Amateur filmmakers battle the clock to scare their audience
A grey sky hung over the film crew’s heads in the filbert orchards of Springfield’s Harvest Landing as they prepared to shoot their first scene. With only 50 hours remaining until the competition deadline, director Christopher Hawkins and his team surveyed the landscape and made last-minute changes to their script.
The crew of seven was working on an entry for the third annual 72 Hour Horror Film Competition. The event gives amateur filmmakers three days to create a 2-3 minute horror film for a chance to win $1,000 in cash and equipment rental credit.
“We went into the competition kind of blind this year,” Christopher said. Last year, his team won the audience award for their entry “A Hearty Feast,” which centered around a cannibalistic dinner.
“We had a couple of outlines [this year] for stories and just went with the one we thought could do best with the time we had,” he said.
Their premise was simple enough: A struggling actor cast in a role as a serial killer decides to try method acting, with deadly results. Among the props were a fake gun, a real machete and a pig mask. The crew was mounting tripods, testing lights and recording ambiance, all to set up a scene in which the killer attacks two young lovers parked just outside of the orchard.
The lovers’ vehicle, a beat up, dark green Astro Van, also doubled as the base of operations for the crew. Here they would charge equipment, strategize and play Go Fish in their downtime.
“Film requires a lot of waiting,” Philip Hawkins, actor and brother of Christopher, said. The crew had to hold off shooting for almost two hours, until nightfall. All the while the clock was ticking.
They improvised a scene of the killer driving, requiring Rebecca Felcyn, film editor, to tail the killer’s truck with Christopher sitting on the hood, filming.
“At one point I was probably going 30 [MPH]. He was fine,” Felcyn said.
Hanging off the back of a truck, duct taping equipment to tripods and using headlights to illuminate actors’ faces were among the ways the crew coped with the time frame of the competition. “You’re on your toes the entire competition,” Christopher said. “That’s filmmaking. It’s problem solving. You’re going to run into a thousand different issues.”
Once dark, the crew got a multitude of shots depicting the demise of the young lovers, played by Felcyn and Haaken Plews. At about 9 p.m. police shut them down, as the crew wasn’t allowed to film at Harvest Landing at night without a permit. This put the production behind schedule, forcing the crew to reconvene at Christopher and Felcyn’s house a half-hour later.
“The most difficult part about filming on location is the lack of power,” Felcyn said. “You have to really think outside of the box.”
The atmosphere at the house was very different. “I am very comfortable here, I have my pets on set,” Felcyn said, wrapped up in a blanket with her dog in her lap. “It’s very relaxed, very fun, [with] a lot of ideas and creativity happening.”
The next day, the crew assembled in the early afternoon. With less than two days to plan, shoot and edit the rest of the film, they scrambled to piece it together. In the evening they decided to shoot in a vacant parking lot outside of Felcyn’s house to avoid further interactions with police. At one point, the crew reflected headlights into the van itself to get the shots they needed.
By Sunday, with only a handful of hours left until the deadline, there was still much work to be done. After going through the footage they had, the crew realized that they could not finish in time. They do not see this as a failure, but rather a positive experience to build from.
“We decided to keep our footage so that we could film a 15 minute short film instead, We want to take our time with it” Felcyn said. “The competition inspired us to create something more in-depth.”
Short films that did make it into the 72 Hour Horror Film Contest will be screened at the Hult Center on Oct. 31, 2015 at 7 p.m. Whether or not contestants got their work in on time, the competition will stand for most as a memorable learning experience and a crash-course in the perils of filmmaking.