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The Importance of Keeping a Level Head June 16, 2009

Posted by ozsomesuccess in Law of Attraction.
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Working out the Soundtrack for "Scarlet '84"

Working out the Soundtrack for "Scarlet '84"

This past weekend, at the invitation of a friend, I participated on one of 52 teams in the “48-Hour Film Project” competition.


The idea is: All teams are given a character, a prop, and a line of dialogue. (All the same). The genre of film each team makes is literally chosen by drawing it out of a hat.

Once we have these criteria at 7 pm on Friday night, the team writes a script, sets up, shoots, edits, and delivers the finished film (4-7 minutes long) by 7 pm on Sunday! 30% of the score is judged upon how creatively we use these elements.

So the character was: Tim or Tina Flagle, unemployed musician (could be either male or female, according to the team’s choice). The prop: a tire. The line: “I need to leave in a minute.” The genre we drew: Historical Fiction or Period Piece.

Although 30 people had expressed an interest in participating in this particular group, when it came time for the actual competition, we ended up with a team of 10. But they were the RIGHT 10. I participated in the writing phase. We batted ideas around for HOURS, trying to come up with something we could pull off with the resources we had available. Often we could think of a concept, but not a plot to go with it.

We came around to the idea of setting something in the early 1980s, at the height of the first wave of the AIDS panic. Rather offhandedly, I tossed in this suggestion: “And everybody who had AIDS is forced to wear a red A.” (This of course was both a literary reference to “The Scarlet Letter” and to certain practices of the Nazis.)

That became the hook that pulled everybody together. By the wee hours, we had a 2-page script about a nightclub singer who is interrupted mid-concert and literally dragged off the stage by a secret service agent who tells her she’s been diagnosed “positive.”

She loses her home, and is told to report to a special containment area, where she is tattooed with the Scarlet A — on her face. She finds herself in a real dump, where she has to make a bed out of old discarded tires (that’s how we used the assigned prop). Tina meets a child who is singing the same song she herself was singing when she was dragged off the stage. The child is about to get beaten up by a street guy; Tina shoos him off by brandishing a hammer. Tina discovers that the child has also been “marked.” Taking the girl under her wing, she decides to fight back against the government forces. In the final shot, she takes the girl back to her home (which is itself branded with “crime scene” tape and “contamination” notices), and reclaims her home and her life, disease or no disease.

We called it “Scarlet ’84,” setting it in the year 1984 (another literary reference, to a totalitarian government). By setting it in such a recent era, I wondered whether we were really pushing the envelope of what can be considered a “period piece.” We had to make do by inserting references that would clearly indicate the year, such as the nightclub owner introducing the singer as “the lady who’s making an even bigger SPLASH than Darryl Hannah!” (The movie “Splash” was released in 1984.)

While still in story conference, the question came up: What music would Tina be performing? And everybody looked at ME, the official music expert on the team. Thinking out loud, I said, “What jazz standards do I know, that would be old enough to be in public domain?” The first thing that came to mind was “I Love A Piano” by Irving Berlin. We checked it on the internet — bingo! It’s out of copyright, and we could use it! So it became my job to come up with an original arrangement of the song, as well as to teach it to both the leading lady and the child actress.

On the actual shoot, I operated the Slate. (I’d always wanted to do that — to say, “Scene 7A, Take 1” — snap!) I wasn’t involved with the editing part; the team leaders did this by using Final Cut on a MacIntosh. My work done, I could have left to go home by early Sunday afternoon, but I stuck by the team leaders to the very end. And considering what happened next, I’m glad I did.

I don’t presume to understand all of the things that went wrong in the editing process, but I do know that when the footage was dumped to the computer, the Audio lagged the Video by exactly 20 frames! It took HOURS to get that straightened out, before the editing could even begin! And THEN, when everything was cobbled together, the computer would not burn the finished film to the correct format required by the competition judges!

What really impressed me is how well the team leaders kept a level head in this crisis. Down to the wire, their frustration could have easily degenerated into a shouting match between them, which would have only made matters worse. But they didn’t — they just kept their focus.

By 5:30, the leading lady and script supervisor decided to head out on the hour-long drive to Film Project headquarters, carrying with them a film that was at least viewable, even though it wasn’t the correct format. I followed a few minutes later, after packing up my music gear. In the meantime, the director and editor FINALLY got the format to work, and raced to headquarters. Not daring to waste precious minutes searching for parking, they called the script supervisor by cell phone, who stood outside so she could GRAB the DVD out of their hands as they drove up, and run inside with it to place it in the judges’ hands.

Got the finished product delivered with seconds to spare, so we’re officially in the running! We were not disqualified. What a relief! The leading lady described the experience as being like “your worst audition, which turns out to be your best performance.”

The screenings of the 52 entries will happen on June 23 and 24. Winners from this regional competition go on to Nationals, and winners from that one get to go to the Mother of All Film Festivals — Cannes!