Sleepless nights 

Newcomers to the filmmaker showdown wow crowds, judges with stylistic short, Sandman

click to enlarge Director's Cut Amazing Factory team members shoot a scene for their short film during the 72-hour Filmmaker Showdown.
  • Director's Cut Amazing Factory team members shoot a scene for their short film during the 72-hour Filmmaker Showdown.

As the lights dimmed and images flickered across massive screens, people settled into their seats in the Telus Conference Centre to watch the masterpieces created during last week’s 72-Hour Filmmaker Showdown. But not everyone in attendance was relaxed during the gala screening — at least one filmmaking team was anxiously trying to gauge the audience’s reaction to the top 10 flicks.

“We were just listening to the crowd’s reaction and I was kind of worried, because nobody was really that loud, and we were like, ‘Oh no, they don’t get it! Nobody understands,’” said Joe Schweers, one of the masterminds behind the dark short, Sandman , which made it into the finals.

But the audience’s silence during the film was just a delayed response, followed by resounding applause after the credits rolled.

While Robjn Taylor’s film, Arbitrarily Pear! , was selected by judges as the best of the bunch — and with a complicated Rube Goldberg machine and random alpacas, there’s little wonder why it appealed to the crowd — Sandman also seemed to capture the hearts of viewers with a very different type of dark humour and an old-school cinematic style.

The black and white short is the creation of the aptly-named Amazing Factory team, a group of young, talented filmmakers and family members based in Delta and the Okanagan: Amanda and Joe Schweers, 27 and 21 respectively, and Josh and Andrew Huculiak, 20 and 18.

Amanda handles the behind-the-scenes details, while Joe, Andrew and Josh share the acting, filming, editing and animating responsibilities.

“It’s a really kind of strange dynamic that we have,” Joe explained. “There’s no egos or anything like that, nothing gets in the way.”

Amazing Factory was born about five years ago, when the guys started playing around with the Schweers’ new family video camera . Joe and Josh eventually went on to film school, and have been working in the field since graduation.

When they heard about Whistler’s Filmmaker Showdown from a friend, they decided to come to town for a few days and enter the competition.

Their film features an animated version of the Sandman , who goes around snatching sleepless children from their beds in the middle of the night and putting them in his nightcap. While the storyline sounds slightly creepy, Joe said it was actually inspired by old Disney movies.

“We figured that they’re actually kinda scary,” he explained. “Like the old ones, if you watch them now, you kind of realize that they would have actually been kind of scary for a kid to see, and all the little kinds of conflicts and funny quirks.”

The film also has some comedic aspects to it — namely, exaggerated facial expressions, body language and costumes.

The Amazing Factory crew shot the entire film in a friend’s condo, turning three rooms into six or seven different bedrooms.

Josh, Joe and Andrew also star in the film, each taking turns acting while the others direct and film.

“I play about four characters in total, including the twins,” Joe said with a laugh. “…We may not be the best actors, but we got it done, I guess.”

The use of black and white was a stylistic touch, and the simple Sandman animation is supposed to be a child’s rendering of the fabled character.

“So that was where this design came from, this kind of shaky, not very well drawn character that a kid would do,” Joe explained.

Having only 72 hours to shoot, edit and animate the four and a half minute film was definitely a stressful experience, but the Amazing Factory team was ready for the challenge.

The first day of the competition, they managed to shoot the majority of their tape, then, the following morning, they began cutting and animating.

They weren’t right down to the line, either, when it came to the 10 a.m. deadline.

“Actually, I was surprised. I thought we were going to be right on the edge, but in the morning, me and Andrew stayed up overnight tweaking it at the end,” said Joe.

By 8 a.m. of the third day of the competition, they realized Sandman was done.

Despite the Amazing Factory’s efforts, and the resounding praise of the judges, Sandman didn’t win. Joe said they knew they were up against some tough competition as soon as they saw Arbitrarily Pear! during the prescreening.

“I was just happy to be in the finals,” Joe said, adding that he loved Taylor’s winning film.

“We figured before that just being picked from all those other ones is good enough, and then winning would be a big bonus, but not necessary for us.”

Now, the Amazing Factory team plans to enter Sandman in a few other competitions, and work on more film projects, including a feature length film down the road.

Entering a competition in such a tight-knit community left the Amazing Factory team feeling a bit like the underdog outsiders at first, but Joe said they were definitely made to feel welcome, and have even been asked to return for next year’s Filmmaker Showdown.

“We’ll have to come up with something new, but it’s definitely a possibility,” said Joe.

If you missed out on the screening, you can check out Sandman online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeMnCXVCz08 .

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