Ryan Licwinko reached into a black baseball hat and pulled out a small piece of paper. After months of anticipation, he was about to discover the key to the short film he and his team would create within the next 48 hours. Trish Clark leaned over the edge of the stage to read what he had drawn. “And your genre is… holiday movie!”
Licwinko held the paper briefly, his eyes fixed downward, his mind firing with ideas for the weekend to come.
So began the fifth installment of the 48 Hour Film Project New Haven, an annual filmmaking competition that held its kickoff event at the Outer Space last Friday night as 23 teams gathered to receive their assignments.
The films will all be screened at the Criterion on Temple Street Wednesday evening.
Licwinko, a test-prep tutor who directed an award-winning short for last year’s fest (see above), was in attendance with his friend and artistic collaborator, Amy Hannum. They were there to represent their team, “everyone leaves new haven.”
How do you make a movie in 48 hours? How do you assemble a crew, write a script, find props, build sets, shoot, edit, and master a competent short film when you are working with a very small budget and even less time? Each team did it differently, I’m sure. But I got to see how “everyone leaves new haven” did it.
Scene 1, Shot 1, Take 1
A few minutes after Licwinko had drawn his team’s genre, Trish Clark, the competition’s producer and hostess of the event, revealed the criteria that all participating teams were required to follow. Each team’s movie would have to include a pair of gloves; the character Robert or Rachel Poe, an insurance agent; and the line, “she’s a good friend of mine.” Notebooks in hand, Licwinko and Hannum rushed back to New Haven to meet up with the rest of the team.
Scene 2, Shot 7, Take 2
Back at Licwinko’s house in East Rock, eight friends huddled in a hot, second-story living room and started talking about potential subjects for a holiday movie. They related their favorite April Fool’s pranks and discussed the story behind Purimspiel morality plays. They returned again and again to the question of how best to explore the ambiguities and tensions and strange symbolism inherent to all holidays.
After seven hours of conversation, writing, and planning, as well as a break for some home-made Indian food, they had the first draft of a screenplay for their film, Tradition: a prodigal son brings his shiksa girlfriend home for Hanukkah dinner to meet his unnervingly traditional parents. It would be a story about the sometimes inane, sometimes profound traditions that tear people apart. In the wee hours of the morning, the team scattered off to bed, leaving Licwinko to a restless but excited night of script rewrites and revisions.
Scene 3, Shot 2, Take 3
Saturday morning at 8 a.m., Hannum and producer Lisa Howie hopped in an SUV and began a morning-long search for props. From East Rock to Edgewood to Wooster Square, they scoured tag sales and thrift shops, looking for a small square dining table, a menacing set of dinner knives, and a pair of men’s white gloves. They found the last two items, as well as a few other ornate props, at the English Market on Chapel Street.
Much of the preparation, however, took place not on locations throughout the city, but in Licwinko’s apartment. Hannum spent most of the early afternoon molding, carving and baking a particularly macabre clay dreidel …
… and actors-for-the-day Sarah Olivier (pictured) and Michael Harris reviewed their lines while receiving hair and makeup treatment from the meticulous hand of Julius L. Stone, Jr.
Scene 4, Shot 2, Take 12
After hours of preparation and some last-minute scrambling to cast the tradition-wielding parents (played with indefatigable commitment by Don Harvey and Nathalie Bonafe, pictured above), Licwinko and his team started shooting in a neighbor’s reconfigured living room just before 8 p.m. on Saturday night.
“I want you to try it one more time,” Licwinko advised Olivier in between takes. “But this time, I don’t want you to think about timing. You got the timing right last time, and I know you can get it right again. This time I want you to really believe it.”
Black garbage bags taped to the windows kept any last remnants of daylight from filtering through the curtains as Licwinko and his team moved steadily through the six-page screenplay. Fighting back fatigue with laughter and candy and the occasional nap, the cast and crew wrapped at 2:40 a.m., over four hours of video and audio in the can.
Scene 5, Shot 1, Take 5
All day Sunday, editor Tom Coben sat at his computer and filtered through the previous evening’s material. With the occasional visit from Licwinko, Hannum, and sound engineer Will Stadtler, Coben pieced together take after take, cutting the wheat from the chaff, undergirding it all with a haunting yet cartoonish soundtrack composed by a musician friend in New York.
Scene 6, Shot 1, Take 1
At 6:00 p.m. on Sunday evening, Licwinko and Hannum sat with Coben and watched a final cut of the movie. They had done it. Coming in at exactly 7 minutes, the movie was funny, bizarre, suspenseful, and unsettling. The best and worst of holiday dinners, let alone religious tradition.
They loaded the movie onto a bite-sized thumb drive, jumped back in the car, and drove to the Outer Space to drop off the movie that hadn’t been just 48 hours before.
The screenings of Tradition and all the other films in the competition are this Wednesday at the Criterion Bowtie Cinema 16, at 86 Temple St. The screening of a first group of films is at 7:00 p.m. A second group is screened at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $11 per group screening or $20 for both groups. Click here for advance tickets.