By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
|Photos by Anne Fishbein|
THE SPECIAL-EFFECTS WOMAN IS TALKING ABOUT her third nipple.
"We had to test the adhesive, to make sure it wouldn't come off," she says. "I went to the mall and tried on some clothes. I was hoping it would show up on the security camera, but nobody seemed to care." Meanwhile, she is applying gray-green camouflage makeup to a ghoul couple -- the woman in a Victorian gown and upswept bouffant, the man in an Incredible Hulk wife-beater, although his starched silver hair makes him look suspiciously like Joe Piscopo doing the reanimated corpse of Frank Sinatra.
There are no crew members standing idle on this set, no Teamsters napping or bellying up to the craft-services table. The equipment consists of two tripod-mounted Canon GL-1 Prosumer Mini-DV cameras, one of which is resting on something called a Microdolly, and one lonely light stand. Nearby, a 6-inch Sony Trinitron monitor rests on a rolled-up bath towel. The three-person crew's strongest recommendation, by their own admission, is that they were free on a Saturday night (one of them is here in exchange for equipment he will borrow for his own shoot tomorrow night). Everyone chips in, the lead actor doubling as an assistant director, the lead actress refilling her own prop champagne flute.
Alex Grant makes a beautiful corpse.
"Let's just go," says the director, over the objections of the actual prop master, who is also her boyfriend, as well as a reporter from Variety. He is having trouble getting a photogenic blaze going in the fireplace. "Get me a Bernie Weinraub story to burn," he calls, referencing the notoriously long-winded New York Timesfeature writer. The impulse is cut short by the sound of a police helicopter circling directly overhead. "Oh, great," says the prop guycumboyfriendcumVarietyscribe. "Now they're on to us."
Flashback to December 31, 1999, the cusp of the new millennium. Terrorists are trying to sneak in the back door from Canada. The Artist Formerly Known as Whatever is busy counting his expected song royalties. Congregations from Times Square to Beijing Plaza to the Pyramids watch the skies for a sign, cosmic or otherwise. And six champagne-stoked postproduction flunkies in a hot tub at Big Bear are taking the longer view: They vow to each make a short film a month for six months, by the end of which they will have mobilized their dreams and manifested their destinies. Little do they suspect that, two years later, their simple idea will have inspired 600-plus films by 150 different filmmakers, and spawned auxiliary movements in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Copenhagen, Prague, Tokyo and beyond.
Shooting the witching hour:
Dina Mande, DP Justin Lang
and Jeff Consiglio (background:
the Variety guy)
Or at least that's the official version. But in Hollywood, of course, it's more a question of who you know than who you bathe with, and so when five of these six type-A personalities gather at the 101 Café in Beachwood, they recount the following genealogy: Freelance graphic designerart director Aaron Hendricks (who does "show opens and promos" for Warner Bros., Disney, ABC, Fox, etc.) is married to producer Maureen Timpa Hendricks (the Lord of the Ringsvideo game, Coke commercials), who works with editor Jeff Consiglio (main titles for The Truman Show, the trailer for Armageddon, plus documentary features of his own). Aaron works with art director Dina Mande (main titles for The Sweetest Thing, the trailer for Moulin Rouge) and with producer-editor Rachel Tejeda (Disney, NBC, the Playboy Channel), who had just made a documentary on robotics. And Jeff knew theater director Dave Moore (no longer with the project), who was part of a crack design team that had just written, produced and performed its own full-length play in the space of a week.
All six had set out, once upon a time, to conquer Hollywood, and all had found themselves mired in high-paying, low-esteem jobs -- cogs in the studio machine. But rather than "sit around and drink cappuccino the rest of my life," as Maureen puts it, they allowed foiled ambition, impaired reason and peer pressure to chuck them headlong into a commitment: to conceive, write, cast, direct and, yes, post-produce a film per month each, based on a common theme. They christened this quixotic undertaking Group 101 -- as in the freshman curriculum -- and chose as their first theme, appropriately enough, "A Door Opens." (Other themes have included "Nudity," "Pain," "Heaven or Hell," "Angels and Angles," "First Kiss," "Circus" and "Death.")
The films are invariably shot on digital video or Mini-DV, edited on Final Cut Pro, feature a crew of no more than three, and rarely are longer than 10 minutes or cost more than $250 (with a mean cost of closer to $50). As a worker inside the industry, each filmmaker has access to equipment, personnel and resources far beyond the reach of the average civilian. But with 60- to 70-hour workweeks and schedules that often amount to being on 24-hour call, the real challenge -- as in the film industry proper -- is getting it done at all.
"When you've got 30 days and someone's throwing an assignment at you," says Jeff, "you spend a week trying to figure out what the hell you're going to do, you spend another week maybe honing the idea, then you've got to try and write the thing. By the time you crew up, you're just calling people and saying, 'Hey, what are you doing tomorrow night? Can you come over and hold a mike for me?' Sometimes you get a DP, sometimes you shoot on film. Sometimes it's grand, but most times it's just whatever it takes."
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