Matt Weitz will never have to worry about losing his hair. The thick blonde-brown waves are evergreen, catching the light and framing his baby blues. The locks, flicking out of a black baseball cap, set him apart from other actors. He self-consciously takes off his hat and fluffs out his curls, afraid they may flatten.
Matt probably won’t ever struggle to find a date either. As he steps onto the pitcher’s mound, he toys with the ends of his hair. His impossibly coiffed waves, the sun setting behind him and the camera he points his gaze to are part of the serendipity of tonight.
He looks up from under the hat’s visor, a shadow crossing his face. Fingering a browned baseball, he turns it in his hand and winds up.
These are the magic hours.
Cleveland’s 48 Hour Film Project gathers its hopefuls inside Hot Cards downtown warehouse. It’s Friday, July 10, at 7 p.m., and the humid room is flooding with filmmakers. Forty-three teams this year all hoping to script, film and edit a short film within the span of 48 hours. At 7:15, project co-producers Brian Bowers and Jennifer Feierabend will hand out genres to each team. Then, they'll announce elements filmmakers must throw into the mix in order to qualify for the competition.
Usually, the prizes for this thing are overshadowed by the title associated with winning. These teams know each other. They know who has won, who’s new, who sucks. Lording a W over the others’ boom mics and dollies is worth more than the gift cards.
However, this summer’s fest comes with a particularly interesting prize package. Besides a smattering of vouchers, gift cards and titles, the winners from the 2015 48 Hour Film Project in Cleveland will not only go on to compete in the International 48 but may also be chosen to screen at the Cannes Film Festival this year, an announcement that filled the warehouse with the hum of mass whispering.
Past winners Maple Films face each other near the entrance of the warehouse, reminiscing on past years.
Director Dustin Lee stands quietly in a T-shirt and khakis, an outfit that will become his uniform over the next three days. Across from him is the team’s lead editor Jon Jivan, a gangly, bespeckled man who talks about other teams’ chances of winning this year. To his left, writer Terry Geer, red-haired, flip-flopped and duck-footed, strokes his orange beard as he looks around the room.
They eye a team of suited teenage boys in the corner, adorned with top hats and a purple petticoats. Around them are teams composed of 20-something lilac-haired hipster chicks, middle-aged lumberjacks and humble, dressed-down 30 year olds.
“Musical or Western,” Dustin says, staring down at the large white envelope the project’s given him. “That’s the only genre we don’t want.”
In a few, a representative from each team will approach Bowers and pull genres out of a hat. Of them are drama, thriller, horror, sci-fi, musical or western and romance, among others. Whatever is pulled is the style the team must adhere to for the duration of the fest. Maple’s particularly known for its skill at sci-fi and fantasy, having won the 2014 Horror 48 Hour Film Project with a psychic and psychopathic vixen and the 2013 48 Hour Film Project with couple would communicated by transmitting thoughts through a radio.
“Well, we’ve had headphones. I think it was a frisbee one year,” Dustin muses, listing the required props from projects past.
“Yeah, and we’ve always just thrown them,” Jon quips. “I think we literally said, ‘What’s this?’ and threw the headphones last time.” The required props, genres, lines and characters are all in place to ensure no team begins scripting or filmmaking before the 48 hours officially begin.
Of course, it’s up to the teams to decide how each element is used. As long as each element’s on-screen or mentioned, the project gods say it counts.
Half an hour later, Jon pulls “drama” as Maple Films required genre, exciting the troupe. Bowers also announces the elements: a jumper cable, a comedian named Kelly or Kevin Joseph and the line, “Well, that’s certainly not something you see every day.” The absence of any one of these elements means disqualification, though the disqualified film will still screen.
“We can do a lot with that,” Dustin tells his group. “I mean, it’s so broad.”
By 7:36 p.m., Maple Films has grown. Sitting indian style on the floor or propped up on a sofa under Casablanca and Nighthawk prints, the now nine-person team tosses around ideas, usages of the elements. As a whole, they can’t escape the idea of a stand-up comic encountering his worst day ever.
Talking with his hands, Terry explains how the whole thing will be set outside a comedy club. The comic will storm outside after hearing another comic steal his material. He’ll try to dramatically make his escape into his car, tires squealing, but his engine won’t turn over. Insert jumper cables. The series of unfortunate events continues from there.
“It’s a story about being genuine,” Terry enforces his idea. “He’s forced to go back onstage and it shows that being your genuine self conquers trying to be someone else.”
Filled with the most expected uses of the elements and a too-simple plot, the group vetoes the idea and continue to spitball.
At 8:39 p.m., the team decides not to use the comedian as a main character. By 10, Terry’s concerned the story will be too cerebral if they don’t go with something simple. At 11:18, the group’s back on Terry’s initial idea. He’s sent to the basement to write while the rest of the team mulls over the half-baked premise.
Snacking on Sour Patch Kids and pretzels, assistant director Caroline Abbey says she wishes there was more to the idea. Dustin thinks they should do a crime film. Drama is too broad to work with, like when you’re asked what your favorite movie is and your mind blanks.
At this point, as midnight creeps close, team members begin to leave. Actors, sound guys and Dustin’s wife all slip away to sleep or drive home, thinking they’ll wake up to a call time at a local bar to shoot a film about a comic’s lame day.
After the majority of the team’s cleared out, Terry throws out his idea and beckons Dustin to help him brainstorm in the basement. After another kicking another 15 ideas to the curb, it’s officially 8 hours into the project and the group hasn’t begun writing. They talk about filming locations and the chunks of time just before sunset. Magic hours, filmmakers call them.
At 3 a.m., Dustin excuses himself to his office. When he returns, he hovers above his sitting team with a notebook in hand.
“Okay, this is something we’ve never done before.”