?!?

Judge for yourself. Is “Lords of Dragonhoth” a comedy, like we all thought, or a drama in disguise?

Right. So either there was some clerical error or someone has a grave difficulty distinguishing drama from Extremely Obvious Over-The-Top Melodrama! And I sincerely don’t want to brag, but we really did get some of the biggest and most consistent laughs…

Some of the Best Comedies, seriously, got a silent reception. One, which placed somewhere in the 3rd, 4th, or 5th Best Comedy got only one or two chuckles at the end.

Ah, you gotta love this world. It’s better to be severely confused with a smile on your face than to be sad and disappointed any day of the week.

The turn out was great, though. A number of co-workers from the Phoenix Zoo showed up, which meant a lot to me.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dragonhoth at the Phoenix Comicon

“The Lords of Dragonhoth”was selected to play at the 2008 Phoenix Cactus Comicon. The bonus to that was getting to go to the huge, crazy comicon for free.

We also saw Wil Wheaton (from Star Trek: The Next Generation), Peter Mayhew (aka Chewbacca), and just hoardes and hoardes of kids dressed up as their favorite anime characters. It was really insane.

The highlight, in my personal experience, was bumping into Bracken Batson. We were partners in crime from high school, through college, all the way to “Forever Midnight.” It was great to see him again, and after nearly ten years, it felt like no time at all had passedl. Well, we were actually both a bit more over weight, and slowly dying inside atleast from a biological stand point, butother than that…

The showing was really well recieved. It got huges laughs. Some guy was POUNDING on the table with laughter, it was great.

Well, without further ado, here’s the movie…