• ‘The Tommies’ Film ‘Horse of a Different Color’ in 48 Hours for National Film Festival

    The film is titled “Horse of a Different Color,” but maybe it should be subtitled: “Forty-eight Hours in the Life of Katherine Curtis.”

    It all began on Friday, June 8, when 65 teams met at the Crooked Pint Ale House to kick off the 2012 Minneapolis 48-Hour Film Festival, a national competition in which filmmakers make a movie – write, shoot, edit and score it – in just 48 hours.

    This year, the University of St. Thomas had its first UST-sponsored team – “The Tommies” – competing in the event, and I was the team’s leader. I had graduated two weeks earlier, and here I was about to produce, co-write, direct and edit a four- to seven-minute film in 48 hours. “The Tommies ” included, in addition to me, alums Kristopher Jobe and Alex Maiers, and current students Rita Kovtun and Lisa Spehar.

    Actually, the work began before the competition even started. The first thing I had to face was the financial burden of the film project. Because of my part-time job status, I couldn’t financially justify paying the contest’s entry fee and the expenses that would come with the experience; however, this issue actually worked out to my benefit: It gave me the courage to approach the University of St. Thomas and Topper’s Pizza and request sponsorship.

    After presenting both companies with a compelling business letter detailing how the publicity would benefit both parties, they were in. St. Thomas covered the competition’s entry fee and gave me full access to the university’s camera, lighting and editing equipment. Topper’s Pizza fed “The Tommies” all three days of the competition, free of charge.

    Musician and St. Thomas alum Alex Maiers (left), director/producer and UST alum Katherine Curtis (center) and St. Thomas sophomore Rita Kovtun (right) pose for a picture at the Minneapolis 48-Hour Film Festival premiere.

    Musician and St. Thomas alum Alex Maiers (left), director/producer and UST alum Katherine Curtis (center) and St. Thomas sophomore Rita Kovtun (right) pose for a picture at the Minneapolis 48-Hour Film Festival premiere. (Click image for a larger view.)

    After financial matters were covered, I had to gather a cast and crew. Because I am active in the local film community, I began contacting local filmmakers with whom I had previously worked. I ended up persuading 10 people to work on my crew. Most of them I had worked with before, and some I was connected with a few days before the competition (such as the team’s director of photography). I discovered him on Craigslist a day and a half before the competition.

    When the competition kicked off, I worked with feature-film writer and actress Donna Beard and, because we had previously written together, we kicked out our script by midnight. We came up with “Horse of a Different Color,” a short comedy that follows Samirah as she strives to become a designer while overcoming social anxiety with the assistance of her unorthodox roommate, R. Thomas. (See the film at the end of this column.)

    The inspiration for this film came after a surprise assignment: the “Film de Femme” genere (film with a strong female lead). I informed one of our actors (Ulysses Awsumb) what our genere was, and he jokingly commented how he was bummed he couldn’t be our lead actor. I responded that he still could, but only if we dressed him in women’s clothes. There was a pause, and we both knew we had to do it. And we did.

    Once the script was written, I texted and emailed the cast and crew their call times and connected with the team’s makeup artist to discuss what type of makeup we’d need on set.

    All of the crew and a few members of the cast had to meet us at our first location at 4 a.m., the rest at our second location at 11 a.m. This meant I had four hours to create a shot list (an outline of what order to shoot the script and all of the shots needed for each scene), and transport the camera and lighting equipment; luckily, the team’s director of photography (Adam Kroeger) was awake at 2:30 a.m. and able to assist with equipment transportation.

    When we arrived on location on a Saturday morning, we put our actors into makeup, and the crew started setting up the lights and camera for the scene. Filming officially began at 5 a.m. and ended at 8:30 p.m.

    We had four locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul we had to film while transporting cast, crew and equipment. It’s amazing how much stuff and how many people you can fit into a few cars. (The cast and crew are pictured below, along with a few scenes from the film.)

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    Filming was a blast. We had a comical script, and the actors were game with getting a bit silly on camera. Our talented key actors, Samirah Abu-Nasser and Ulysses Awsumb, were quick to get into character and present characters without laughing at each other on camera. The crew and cast had a ton of laughs, and everyone on set was calm because we kept the shoot on schedule. (Special thanks to assistant director Mark Payne!)

    Editing officially began at 10 p.m. (an hour and a half after we wrapped up on the set) and took until 5 a.m. At 10 p.m., I hadn’t slept in 37 hours, but I had pulled in Matt McCrorey to design the intro graphics and ending credits for the film, so he stayed up with me as I edited.

    Once the editing was finished and McCrorey and I discussed it, I contacted St. Thomas alum Alex Maiers and sent him the footage to score (write music to). By 3 p.m. we had the scoring laid down with the footage; we exported the film, and McCrorey and I dropped off the film at the official 48-Hour Film Project drop-off location, which was back at the Crooked Pint.

    After briefly talking to other filmmakers about their experiences and being interviewed by one of the 48-Hour Film Festival producers (Ryan Strandjord), we realized that I hadn’t slept in 56 hours … so it was time for me to head home.

    On the following Tuesday, our film was screened at the Riverview Theater alongside submissions from other 48-Hour Film Project teams. With a packed theater and the majority of “The Tommies” team at the screening, the film successfully got the audience rolling in laughter, and the team was beaming with pride during and after the screening.

    Our film did not win an award at the festival, but there were numerous rewards. Overall, this experience was a huge opportunity, challenge and learning experience. “The Tommies” was the biggest crew and cast I had ever supervised, and my personal goals for the team – to get the film in on time, get the audience laughing and make a product our team could be proud of – had been achieved. Of course, there are a few things I will do differently next time: such as making sure I don’t stay up for nearly 60 hours straight.

    But now, for your viewing pleasure, may I present, “Horse of a Different Color”:

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