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Diary of a Beer League Movie Star
Colin James Haslett
The Making of a Zombie Film

s nine o’clock on a Friday night. I’d normally be at work for another few hours but tonight I’m at home because I’ve taken half a vacation day, so I’m free for a change. And I’m getting ready to call it an early evening. Can my life really be this pathetic? Well, yeah, sometimes it can be, but this time I’ve got an actual good reason for crashing both early and stone sober on a weekend. Tomorrow I’m participating in the 24 Hour Film Contest, an opportunity for some of Vancouver’s local aspiring film makers to showcase their abilities in a Cannonball Run style race to make a short film with no prep time and whatever budget they can dig out from between the cushions of the sofa.

This is my first time in the contest, I was invited by a buddy of mine from acting class. It’s his dime and his show and sounds like a lot of fun but I’m really not sure of what to expect and I’m hoping that we can do something we can be proud of putting our names on. I mentioned to Sam North, the editor here at Hacks, that I was going to be doing this and he told me I should post a diary of the event, that it might make for interesting reading. I don’t know about that but if I can transcribe my own chicken-scratching after it’s all over I’ll let you judge for yourselves. But enough with pounding the keyboard, I have to be up early in the morning

It’s a couple of minutes to nine on Saturday morning and I’m at Joe’s Café on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive, gathering point for the contest. The last time I was up this early (Yes, this is early. Remember, I work nights.) it was to make a flight with the promises of free alcohol and showgirls and a bloody awful exchange rate at the other end. I’m running on caffeine, which isn’t uncommon for me, and I’m standing alone by the meeting area for my team, the first to arrive, which isn’t uncommon for me either. I’ve run into one person I know from another acting class who’s since decided to move behind the camera. I hum a few bars of The Proclaimers’ "Persevere" and keep an eye out for our team captain, Kaare. He strolls up a few minutes after nine with Lowela, our other star, and we’re joined shortly by Chris, another buddy of Kaare’s who’s going to be running the camera and helping with the writing, and Pam, who was hooked up with our team by the contest organizers and who’s looking after the various production details. Of the other three members of our team one will be joining us in the afternoon to handle the sound duties, one will be joining Kaare at the editing stage to handle the titling and one can’t make it. As Kaare hands out some packages he worked up in advance with a tentative schedule, budget and worksheets, all in clear plastic folders colour coded for our various roles in the production two things become clear to me. First, I didn’t have to worry about anybody else taking this thing too lightly and giving a half-assed effort. Second, I might have to worry about me taking this too lightly.
Almost eleven thirty now and the five of us have been hashing out ideas over a late breakfast for the last hour. We all got an orientation talk from the contest organizers and a couple of sponsors, including a music publisher who’s provided several hundred tracks of royalty free unreleased tunes and a lawyer who explained what we can and can’t shoot with respect to copyrights/trademarks/gettin’ our butts sued off. Warnings were also given out about deadlines and time limits and a little hope was distributed when it was announced that the September contest’s winner will be aired on the CBC next weekend. There were a couple of pre-contest draws and our team won the use of a professional editing suite for our film. Then the contest packages were opened at ten on the dot and we all spread out to make the magic happen. We’ve been given a theme, a sub theme, a character type, a prop and a word to include. Thinking about "To thine own self be true," "The gift of reason," an explorer of the unknown, a gift wrapped box, "Presence" and Kaare’s interest in doing something genre bending I suggest a zombie movie where Lowela, playing some kind of paranormal investigator, has to convince me that I’m really dead. Over bacon and eggs it mutates into Lowela having to kill her ex over and over again until she enlists the help of a Ghostbusterish Sam Spade type, who will be played by Chris. We split up so Lowela can go home and get several changes of clothes, Kaare and Chris can work on the script and gather makeup for my zombie look, and Pam can get the props and locations set up. Having brought several wardrobe options with me I join Pam to see if I can offer any help.
One o’clock and I’m sitting in Pam’s apartment with my thumb in my bum and my brain in neutral, as dear old Dad used to put it so eloquently, and still does. Pam and I have come up with a few more humorous was of killing me as this is undoubtedly going to be a comedy and she’s gone shopping. I’ve changed into my costume and now I’m waiting for the others to show up here. Our locations are going to be Pam’s apartment, the roof and parking garage of her apartment building and the park across the street. Twenty four hours to make a movie and I’m sitting on my duff. I’m also thinking about the things we were supposed to include in our film and wondering if we’ve lost everything but the prop. I can’t say if my original idea would have been as exciting or funny as what we’re now doing seems to be, but it included the themes and ideas that we have to include to win. There goes the door buzzer, so we’ll have to find out.
Coming up on four-thirty and with the sun sinking fast Kaare’s shooting Lowela and Chris’ park scenes. I’m in full zombie face waiting to hide behind a very small tree. My first makeup test looked like I was covered in moss and the second looked like somebody glued cracker crumbs to my face, which they did, but by the end of it I think I turned out looking pretty dead. Someone from the contest came over around two o’clock while we were dressing up Pam’s apartment to document the process for the eventual DVD of the contest. Seems that some teams have already begun filming, but I gather that some of the teams had already begun writing before the contest began. If any of them happen to read this – For Shame! Pam’s been amazing during this whole thing; working her ass off, not complaining as we turn her home upside down and inside out, pulling things out of thin air just as the rest of us are realizing that we need them and moving on to the next shot to set up while the rest of us have fun with the filming. We’re about two thirds of the way through shooting, having abandoned about half of my various deaths, and we’re not going to be helped by the fact that both Lowela and Chris are scheduled to wrap at five, both of them having somewhere to be tonight. So far I’d say that this thing is either going to be absolutely hilarious or mortifyingly embarrassing.
It’s a little after six and I’m wrapped before anyone else. Everyone’s shooting Chris’ office scene with Lowela providing the other half of a phone conversation off camera, both of them having agreed to stick around late. Lowela’s been a real trouper through the whole shoot, putting up with five crude guys (Troy, our sound guy, joined up with us around one o’clock) making innuendos and double entendres at every opportunity like a bunch of frat brothers while she changes clothes between every shot. I’ve peeled off my makeup, thankfully with no allergic reactions, and gotten out of my costume and once again I’m sitting and waiting in Pam’s apartment by myself. Kaare’s looking at a long night of post production, but at least he’ll get to do that mostly by himself. He’ll get sole directing credit on this but he had to put up with the rest of us all directing each other.
Saturday night around nine, almost 24 hours after I started writing this thing. I’m a little sore from doing some falls and rolls. Most of my "acting" today consisted of lurching and falling down, but I’d have happily kept going. The day was a bit of a blur but all in all I had a lot of fun and I can’t wait to see the final product Sunday night. Too many years of word processing have rendered my handwriting virtually illegible even to me, so I’ve transcribed my notes/scribbles with the help of some sense memory and a wee bit of dramatic recreation, but this was my day. Early in the day Chris referred to this as beer league filmmaking, and I’d say that’s a pretty good interpretation of the experience. We came into it to have fun and do a good job and I think we were pretty damned successful on both counts. I know Kaare really wants to win, but I’ve always been a play-the-game-to-play-the-game kind of guy and this was a good game to play.
Another 24 hours and I’m typing again. I got to the showing this evening to discover that our film had the same title as one other team’s film, "Will Not Be Shown." The lights went down and the stragglers took their seats and I was the only person at our team’s table so I decided to blaze a trail. I probably should have stayed for the show but I was in the tiniest of bad moods at that point. I got home to find a message from Kaare, left ten minutes before show time, saying that our film might not be shown because he got it in about twenty-five minutes late. Ah well, life is the journey not the destination. Hopefully I can get a copy from him, I’ll let you all know how it turned out.
Contact the 24 Hour Film Contest

© Colin Hasslett November 2002

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