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Lights ... camera ... hurry up!
Behind the scenes at the 48 Hour Film Festival
Vaida Morgan, Robert Haskell, and Kelly Rogers vamping around after shooting the final scene for "Renfield's Syndrome." - photo by David Costrini


In late June, brothers Eric and Nate Nauert asked me to join their team, Perpombellar Productions, for Savannah’s first 48 Hour Film Project (48HFP), a two-day film competition that’s held in dozens of cities across the U.S. 


I felt like I’d been asked to the prom by the most popular boy in the senior class.


A few days before the July 17- 19 contest, Nate asked me to take on “producerly duties” for the weekend-- keeping track of forms, coordinating locations, keeping things on schedule. 


At the Friday night 48HFP kick off, each participating team draws a different movie genre out of a hat and has 48 hours to write, film, edit, and submit a movie in that genre.  All films must include a common character, prop, and line of dialogue, also assigned at the kick off.


Films must be turned in by 7:30 p.m. on Sunday to be eligible to win local prizes and move on to a national competition.  Films late by even one minute are disqualified. 


Here’s a synopsis of the making of our film, “Renfield’s Syndrome.”


Scene One.  Thursday, July 16. The IHOP on Victory Drive.  I join Nate Nauert and crew member Pieter Ribbens for a pre-production meeting, discussing the schedule, how the process works, what we can and cannot do before the official start time.

Nate has a spiral notebook with him. He’s impressed that I brought a file folder.  I ask a question about something and he flips through his notebook.  “I think I wrote that down somewhere.  Oh, wait!” He pulls a wadded slip of paper out of his wallet.  I realize that I might be helpful to this operation.


Scene Two.  Friday, July 17.  6 p.m. Blowin’ Smoke BBQ, the kick off site for 48HFP.  About 60 people are mulling around. All but five of them are white men, mostly aged 25 to 35.  Over half are wearing black T-shirts. 


We receive our City of Savannah filming permit and a list of city property where we can and cannot film.  Cemeteries are off limits, as are squares when in use for weddings.


Tyler M. Reid, Savannah Producer for 48HFP, announces the three key ingredients for the films.  Molly or Michael Murray, Instructor.  Cell phone.  Line of dialogue:  “She said she would be right back.” 


We draw our film genre from the basket, where all categories are on slips.  Confusion ensues when our team (and at least one other team) selects a genre that is not on the list that was published on the website. 


On the way to our brainstorming site, Metro Coffee House, Reid calls Nate and confirms that our genre is from a previous year’s list.  We are given a new genre from the 2009 list.  For the next two days our team will be filming a “mockumentary.”


Scene Three.  Metro Coffee House.  8 p.m.  47 hours to go. 

We decide to film a mock expose’ of the vampire culture in Savannah—a look into the lives of people who enjoy drinking blood, and the social and stylistic aspects surrounding the blood drinking lifestyle.  We determine a shooting schedule, even though we have no script.  At 9 pm we start phoning—friends of the Nauerts who are on standby—actors, camera people, wardrobe and makeup experts.  We need a lot of extras to play vampires and civilians.   “Can you call some people?” asks Eric. 


Scene Four.  Eric’s Midtown Apartment. Midnight.  Over delivery pizza, filmographer Biff Flowers works with Eric on coordinating equipment, while the rest of us continue to plan for Saturday.  At 1:30 a.m I head for home. Eric and Nate begin writing the script, which must be finished by 9 a.m.


Scene Five.  My house.  2:30 a.m.  Too much coffee, even for me.  Where are we going to get all these extras?  I send out a blanket text at 2:45 a.m. and post a request for actors in the status section of my Facebook page.  Time for three hours of quality sleep.


Scene Six.  Nate’s midtown apartment.  9 a.m.  34 hours left. Up since 6 a.m, I’ve shopped for food and props. Extras are coming out of the woodwork, thanks to Facebook and that text.  The script is finished—a page and a half long, relying heavily on ad libbing by the actors.  From 9 to 12 we cast all the major roles and secure two offsite shooting locations.  Normal human beings are transformed into vampires by the makeup team.  The first team leaves for location shoots at Designer Consigner clothing store, and under the Talmadge Bridge.  The second team grabs a group of extras to go downtown and shoot “B Roll,” whatever that is.  I call extras, collect waiver forms.  My cell phone beeps every five minutes. 


Gallon jugs and pint containers of fake blood are stashed all over Nate’s apartment, along with a mike boom, a rolling rack of costumes, a small human skull, and a supply of granola bars and sodas to fortify the crew.


I blink and it’s 4 p.m. and we haven’t stopped for lunch yet.


Scene Seven. Metro Coffee House.  7 p.m.  24 hours left.  Over a dozen extras have turned up to be in the tarot-reading, blood-drinking scene.  In the middle of filming, a customer enters the side door and crosses the back of the scene while the camera is rolling.  I grab a waiver form and sign him up as an extra.


Scene Eight.  Factors Walk next to City Hall.  9 p.m.  In the midst of a typical tourist-filled Saturday night, vampires surface one by one at our rendezvous point.  No revelers seem to notice until we begin rehearsing the scene, and the screaming draws a crowd.  This final shot must be right the first time; it involves covering our cheerful actress-turned-victim with fake blood.  Once she’s blood soaked, the blood won’t come off, so second takes can’t happen.


At 11 p.m., I hear my cell phone ring, over and over, yet when I check it there are no calls, no texts.  I mention this to Biff and his cameraman cohort, Clif Rhodes.  They both nod.  “Yep. It’s the phantom phone vibrate,” says Biff.  I know that I’ve crossed over to full fledged team member.


Scene Nine.  Nate’s Apartment.  1:30 a.m.  After a token “wrap party,” the cast and crew leaves.  The brothers head to Eric’s, to edit down the hours of footage they’ve shot into a seven minute film.


Scene Ten.  Sunday.  Eric’s Apartment.  Noon.  Eric and Nate have been up all night editing. We have seven hours to go and the tension is building.  The rough cut is two minutes too long.  Pieter Ribbens and I have forms to collect from all over Chatham County that somehow got missed on Saturday.  Kelly Rogers writes and records a tune on the keyboard that lends an “Adams Family” lightness to our grisly film.


Our film is due at 7:30 p.m at Leopold’s on Broughton Street. At 6:45, the editing is completed, but the film has disappeared into Eric’s computer. The Nauerts spend precious minutes looking in files.  Dread and panic set in. 


Just after 7 the film is found, but it still must be downloaded onto a flash drive and delivered before the deadline.  We leave Ardsley Park at 7:10 p.m.  I pray that there are no trains on Sundays to stop the traffic.


Scene Eleven.  Sunday.  Leopold’s.  7:20ish p.m.  We pull up in front of Leopold’s. Kelly and the Nauerts jump out and head inside while Pieter and I park.  Several more teams arrive, dropping their films off after us.


All fourteen teams submit their films on time, with the final submission arriving 13 seconds before the deadline.


We can’t believe we made it.  We feel good about our film.  I can’t wait for the 48 Hour Film Project of 2010.