Off the Clock: Mason Team Makes Magnificent Movie in Mere Minutes

Posted: July 20, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

Picture a missionary who can’t ride a bike befriending a young woman afraid to go more than 1,000 steps beyond her home, and you have “Owensville,” the award-winning short film brainchild of a group of Mason filmmakers and creative types.

As part of the 48-Hour Film Project, a traveling organization that visits more than 30 cities across the country, a group of 15 friends and co-workers – eight of whom are Mason alumni, faculty, staff or students – teamed up for the second year in a row to take on the challenge of making a four- to seven-minute-long film in just one weekend.

Starting at 7 p.m. Friday evening, the team had to write a script, cast, shoot and edit, ending at 7 p.m. on Sunday with the five-minute “Owensville.” The script was mostly written by Richard Wood, BA Communication ’95 and executive producer for GMU-TV, who stayed up late into the night on Friday to draft it. Then another part of the team began working on shooting and directing the film on Saturday, leaving the final part of the team time to edit the film on Sunday.

“We made a lot of mistakes the first time we did this, and I swore I would never do it again,” says Wood. “But I changed my mind, and this year we had a good plan. It worked out well.”

It did work out well for them, as the team, calling themselves Shaolin Monkeys, took home the biggest honor – Best of D.C.

The group also garnered Best Writing, Best Cinematography and Best Directing honors, making their film an automatic entry in several other film festivals this year and giving them the chance to compete with all the other “Best Ofs” once the 48-Hour Film Festival is finished touring. The film has also been accepted into the D.C. Shorts Film Festival, which runs from Sept 14 to 21 at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

To ensure that no filmmaking gets done before the contest begins, the competition sets some fun ground rules.

Minutes before the time clock starts, each team – nearly 100 for the Washington, D.C., competition – selects a genre out of a hat. The genre can be anything from a horror film to a foreign film or musical, and can only be traded back once. Shaolin Monkeys was satisfied with its selection of “family film” as the group’s genre.

The festival also set certain parameters for each city: each film had to have a certain line of dialogue, prop and character. For Washington, D.C., the line of dialogue that had to appear in the film was, “This is absolutely the last time.” Also, the prop of a fire extinguisher had to appear somewhere in the film, as did the character of Tim or Tina Tate, a “gay glass sculptor extraordinaire.”

The key to success in the competition, said the Monkeys, was splitting up the work. “Everyone knew what their role was and how much time we should spend on the various stages,” says Wood.

That way, says lead actress Stacey Rathbun, BAIS ‘03 and director/producer of GMU-TV, “We actually got sleep!”

“This wasn’t a job or competition. It was a bunch of grown men and women having as much fun as kids in a playground,” says Giovanni Calabro, BA Communication ’01, who, in addition to being a “get-whatever-needs-to-be-done” part of the crew and occasional help to the writers, says he’ll be remembered as the “out-of-shape underwear guy” in the movie.

“The whole weekend was a continuous and exhilarating challenge. From conceiving a solid script through hoping we wouldn’t hit traffic and miss our deadline, we scraped through the weekend with a memorable pride,” Calabro says.

Even with their planning, however, making a good film in one weekend was a tough task. According to the 48-Hour Film Project’s founders, Mark Ruppert and Liz Langston, “the tight deadline of 48 hours puts the focus squarely on the filmmakers – emphasizing creativity and teamwork skills. While the time limit places an unusual restriction on the filmmakers, it is also liberating by putting an emphasis on ‘doing’ instead of ‘talking.’”

The time restriction also makes for some memorable moments and bonding. Experiences such as wrestling on someone’s front lawn, crashing bicycles and staying up until 3 a.m. gave the Mason team plenty of moments to laugh during their weekend.

“One of the things I learned was that a director sometimes doesn’t need the additional shot, but just wants an actor to go through the torture of having a hose shot in his face – multiple times – for the morale and enjoyment of the cast and crew,” says Calabro.

The group also kept it simple. Not having to set the movie in a particular location, they didn’t waste time getting permission to use specific buildings or landmarks. Instead, they shot portions of the film in a team member’s Centreville, Va., neighborhood. The interior shots were filmed in a director’s home in Washington, D.C.

At the end of the weekend, the filmmakers turned their work over to the competition judges, and several screenings of the films took place over the next week. “Owensville” was an audience favorite, and the Mason team was very pleased with the results.

“It was a rough weekend, but we have a good group with no egos, and we were able to pull it off,” says Rathbun. “I can’t wait to do it again next year.”

To watch “Owensville,” visit www.shaolinmonkeys.net/. To see photos of the crew filming the movie, see www.flickr.com/photos/calabro/sets/ and click on “48 Hours.”

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