A team’s long day’s journey into One Night Stand
The panty lines need to stay out of the shot.
This is the consensus formed on the set of One Day Like This, a short film being made for the Independent Film Coalition of Kansas City’s 11th annual One Night Stand competition.
Actress Bobbie Sutcliffe’s underwear is showing through her borrowed gray dress, but that’s the least of director Tim Harvey’s worries. This is his fifth One Night Stand, so he knows that making a five-minute movie in 10 hours is an exercise in staving off large-scale disaster.
For now, he’s on schedule, but getting this shot means trying the patience of a Christian band. The musicians have been sitting idle during their usual worship-music practice time so that Harvey and his crew can shoot a wedding scene set in the sanctuary at Revolution Church, at 500 West 40th Street.
One Night Stand’s parameters were presented at a 9:30 a.m. meeting in the basement theater of the Westport Coffee House. Each film must be produced entirely during the contest’s 10 hours and must include three elements, all drawn at random at the meeting: a theme, an object and a line of classic movie dialogue. This morning — Saturday, June 18 — IFC president Brian Boye announced the required elements to 21 teams, each with five to 10 participants. The theme is “color vs. black-and-white,” meaning that each entry has to include shots in both color and black-and-white. Each must also incorporate a pen and the line “You’re trying to seduce me, aren’t you?” (from The Graduate).
Boye is competing, too. “I hope people like my film,” he says. “We should finish.”
A DVD from each team is due at 7:38 p.m., exactly 10 hours after the drawing. At Screenland Armour, the finish line, every completed movie will be screened, and awards will be handed out.
The teams scattered as soon as Boye shouted, “Go forth and make a movie!” Harvey’s team, the Hellions, already knew its first stop would be Revolution Church.
A couple of weeks before One Night Stand, Boye explains that the event breaches the usual camaraderie within KC’s filmmaking community. It’s a day for scrappy artists to bond over their mutual love for an expensive, time-consuming passion — but very competitively.
It also provides a break (a short, hardworking break) from the participants’ sometimes grueling ongoing projects. For instance, Boye has been trying to secure funding and gather stories for a documentary that he’s producing about the final conversations people had with dead or missing family members and friends.
For a project like that, other filmmakers are happy to come to his aid and share ideas. But One Night Stand alters the mood, turning IFC brother against IFC brother in a good-natured civil war.
“Tim and I are really good friends,” he says over lunch one afternoon near the KCTV Channel 5 offices, where he works in the promotions department. “I love to beat Tim. Or I love to try to beat Tim. Last year I might have, but my DVD didn’t play.” A computer glitch scuttled his 2010 entry. “It’s a whole Lennon-McCartney thing. My friend made a good movie. I want to beat them.”
To accomplish this, Boye isn’t opposed to a little sabotage — at least in theory.
“One year we were going to just have an IFC assassin team, where we taped ourselves with hot girl-ninja assassins and just screwed up people’s shots. And that was going to be our film,” he says. “Maybe someday we’ll do that one.”
The competition and posturing, Boye admits, can get a little ridiculous. But it’s all to further the craft and his and his peers’ education.
“The people who do a bad film, they’re generally kind of embarrassed or browbeaten into forcing themselves to work harder,” he says. “When I put on a crap film, and the guy behind me puts on an awesome one, I get pissed off because I just spent 10 hours of my day working on this film. And I look at this baby that I’ve created, and I go, ‘Oh, my baby is ugly.’ “
Harvey hasn’t entered many ugly babies in One Night Stand. The IFC vice president took home the top prize in 2009 with Bedtime, an almost dialogue-free film that explored the seedy nightlife enjoyed by toddlers after their parents put them to bed. Tykes unafraid of a little Russian roulette the night before Gymboree proved irresistibly charming to judges and audience members.
This year Harvey’s entry is a departure: a romance centered on the syrupy song “One Day Like This” by U.K. band Elbow. “It’s going to be ridiculously romantic, ridiculously sweet,” he says a few days before the contest. “I haven’t done anything like this, which is one of the reasons to do it. I’ve done a little bit of every genre, but I’ve never done a blatant, old-fashioned, sweet, romantic story. It’s either going to work really, really well or fail beautifully.”
Any director working on a tight budget is accustomed to begging for favors and free labor from friends. On a 10-hour deadline, the need for no-questions-asked help goes into overdrive.
To secure Revolution Church for the wedding scene, Harvey tapped Dustin Adair, a screenwriter who’s also helping with wardrobe. Adair is a member of the congregation, and he got permission to borrow the space. Adding to the favor is the thrift shop in Revolution’s basement, which doubles today as the cast’s costume department. Adair and Sutcliffe poke around for a while before settling on the soon-to-be-problematic gray dress while crew members set up lighting for the first shot, in which actors Chris Bylsma and Krystal Heib get married. Paul Campbell, the director of photography, scouts the sanctuary for the right angle, then takes his Canon EOS Rebel T2i behind a cross.
Bylsma, a handsome man whose face is dominated by a reddish beard and curly hair, places a ring on Heib’s finger. They kiss, and a few extras (strategically deployed to make the church appear full) stand and applaud. Harvey has sketched the film almost entirely as a montage set to the song. This is in part to prevent time-consuming flubbed lines. Playing it safe, though, the director orders five takes of this first shot.
“Who are we kidding, Paul?” Bylsma says, holding his beautiful brunette pretend wife. “I gave you five bucks to let me do this a few more times.”
Satisfied with the couple’s kiss, Harvey calls for the second scene, in which newlyweds Bylsma and Heib walk out the church’s front door. Outside Revolution, Campbell begins setting up his shot — then spies the more photogenic Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church, nearby. Campbell and Harvey walk over to the church to see if they can get into the building, but the doors are locked. They’re stuck with their original site.
Jason Miller, who plays a groomsman in the film, is in charge of the project’s next favor: a camera rig that fits on a radio-controlled helicopter, a slick black gizmo powered by four propellers. It looks like something jacked from a CIA warehouse. Miller starts the shot by flying the camera high up on the front of the church, then gently gliding it down and away to capture the couple bounding out of the church. After a few takes, the Hellions have the shot they want, and it’s a wrap at the church. It’s 11:11 a.m., a few minutes behind Harvey’s shooting schedule.
With the time limit beginning to press, the crew returns to the Westport Coffee House for the scene in which Heib and Bylsma meet. “You’re going to bump into each other as you’re going in the door,” Harvey tells his actors. “I thought about doing a bump-and-spill, but that’s a continuity nightmare,” he explains. “I know Paul can get it [the shot] in one, but I hate to make it so Paul has to make it one.”
Outside the coffeehouse, Campbell sets up what he calls a “poor man’s dolly,” by sitting on the tailgate of his silver Pontiac Aztek to shoot Bylsma and Miller walking down the block while somebody drives the car. It’s a shot designed to impress the judges.
By the time Harvey and Campbell have made peace with street traffic and found solutions to problems with focus, Bylsma and Heib make bumping into each other at the coffeehouse door look realistic. After a few takes, cast and crew crowd inside just before noon — to the visible annoyance of a few lunch patrons — to shoot the next scene. It’s a crucial moment: The couple, flirting with each other, knock out the required item and line. Heib uses a pen to write on a napkin: “You’re trying to seduce me, aren’t you?”
Then it’s time to give birth.
Heib plops down on a less-than-pristine floor in the basement bathroom of the coffeehouse. Campbell films from the toilet, while Harvey points a light at Heib, and Bylsma crouches into the frame as two actors in medical garb wait to receive the imaginary infant, the next milestone in Harvey’s vision of perfect coupledom.
“Of all the awkward things I’ve had to do,” Heib says, just before unleashing a series of childbirth shrieks.
The head games between Boye and Harvey spill back into view on location at the home of a couple who are also providing dogs and children for the film.
At 1:45, Harvey works out more snippets of his montage: Heib and Bylsma playing with a 2-year-old boy and the dogs, holding a 6-month-old baby, and sleeping in bed. As he considers his options, he and several members of his crew get a text message from Boye saying that he has completed shooting.
Harvey dictates his reply text aloud: “Die in a fire.”
Adair chimes in with his own shot at Boye, who has told just about everyone that the concept of his film relies on comely women dousing one another with water. “If you weren’t done by 1, I’d be concerned,” Adair says, suggesting another reply.
Harvey guides the crew swiftly through the final shots. His self-imposed shooting deadline of 2 p.m. is blown by the time they finish the next-to-last scene: Bylsma waking up, seeing his wife next to him and realizing how lucky he is. As the song puts it: Yeah, lying with me half-awake, oh, anyway, it’s looking like a beautiful day.
At 3:08, Harvey calls it a wrap, leaving four hours for him and editor Chris Downs to cut the film, select which scenes to make black-and-white, burn it to a DVD, and get it to the theater.
He makes it to the Screenland with just five minutes to spare, a crunch that causes him to hedge earlier predictions of victory. “I’ll be honest,” he says. “It’s a little more compressed than I like. It’s not going to be quite as pretty as [it was] on the computer.”
Of the 21 teams that began the day, 15 have completed the project on time, with two coming in too late to compete. One team succumbs to Boye’s technical-difficulties curse by bringing a DVD in the wrong format.
The results are wildly different. There’s a murder plot, a couple of action films, and some general cinematic weirdness. But a comedy comes away with top honors. A team called Shantrim wins with an uproarious, SNL-parody-quality infomercial for a company that stalks clients in order to make them feel important. One testimonial features a woman marveling that her stalker photographed her flossing while she drove down the highway.
Harvey admires the film and the team that made it. He and his Hellions go home empty-handed.
“Am I surprised? No. No, I mean, I would have liked to [have won],” Harvey says while collecting his DVD from the pile of entries. “It’s a great day, a good night, great people to play with.”
But Boye and his team also fail to place, which only fuels the Boye-Harvey rivalry.
“I think the battle rages on,” Boye says the next afternoon. “Either that, or we could form a supergroup and set out to destroy everybody.”