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Beating the Clock

A behind-the-scenes look at the madness and magic of the 72hr Filmmaker Showdown by Dawn Green

Whereby this intrepid writer follows in the footsteps of five film crews, out of 30, to experience firsthand the mammoth effort, along with the belly-aching laughs, involved in pulling together a show-stopping short film extravaganza. The 10 finalist filmmakers, four of whom I followed, presented their finished works April 17 (see page 66 for story on the winners). Pique hopes this peek inside the trials and tribulations these five groups faced will give readers some perspective on the insane pressure these artists work under during this project.

Day 1, April 13, 2012

9:02 a.m. Whistler Conference Centre, Grand Foyer

The atmosphere in the room is tangible — it's a nervous, edgy and excited vibe I pick up on as I enter and take a seat. The feeling is contagious and soon I find myself tapping my feet in anticipation. It's Friday the 13th but no one seems overly superstitious, or else they would have rolled over and stayed in bed today. Because luck is definitely needed, along with blood, sweat and tears, for anyone attempting to pull this one off, I reckon.

I am at the mandatory directors meeting for the launch of the Olympus 72hr Filmmaker Showdown, watching the steady trickle of directors enter the foyer, get registered and sit down or gather at the back of the room. Some wear colourful attire, some appear nervous, others look like they just woke up — yet what they all clearly share is a passion and intensity for filmmaking, with perhaps a streak of recklessness mandatory to undertake an enormous endurance venture such as this.

A guy sits down beside me and it turns out it's director Harley Francis, whom I have interviewed on the phone, and who has agreed to have me watch some of his filming today.

"Hey, can we kill two birds with one stone and have you fill in as an extra?" he asks me with a pleading look in his eyes. I laugh and tell him I would be delighted to help out — after all, what better way to experience filmmaking than from both sides of the camera?

Francis is determined not to repeat history, describing last year's efforts as "disastrous and stressful." Nearly everything went wrong that could possibly go wrong, he says, and yet his film was one of the finalists.

"I don't want to come across sounding jaded," he insists as we sit and wait for the meeting to commence. "It's something that's insanely fun. It's what I want to do ... it's an excellent opportunity to showcase and create a short film to an amazing audience."

I nod in agreement.

After the registration process is complete and sufficient mingling time has lapsed, Jaime Kerrigan, Watermark's multimedia event producer, kicks off the meeting. She reports that there are 30 teams in total who will have 72hrs to complete their short films (Watermark Communications Inc produces the festival).

After a lively Q&A period, Kerrigan turns to the most anticipated part of the meeting — the announcement of the surprise prop. Every year a prop is introduced to test the directors' creative abilities, as it must be incorporated into their film for at least five consecutive seconds. There are groans in the crowd mixed in with laughter as the prop is revealed ... it's a toy Styrofoam plane.

Kerrigan introduces me to the crowd during the meeting, asking if there are any film crews happy to have me tag along and I am pleasantly surprised by the gathering of people queuing up to speak with me. After a mad exchange of business cards and phone numbers, they scatter to the winds to start their filming.

The race is on.

The 72hr Filmmaker Showdown debuted in 2002 and festival director Sue Eckersley is pumped about the 10-year anniversary. "I love it because it celebrates a ton of talent, because there are teams running around town creating a buzz, because it's amazing and everyone knows it," she says.

This year the title sponsor, Olympus, will be lending camera equipment out, as well as offering technical support on the equipment. If the winning project is filmed exclusively with Olympus cameras, that team will take home an additional $5,000 in prize money, on top of the $10,000 for overall Best of Show.

Meanwhile, I do not have far to go — Francis is actually filming in the very foyer where the meeting occurred and he immediately sets in motion the steps to set up for shooting. It's full-on... boxes are unpacked, light stands erected, sand bags tossed down and after a flurry of activity, it's time for shooting. But wait... first a table is shifted — bad sunlight — a curse is uttered, followed by a dash to the nearby hardware store for a missing screw.

I'm handed a white T-shirt and I pull it over my head and sit down next to the two other extras. As we chat, I can feel the heat of the lights on us.

Francis gives us a rundown on what we're supposed to be doing — he's shooting the very last scene of the film first and we are supposed to be event organizers who are sad because no one's turned in a film this year. Then we must be surprised when an actor comes strolling through the door and throws a finished film down on the table in front of us.

The film, called Instacam, is a take on DSLRs and how they have made filming much more accessible. The plot revolves around someone creating an app, which makes an iPhone the best film tool, but then in a cunning and devious plot the app creator attempts to take over the filmmaking competition.

We do it once, twice... and then I lose track of the takes.

I volunteer to say the one line, "There's somebody coming with a film!" Holding the boom mike over my head, Francis tells me to say the line. I say it once ... no, louder, again. I feel flushed in my cheeks when I shout it out the final time and I am rewarded with a resounding, "That's great!" Whew, that was nerve wracking but so much fun.

It is now 11:17 a.m., only an hour and a bit into the 72hrs and I am exhausted already. I watch Francis shoot another scene and then set my sights on finding the next film crew to follow.

At 12:02 p.m. I catch up with Karim Ladki and crew at the skateboard park. Ladki is co-producing their film, Sticks and Spokes and Broken Bones. It just so happens that a professional film crew is in town to film a feature documentary on 9Lives Adventures, the tour company he founded, so he suggested they enter the 72-hour showdown as well.

"The plot is about highlighting the accessibility of Whistler," he says, "and showing that all these sports that we are going to be doing, like skateboarding and skiing — not only can disabled people do it, but they can actually do it better than most able bodies."

A comedy on the conflict between an able and disabled group, the film culminates with a battle scene on a bridge, where we head for the next shooting. On the way, I speak with the producer, Elissa Spangler.

"We are pretty organized and are used to working on a larger scale," she says, emphasizing that they want to have a good time making the film and keep it light hearted. Given the fake moustaches and endless laughter amongst the crew, I think they're achieving their goal.

For Spangler, despite the comic aspect, there's an important message in the film.

"Whistler is accessible to everyone. That is really important to us too... it is about overcoming disability and to give a better picture of what disability looks like."

The cameras get adjusted and re-adjusted and Carlos spends time with the cast, discussing the nuances of behaviour for the battle scene and demonstrating how he wants them to act.

I learn that patience is the essence of filming as it involves waiting and more waiting around, and I am already becoming familiar with the lingo heard on the set when the filming finally resumes.

"Quiet on the set... rolling... action... cut!"

1:06 a.m. I catch up with Jonny Fleet and crew for the shooting of a bar scene at the Elephant & Castle pub. Fleet and his crew were last year's winners and this is his fifth time in the event.

"We prepare for a month at least before the competition," he tells me as he takes a sip of beer. "We start writing ideas before the contest and then we all pick a script together and then the script goes through four or five drafts. Then we work on getting all the locations and all that stuff. It is like planning a wedding. You plan for months for one day's work."

He says winning last year was a stepping-stone for the team where they went from being a group of "dirt bag" filmmakers fresh from film school to actually being recognized for their work.

You like the time deadline? I ask.

"Yeah, it's good and bad, I guess. Bad in a sense that sometimes you are rushed and you just have to settle for something and I don't like doing that at all, but at the same time it gives you that sense of urgency. Our best films are the ones that we have made in the competition. It forces everyone to go and do it, clicks everyone back into gear."

After lots of beer drinking and filming, not necessarily in that order, the crew empties out of the pub at 4 a.m.

Day 2 – April 14

8:06 a.m. Britannia Beach.

I wake up bleary-eyed after the late night, dose up on caffeine and jump in my car. Leaving my home in Squamish, instead of driving north to Whistler, I veer south and soon find myself on the oceanfront.

There are those who stay in Whistler to shoot in this competition, and there are those who stretch all the boundaries. Meet Russell Clark and his crew — they do the latter. Clark is the director for a film to be shot primarily underwater within the 100-kilometre radius of Whistler. I join them as they gather to plan their dive.

"As soon as I found out about the competition, I thought, 'Right, that's it, gotta make this movie, underwater, on the shipwreck,'" he says to me with a grin after the meeting finishes and the crew start to gear up.

Wishing to keep the element of the ski snowboard festival, the plot of Dive72 involves a team of divers who discover the body of a snowboarder and solve the mystery of how he got down there.

"Making a movie in 72hrs is a challenge and doing it underwater as well is just ridiculous," admits Clark with a shrug. "But I wouldn't want to do it any other way."

The biggest challenge of course, is that they can't talk underwater, so everything is by hand signals and amusing laminated signs – good, faster, slower, again and, of course, we all laugh at the sexual innuendos.

I wave to them as they head underwater for their first filming session of the day.

9:42 a.m. Lorimer Road, Whistler

When I get to Fleet's house there are empty beer cans scattered on the grass and front porch. Fleet stumbles out, hair astray, sporting what appears to be a massive black eye and looking like he just woke up and then I realize he's dressed for the shooting. We chat while Emma Kay Abrahamson, the hairstylist, applies an obscene amount of hairspray onto his locks.

Today, we are doing the bedroom scene, he says with a smirk, adding that there's no nudity and it's as tasteful as it can be.

His film, Jonny meets Jonny, is centred on Jonny, starring Fleet, who hooks up with a girl and contracts a sexual disease from her and then, while out skiing, crashes into a time machine. He goes back in time to try to stop hooking up with this girl, but fails. In the scene they are now shooting, there are four Jonnys in the room.

Producer David Jevons explains how they hope to pull it off.

"We use some crafty camera tricks to show two of the same person, and hopefully it works," he says, noting that the black eye is the gimmick so the audience knows which one is from the future and which is from the past.

I stand outside the bedroom to witness the setting up of the props in the room. As the scene unfolds we have to bite our lips to stop from laughing, then simultaneously we burst into laughter as soon as Jevons says, "Cut!"

1:04 p.m. Whistler Blackcomb

It just wouldn't feel right to be writing about filming in Whistler and not mention a film session on the hill. Being a non-skier, it is a challenge to find my way on foot to the top of the Magic Chair to see about tracking down Rebecca Wood Barrett's team. Just as I am about to give up and turn around I spot, out of the corner of my eye, people in unusually bright gear on the chairlift, and when I see a wig I know I have found them. They are a group of 18 — kitted out in retro ski gear for their film Rush (It took away the People's Choice Award by a wide margin). I photograph them as they perform a choreographed dance number on the slope. It really is difficult to keep a straight face on this gig.

3:33 p.m. Rainbow Lake Park.

Cinematographer Andrew Huebscher and producer Andrew Putschoegl, along with Hollywood actor Tom Lenk, were the lucky winners of the Road to Whistler video contest by Olympus and were flown from LA to Whistler for a five-night trip to compete in the showdown. I find them down by Rainbow Lake, with an icy wind blowing, setting up a shot.

Lenk plays both characters in the film, Brandy and Bradford, and the scene is set so both characters are looking at each other with the camera locked off. They are shooting both sides separately and there's a mad scramble as Lenk changes costumes.

Lenk, who plays a role in the newly released feature film, Cabin in the Woods, says acting is his normal thing, not gallivanting around like this.

"In a real acting gig, you get pampered, everyone tells you you're pretty, you get a trailer, you get to throw tantrums," he says, grinning.

Their film, Lady Beast, is described as an experimental comedy piece about a love story gone wrong.

Playing all the parts is tricky, Lenk says, recounting a funny moment when decked out in full make-up and wig at the top of the hill he had to go to pee and didn't know which rest room to enter. "This would be slightly more problematic in America, Canadians are friendlier," he says laughing.

Day 3 April 15

8:22 a.m. Archibald Way

Francis tells me he is experiencing anxiety at the moment. A lot of things have gone wrong; including the opening scene getting messed up because the boom mike was in every shot, rendering it unusable. But, he says, he is trying his best to stay positive, even though right now he feels like he doesn't even want to hand it in. He flashes me a wan smile then disappears back to his house to hole up, madly editing until the morning.

9:13 a.m. Lorimer Drive

I arrive at the Fleet residence and the mood is vastly different. In full post-production mode, they have a table set up, upon which four computers with various programs run simultaneously, accompanied by constant dialogue and laughter amongst the crew.

Ross tells me she went to bed at 5 a.m. and they shake awake Brook Lotzkar, the guru of visual effects who is sprawled on the coach in a sleeping bag.

As a novice to the film industry, I ask him to show me how he works his magic. I watch a scene of multiple Jonnys stumbling home from the bar.

You're ambitious, I remark. You have no idea, he replies. The trick is filming a few different times, Lotzkar says, adding that the timing has to be right too, to ensure the shadows don't cross.

He then shows me on the screen how he draws what's called a mask around one of the Jonnys and then animates the mask. It has to be believable, he emphasizes as he clicks away on his computer, using the motion design program, After Effects.

Chris Dalton, director of photography, adds that teamwork is crucial, so he ensures the camera position works for Lotzkar as he needs enough screen space to cut around.

Suddenly Ross makes an announcement.

"I need a cut-away shot with the panties."


Fleet and Jevons join the discussion.

"We need a bird's eye view of the panties dropping, otherwise it's so long," she says, pointing to the scene of the actress crawling over the Jonnys.

"Yeah, we need to get her moving," agrees Jevons. They play it through again.

"Ok, cut to the drop-in to the panties and then jump to the bathroom... I like that she leaves the room," he says. They agree to get the insert.

Do we have the panties? Fleet wonders and he calls the second assistant camera, Carly Fox. "I never thought I'd ask this of you, but did you leave your panties at my house? Do you know where you left them?" he asks as we all laugh.

Before I know it, I am once again recruited into the film making process.

My job this time?

To toss the panties onto Jonny as he lies in the bed. It's not as easy as it sounds and I perfect the motion after a few takes on the shot and lots of giggles.

When we return upstairs, Dalton relays a tale of midnight filming when Ross realized they needed a shot of a house, and he trudged outdoors, set up a spotlight on the house, all for a one second clip in the film.

Ross describes these competitions as fun but "brutal" and you reach a point where the film is not even funny anymore, she says. But, she notes, with this film, it is continuously funny. She's found Fleet falling off his chair from laughing at one point, wiping tears from his face.

12:44 p.m. The Hilton Whistler

Andrew Putschoegl is in his hotel room at his laptop and explains to me that the film is still in its infancy, but it's coming together well. He has gone through and found specific takes he likes and cut those together. There are a few more complicated scenes coming up, he says, but he's got a sequence now so they can go out and get more shots if necessary.

Things can change moment to moment. While sitting for a read-through of the script downstairs in the lobby, they heard a guy playing the piano and what he was playing fit in perfectly with the script as they were reading it, says Putschoegl. They approached the pianist and it turned out the music was something he had composed, which he is happy to share with them. "That's when resourcefulness and spontaneity come together," Putschoegl says.

3:16 p.m. HI-Whistler Hostel

I catch up with Carlos and crew at the hostel, where he, Spangler and Pedro Davim, the director of photography are holed up in a meeting room going over the footage. An accidental trip over a cord is luckily not serious enough to lose any footage, so we all heave a sigh of relief and then I ask about their day. Carlos admits there are always issues when filming and tells me they are not sure of the direction right now and they are looking at cutting some scenes. It's a tough process getting three hours of footage down to five minutes.

Day 4 – April 16

8:25 a.m. – Whistler Conference Centre, Grand Foyer

I have been breathing, eating and even dreaming about the showdown and now it's hard to believe it's nearly over as the clock ticks down to the 10 a.m. deadline.

This time when I stroll into the foyer — where the directors meeting took place what feels like a lifetime ago — the atmosphere is positively festive. It's not hard to imagine it's the finish line for a marathon, as this competition truly is one in so many ways. The crew manning the registration tables all clap and cheer as the glass sliding doors open up to usher in another team, looking quite haggard and dishevelled, but with big smiles plastered over their faces.

I await text messages that my teams are on their way and when they come through the doors, I feel like a cheerleader and clap for them, then we hug and I share their sense of relief that they made it in before the deadline.

I check in with the film crews I followed — Fleet marks the occasion by pulling out a beer in the foyer and cracking it open, much to the amusement of all gathered around. Jevons, Ross and I reminisce about the weekend and it's a happy moment when Jevons informs me that the fill-in scene we shot yesterday did in fact make it to the final cut.

"We loved having you were the official panty thrower," says Jevons and we all laugh.

I ask them, what now? And they tell me they have to return the rental gear to Vancouver, plus start "moving the mountain of beer cans," quips Jevons.

Putschoegl is chatting with the tech guy about a formatting issue, which is getting sorted and says he was up until 2 a.m. recording last minute things and doing colour corrections and admits he feels good to have it done.

It's 9:45 a.m. when Ladki, Carlos and Spangler sweep in. Ladki says the ride from the hostel was the longest part of the whole competition and jokes that it was like driving with a gun to his head.

Francis is among the last to arrive and I am glad he made it before the cut-off. He says he's been up for more than 24 hours now, not unlike a lot of other people, judging by the bleary-eyed looks I see around me.

There's a definite sense of camaraderie amongst the teams as they congratulate each other and as I make my way out, I pause, and muse that perhaps that's the underlying essence of the 72hr Filmmaker Showdown — work your butt off, lose sleep, but at the same time, share miraculous moments of creativity and hilarity, all the while showcasing this amazing mountain town with all its shifting moods and personalities.

Dawn Green is a freelance writer who lives in the Sea to Sky Corridor and loves jumping in the deep end, all in the name of getting a good story.

The lowdown on the Showdown

The rules are strict when it comes to time – all filming must take place within the 72-hour period and no film will be accepted past 10 a.m. on Monday morning.

"We've had people slide in 30 seconds too late," recalls Jaime Kerrigan, Watermark's multimedia event producer, so drive safely and don't take any unnecessary risks.

In fact, Kerrigan advised directors to set their clock to sync with her phone.

Call the tech guy if you need any technical help, she says and gives out his number while everyone scrambles to enter it into their phones.

Remember to advise the police if you're filming anything that looks illegal, says Watermark's Sue Eckersley. One year there was a crew filming a hold-up at a grocery store and someone called the cops and they were slapped with a $2,000 fine because the police had to respond to the call.

The 100-kilometre radius is as the crow flies, Eckersley clarifies. One year there was a seal in a film and it was still filmed within the radius.

Standard broadcast regulations for shooting groups of people apply in the contest so if shooting in a bar, be careful of who is in your shots – extras have to fill in a release form.

"Do you have restrictions on obscenity or nudity?" someone asks. Use common sense, Eckersley replies. The judges are looking at the films knowing it's an all ages show.

Tipping the scales

Directors offer up their tips for a successful showdown

Jonny Fleet says a good thing to do is to keep it fairly simple. "We will stay in Whistler for sure... our editors and crew are all in the same house... we all kind of clump together for three days, and it gets kind of smelly," he says.

"It's your idea that will win the competition," he added. "The idea is the strongest part, it doesn't matter what kind of camera you use. And don't have crazy stunts and 80 people doing a dance with fireworks and flips... no elephants!"

What makes a good movie is to win the audience, Fleet, whose film this year was titled Jonny meets Jonny, continued. Connect with them, make them laugh or cry.

You have a tight time crunch, says Joao Carlos (Sticks and Spokes and Broken Bones), and you really have to work cohesively as a team. "Go into it with a plan and then you have to not only have a plan, but be able to change that plan as the day goes on because anything can happen from weather changes to location changes to finding actors."

The plane, the plane

Each of the 72hr. Filmmaker showdown groups had to use a Styrofoam toy plane in their movie — it's a way to keep filmmakers honest, and to add a special flare.

Here's where to look to catch a glimpse of the plane.

Harley Francis (Instacam) — the plane was used in a diorama in the background of the potato proposing of the pear scene, flying with a banner that reads, "Marry me."

Joao Carlos (Sticks and Spokes and Broken Bones) — look for it being featured when the two opposing gangs meet up in town and it flies into the scene. One of the characters swipes it away and then stomps on it and flattens it.

Jonny Fleet (Jonny meets Jonny) the plane appears twice — once in the opening title and then it mysteriously appears tangled in the midst of the Aussie girl's hair as they wake up the morning after.

Russell Clark (Dive 72) — It is discovered underwater in this film where divers measure it and study it on the ocean floor.

Tom Lenk (Lady Beast) — In this film the plane flies out of nowhere when Bradford and Brandy are sitting on a bench at the edge of Rainbow Lake. Brandy is perplexed and shoos it away like a fly.

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