FALLING FROM THE BOAT: FILMMAKING
IN FORTY-EIGHT HOURS
The call came at midnight.
I was in a semi catatonic state at the time, splashing water on my face in an attempt to wash the concept of sleep from my mind. The gesture was proving futile, but the ringtone made me jump a mile high. Adrenaline boost achieved.
“Joey,” said actress Amy Bloom from the other end, “don’t freak out, but I’ve got something to tell you.”
The best way to get someone to freak out is instructing them not to. Internally I proved myself no exception to the rule while externally I attempted (and likely failed) to sound like a seasoned pro ready to smoothly deal with sudden adversity.
“It’s really pouring over here. The waves are coming over the sea wall and the house is shaking. We just lost power to the whole street. I’m sure they’ll fix it, but I wanted to let you know.”
I wrapped up the conversation with equal eloquence and returned to my room where my co-writer, William Sterling, was waiting. His laptop was open, a fresh new Final Draft file merrily flashing its cursor in anticipation of the wonderful story we’d finished breaking moments earlier. The story of an astronaut spending her last day on Earth prior to a one-way trip in search of ecologically vital resources that may or may not exist. The story in which the roiling sea pounding the foundations of Amy’s house had been cast as an oasis of tranquility as her character struggles with the decision to sacrifice everything she loves for the benefit of strangers. The story whose director foolishly figured three days of clear weather guaranteed a fourth. Said chump cleared his throat and after explaining the situation, announced the script would be written as discussed with the ocean being “figured out” if the rain continued. Will nodded with admirable restraint and we set to work.
Such is the life of one who accepts the challenge of conceiving and completing a film in forty-eight hours.
In mid 2010 I competed for the first time in the 48 Hour Film Project, an international contest which provides entrants with a genre, character, prop, line of dialogue, and a hard deadline of two days to make magic. The resulting short, For The Moment, took on over a hundred challengers in Los Angeles, emerging with an award for Best Directing and nominations for writing and acting. With ego accordingly inflated, I leapt at the chance to compete in the same organization’s 2011 “Go Green” festival, an ecocentric version of their main event. Thus I found myself playing chicken with Mother Nature a month later.
My gambit bore fruit—an azure blue sky filled with the wispy white clouds that make cinematographers giddy. A wall of gray wasn’t far behind, so I made the decision to dispense with our planned jib shot in the interests of time. This presented us with a problem, namely how to get Amy’s close-ups. She was far enough into the water that wading out and praying a rouge wave wouldn’t eighty-six my newly upgraded camera wasn’t an option. The solution presented itself in the form of a single seat kayak. With apocalyptic visions of soggy cameras dancing through my head, I set sail.
I arrived at my destination without incident, a minor miracle considering my utter lack of nautical experience. We rolled through our exterior shot list quickly. Our final setup was an act of spontaneity. An offhand joke about Michael Bay’s obsession with three sixty arcs lead to the realization I’d been floating on a dolly. The result? One of the film’s most beautiful moments. The camera begins on Amy’s pensive face and slowly arcs around to reveal her standing stock still in the tide, alone with her own thoughts—everything about the character summed up without a word.
Once done, I paddled to the shore and handed off the camera to my very relieved DP. I announced I would return the kayak to its mooring, set off, and…
…immediately flipped the boat.
The cold sent a jolt through my body. My mouth, open in mid expletive, took in a gallon of seawater. Yet when I came sputtering to the surface, I was overtaken by an overwhelming sense of joy. What a rush! And what a privilege! My team and I were making a movie! Out of all the things one could be doing on a Sunday morning, I was floating in the sea clad in my lucky Spider-Man T-Shirt because we’d captured an image no one else would have in pursuit of a story only we could express. There was no better job in the world—no better place to be.
The tension of the past twenty-four hours left in an instant. A fire replaced it, burning in my belly and bubbling forth from my lips. I sounded my barbaric yawp over the waters of Corona Del Mar.
So much of a filmmaker’s life is based on waiting—for re-writes, for funding, for lots of things. These sinkholes of stagnation breed the artist’s worst enemy: fear. We begin to doubt ourselves. We turn our frustrations against companions because we assume their journey is free from such obstacles. All this, of course, assumes we begin the quest in the first place. I doubt I’m the only one who’s stood over the abyss of a big project promising to leap “soon.”
I’m frequently asked why I enjoy competing under such intense circumstances. My response is I like a challenge, which is true. But it is not a challenge of scheduling that excites me. It is the challenge of self. With no control of the elements provided, one has no choice but to face the unknown. The waters may contain sharks or treasure, but the only way to know is to flip the boat. To breach the surface, finished film in hand, is to know that whether the course is assigned or charted, brief or prolonged, the tools for success are always within reach, the adventure too grand to delay.
Fair travels to you all.
Joey is a writer/director from Pasadena, CA, specializing in short form and New Media content. Joey is a frequent participant in the Los Angeles 48 Hour Film Project and a multiple award winner. His recent shorts, For the Moment and Earthbound, were recognized for Best Directing, Editing, and the Audience Choice Award, with additional nominations for Best Ensemble Acting and Writing. Joey also has a considerable presence in online media, where he has written and directed episodes of the popular web series Elevator and Game Room as well as helmed the pilot episode of The Mane Show, starring Tyler Mane (Rob Zombie’s Halloween 1&2). In 2009, Joey’s work with fellow writer Scott Napolitano on Issues: The Series earned the show WGA East signatory status under their Writer’s Guild 2.0 Media Initiative. When not filming his own projects, Joey has had the honor of crewing for various feature films including This is Not a Test and the MTV backed web series, Video Game Reunion, which is currently in its first season with over one million hits.
Check Joey out at www.joeyharrisfilm.com.