Making a film in 24 hours is an arduous task, but that is exactly what four students did this summer at the Lake Placid Film Forum. The students, Brian Augustus ’12, Jessica Dinan ’14, Stephen Gemmiti’14, and Abby Kent ’12 headed to Lake Placid in June with nothing but ideas and returned four days later with a completed short film, titled “Me Too.” The were accompanied by Marilyn Jimenez, associate professor of Africana Studies and member of the Media and Society Program.
The festival is invite-only and this is the second year that Hobart and William Smith Colleges have been invited to participate. In addition to the “Sleepless in Lake Placid,” 24-hour film competition, the Forum is also a venue for filmmakers to showcase other completed works.
At 6 a.m. on the morning of June 13, the teams were given four elements that they were required to incorporate into their films in order to give some continuity across the projects. These were: dancing, taxidermy, The Palace (the local movie theater) and two lines from either the film “Hugo” or “Cinema Paradiso.” They then had until 10 a.m. on Thursday to come up with a script. After receiving the elements, they also had the chance to pick their actors.
Together the HWS students developed a sci-fi storyline with a twist that would be flexible enough to change based on the elements. Their short film is told through the memories of a terminally ill man undergoing an experimental procedure.
“Essentially the film has two facets, one of which was heavily scripted and controlled, and the other which was made up of a collection of memories stemming from our central character,” says Gemmiti. “The scripted scenes take place exclusively in this very sterile, emotionally-devoid room and the rest was truly up to us as a collective. By adapting this story structure we were able to seamlessly work in the elements of the competition while ensuring that everyone’s creative input was given its fair share of screen time.”
After spending the day and night developing their script, the team began a filming marathon promptly at 10 a.m. on Thursday and did not stop until the next day.
“Without a doubt, the hardest part is the time crunch from having to do this in the 24 hours they give you,” says Augustus, who was the team leader. “It’s very difficult to keep yourself grounded to something you can pull off and not shoot for perfection. It’s not easy to pull yourself away from something when you haven’t shot the take you had imagined in your head.”
Throughout the day, they went from working with small children at an actor’s house to hiking a mountain to get the perfect sunset shot. And, along with traveling all around Lake Placid to get their footage, the team also had to deal with many technical difficulties.
“We realized that not only did we have the wrong hook-ups for the computers and cameras, our microphones did not work,” says Kent, who was the cinematographer. “We ended up having to dub the whole film last minute.” Luckily, through their own ingenuity and the dedication of their actors, the team was able to overcome these difficulties and produce a quality film.
After all the filming and recording, there was still the editing, which was Gemmiti’s domain. He spent the night putting the film together. As the sole editor, he had to make sure to keep the ideas of the group at the forefront while weaving together the storyline.
“The opinions, thoughts and concepts of everyone on the team really shine through in the final product and that really came from our group’s ability to vocalize new ideas early on so that the film became everyone’s instead of belonging to a single individual. That kind of teamwork and dedication to a shared work is something that I am truly proud to have been a part of.”
They received good feedback from the judges on the cinematography and the depth and development of their story. “It was really cool to see our film on a big screen,” says Kent.
Even though they did not win, the whole team learned a lot from the experience. “For me, the most valuable thing I learned was working as a team with a tight deadline. Also, I quickly learned more about using my camera than I ever thought I would,” Kent says.
Jimenez was also pleased with the group’s efforts: “Students often find that the most rewarding part of the process is working with professional actors, rather than just their friends from school. Personally, I am always amazed by the creativity that the students, including the students from other institutions, display under pressure.”