You have virtually no money and even less time to make a film, so what do you do? You come up with a nifty idea that uses one location, right? Wrong.
“It was so challenging. I don’t think I could have written a more complicated script for Crazy8s,” says Jesse Lupini, a student at Vancouver Film School who, only a few days before the Georgia Straight catches him by phone, was directing none other than American Mary herself, Katharine Isabelle, through his whip-smart 15-minute sci-fi flick, “Iteration 1”.
The finished product, about a woman who continuously wakes up in the same room with only a minute to find her way out, is crisp and impressive in the manner we’ve come to expect from the venerable short-film competition, now in its 17th year. The actual work—Crazy8s allows three days of shooting and another five days of postproduction, and that’s it—was a screaming hell.
“I think I went through the full hero’s journey, including my meeting with the Goddess,” says Lupini, who went directly into his first day on-set after spending the entire night painting it. “It was pretty ridiculous. I don’t think I’ve ever lost that much sleep in my life before.”
Physical endurance aside, it turned out that Lupini’s best ideas for “Iteration 1” evolved into his biggest challenges. Using a single set is the time-honoured cheat behind Roger Corman’s cheapest and most infamous quickie, The Little Shop of Horrors. But unlike Lupini, nobody told Corman he needed to slash 50 percent of his effects sequences three days before the cameras rolled (“Our team said it just wasn’t doable”) a disaster that required a rewrite of the entire script.
But that’s also the point, the young filmmaker concedes: “You’re dealing with micro versions of all the same things that happen out in the real world.”
For Shannon Kohli’s entry, size was an entirely different matter. “I know, I know,” she says, her voice reduced to a whisper, when the Straight remarks that taking on a 19th-century period piece seems like a somewhat counterintuitive project for a microbudgeted eight-day filmmaking competition.
“I was on-set at one point,” she continues, “and I wanted to scream, ‘Who the hell wrote this? Seriously? Who the hell wrote costumes and crazy production design and a huge cast and visual effects…?’ I was really mad at myself. What was I thinking?”
It is perhaps one of the more miraculous aspects of Crazy8s that nobody has ever failed to deliver their project. Kohli is no exception, despite the scale of her ambition. She managed to muster the period feel for her “A Family of Ghosts” by setting much of its action in the palatial University Women’s Club at Hycroft, thereby eliminating the most obvious headache. But nature had other things in store when Kohli’s crew moved to Langley’s Jamestown for some key exteriors.
“There was just a torrential downpour,” she recalls with a sigh. “It rained so hard, and then the sun was going down and we were losing all of our light. Actually, the sun was never out.” After colour correction by Finale Editworks—Crazy8s provides an extensive production package above and beyond the $1,000 budget—”A Family of Ghosts” was saved.
“It’s one of those catch-22s,” she says. “Crazy8s had 179 applications this year, and they narrow it down to six, so you wanna outdo yourself. You wanna pitch something really big, but at the same time you’re like, ‘Oh, my god, I have to film this in three days and get it finished in eight.’ ”
Lupini, meanwhile, is still reeling from the star power he secured in the shape of his lead, Isabelle. She received the script through his casting directors, liked it, and turned in a performance that gave her director goose bumps as he sat behind the monitor. By the same token, Crazy8s carries a lot of weight in Vancouver, with a list of alumni that otherwise acts as a roll call of Vancouver filmmaking talent, from Matthew Kowalchuk to Zach Lipovsky, Kaare Andrews, Dylan Akio Smith, Carl Bessai, Nimisha Mukerji, and Penelope Buitenhuis.
Even with 14 years in the industry, Kohli knows the real-world value of the insanity to which she submitted herself. “To have the Crazy8s team supporting you is huge,” she says. “It opens so many doors for us. It was the only way we could have made this film.”
This year’s gala Crazy8s screening takes place at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Saturday (February 27).