Beat the Clock 

Pills, spills and thrills fill this year's 48 Hour Film contest

Pills, spills and thrills fill this year's 48 Hour Film contest

Last weekend, 33 teams of filmmakers took part in Nashville's 48 Hour Film Project, part of a national contest in which teams compete to write, shoot, edit and deliver a four- to eight-minute film in exactly 48 hours' time. Because hundreds of patrons were turned away from last year's sold-out screenings, the films will be shown for six days at the Belcourt starting Friday, with awards to be handed out next Thursday. Here's a rough outline of what transpired last weekend while the rest of the city slept.

Friday

7 p.m. — Representatives of the 33 teams wedge elbow to elbow into the back room at Sunset Grill. Each team draws a genre ranging from comedy to spy thrillers and Westerns. The teams are then given three restrictions: each movie must feature a common prop (garden shears), a common line of dialogue ("Now you've done it!") and a common character (Sgt. Avery Stoddard, park ranger). Miss any one, and the movie automatically forfeits. All films have to be in by the end of the half-hour grace period, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, not a minute later. From this point on, the clock is ticking.

7:01 p.m. — A friend in Nashville for the NAMM convention calls Springfield, Ill., filmmakers Rick Unsbee and Kurt Forness. The two had wanted to enter the 48 Hour contest in St. Louis but missed it. Nashville's is the next closest. After showing up at Sunset Grill in their stead, the friend has drawn horror. Technically, they have 47 hours and 59 minutes to deliver their finished film to Nashville.

8 p.m. — Having drawn romance yet again, to his team's dismay, four-time 48 Hour competitor Wes Edwards of Ruckus Films sits down to brainstorm with his cast and crew. Early ideas include: a romance between two sasquatches; a street gang that falls in love; a tryst between a kidney and a liver. The team retires to Moe's in Cool Springs for burritos and inspiration.

8:30 p.m. — In mid-burrito, a Ruckus Films teammate says: What about doing the spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp, only with a noodle about four miles long? Bingo.

9 p.m. — After a script conference over beers at East Nashville's Beyond the Edge, Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer and Jay Byrd—famous as the cross-dressing country act Y'all—devise a plot for their science-fiction film. All the filmmakers need is their star: a garden gnome. "We called [musicians] Kristi Rose and Fats Kaplin," Cheslik-DeMeyer says. "We knew if any of our friends had a garden gnome, it would be Kristi Rose and Fats."

10 p.m. — Kristi Rose loans Jay Byrd and Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer her garden gnome.

11 p.m. — Thanks to the nightly newscast, team leader Demetria Kalodimos is only now sitting down with her team of WSMV-Channel 4 cohorts. For their comedy, they will require a preacher, a rabbi, a baptismal pond and combat boots. Suddenly, just hours before the shoot, the team loses its preacher. A frantic call goes out for his replacement.

Saturday

6 a.m. — We have a preacher! After Demetria Kalodimos puts in a request on her computer at work, who should answer the divine call but WSMV reporter James Lewis. "He was fantastic," Kalodimos reports. The coveted role of park ranger Sgt. Avery Stoddard goes to editor Carlos Torres.

7 a.m. — After pulling an all-nighter, the (Name Withheld) team has a script for its action-adventure, a Civil War epic entitled "Blue Skies Under Grey." It's off to Signs Now in Smyrna, where staffer Jim Gammon has agreed to copy scripts on his day off.

9 a.m. — Jay Byrd, playing a lady scientist from the planet Ignor, climbs a tree in Centennial Park. He is wearing a polyester floral-print dress, a straw hat and high-heel sandals. He carries a pair of garden shears.

10 a.m. — For a pivotal scene, Jay Byrd wades into the Centennial Park duck pond wearing rubber waders and a pith helmet. His motivation is to feed the ducks. No one tells the ducks. "They weren't hungry," Cheslik-DeMeyer observes. "Or they were scared." The ducks at Shelby Bottoms prove to be better actors.

2:07 p.m. — Shooting a horror yarn entitled "The Loft," Murfreesboro filmmaker Hal Sandifer finds an ideal location: a 50-year-old barn in Bellevue. The loft even has an old couch upstairs. However, when Sandifer shifts a cushion, he dislodges some angry extras: a nest of bees. "I was stung three times," Sandifer says, "and the crew exited the barn faster than I thought was possible." One can of Raid later, filming resumes.

2:29 p.m. — Continuing the mysterious wave of insect attacks, a horsefly "the size of Secretariat" stings Kalodimos' director of photography Kyle Thigpen on a riverbank in idyllic Fernvale. It draws blood. Technician Howard Hoffman, meanwhile, stands in 90-degree heat in full rabbi regalia. He begs to be baptized.

2:45 p.m. — Jay Byrd converts his backyard into the site of an alien massacre. The sequence involves hosing down Byrd (as park ranger Sgt. Avery Stoddard) with fake blood. "We used Hershey's strawberry syrup," Cheslik-DeMeyer confides, "which, by the way, ants love."

4 p.m. — From Cheslik-DeMeyer's journal entry: "Buried Jay in potting soil up to his neck in a planter. Watered his head."

5 p.m. — From Cheslik-DeMeyer's journal entry: "Jay still in the planter, now wearing a baby bonnet. Watered his head again."

6:05 p.m. — Dinner break on the set of "Blue Skies Under Grey" at the Sam Davis Home in Smyrna. Director Scott Jackson, his crew, park ranger Sgt. Avery Stoddard and Confederate troops in full uniform stand around eating pizza from Papa John's.

7:30 p.m. — In a downtown rest room, Ruckus Films sets up a shot in a stall involving a long noodle. An older man comes in to use the facilities. "Here I am with a camera—here my actor is with a noodle hanging out of his mouth," Wes Edwards recalls. "We all quietly back out of the room."

8 p.m. — Psycho Kitty Films hands its editor the last few tapes of its superhero saga "Super Tracker: The Nose Knows." Local comic-musician Greg Hall plays the superhero, whose only real attributes are his sense of smell and his sidekick, park ranger Sgt. Avery Stoddard.

Sunday

4:30 a.m. — Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer finishes his rough cut.

5:36 a.m. — Dawn. Rick Unsbee and Kurt Forness are in their second hour of editing, having finished their shoot at 4 a.m. Fortunately, Unsbee spent the previous Wednesday sampling energy drinks to find the most potent brew. The champion is something called Monster. Unsbee and Forness drink two apiece, along with a 24-ounce coffee and a chaser of caffeine-filled Bayer's Back and Body Pain pills. "After that," Unsbee says, "you can pave concrete with your bare hands."

12:45 p.m. — In Murfreesboro, Hal Sandifer is editing on his desktop Mac when suddenly the screen goes black. A hellacious summer storm has outed much of the city's power, leaving Sandifer in the dark with no way to cut his movie. The power won't come on for another three hours. Luckily, Sandifer has a brainstorm. Rigging a line outside to his car, he runs his laptop off the car battery and resumes his edit.

2:20 p.m. — Still wired on Monsters, coffee and back pills, Rick Unsbee and Kurt Forness finish editing and process a copy of their film. Now just one problem remains: they are in Springfield, Ill., 377 miles from Nashville. The film must be delivered in five hours, and Yahoo! Maps estimates that they are six hours and 19 minutes away. Rick and Kurt jump in their Pontiac Montana van, buckle their belts and punch it for the Tennessee border.

7:05 p.m. — After 13 hours of editing, Wes Edwards' computer crashes with 25 minutes left in the contest. The hopes of Ruckus Films sink.

7:07 p.m. — A Pontiac Montana van screeches to a halt near the entrance to Sunset Grill. Having driven nearly 400 miles in just under five hours, Unsbee and Forness hand in their film with minutes to spare.

7:08 p.m. — Computer on! Ruckus Films is in the game. They grab a copy and run out the door.

7:29 p.m. — As the buzzer sounds, (Name Withheld) and Ruckus Films stand in line to deliver their films. Hal Sandifer's messenger just squeaks in. Bleary-eyed but exhilarated, the various crews mill around Sunset Grill, downing beers and swapping stories. Some head home for their first night's sleep in, well, 48 hours.

"Last year at this time," Hal Sandifer says, "I told myself I would probably not be doing this again the next year. As time got closer for this year's event, I slowly talked myself back into taking another crack at it. I am at the same place once again, vowing to never do this again."

Until next year.

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