Lawrence Le Lam might be crazy, but he’s no dummy. “To be honest, I didn’t really want to do Crazy 8s in the beginning,” he tells the Georgia Straight just a few days after delivering the final cut of his 20-minute movie, “Cypher”, to the much-loved short-film competition. “The idea of making a film in eight days is very daunting, and I didn’t think I could actually do it.”
The 27-year-old filmmaker also has no problem admitting that he’s a bit of a perfectionist, which is why—he further admits—Crazy 8s is such a valuable exercise for anyone who is serious about a career in movies. Now in its 18th year, the contest asks that filmmakers submit themselves to the most extreme pressures they’re likely to face in the real world, where perfectionism is forged into something a little more practical.
The organization supplies a fine technical package and some important script mentoring to the six teams that make it through the juried selection process (a record 216 entries this year), but that’s when the rubber really hits the road. Each crew is then sent out with a $1,000 budget, a meagre three days of shooting, and an only slightly less meagre five days of postproduction.
Le Lam was actually persuaded to go Crazy by Jerome Yoo, who acted in the filmmaker’s previous award-winning short, “The Blue Jet”. Together with producer Nach Dudsdeemaytha, the two conjured a tale dramatizing the tension between L.A.’s Korean and African-American communities in the wake of the 1992 riot, climaxing with an emotional after-school rap battle between Yoo and an especially powerful Alex Barima (Once Upon a Time).
As with “The Blue Jet”, in “Cypher” Le Lam demonstrates a cool and subtle eye for style (this time with a nod to period Spike Lee) and a sense of storytelling economy no doubt honed through his work on the 2014 feature documentary Not Business As Usual. The filmmaker stresses that “prep is really everything,” but it’s almost a convention at this point that something goes catastrophically wrong during a Crazy 8s shoot. In this case, Le Lam and his team lost an entire location when their lights triggered a school sprinkler system. Oopsies!
“We got kicked out,” he says, with a soft moan. “We were like, ‘Okay, knock off a couple shots on the way out!’ We had this elaborate, beautiful sequence that we’d been talking about forever that we just couldn’t shoot anymore.”
Their solution was to immediately jury rig a new set in their office, decorating a plain white wall with some lockers and then cheating the shit out of everything—to great effect, it must be said. The film’s seamlessness is one of its big virtues. “We rolled with it pretty well,” Le Lam says, adding that he still actually managed to wedge some sleep into his 72-hour scramble to get “Cypher” in the can. “I actually didn’t have too many bad moments.”
Those bad moments, critically, are never visible on-screen. We’ll see if that’s true for the other five finalists when Crazy 8s holds its annual gala at the Centre on Saturday (February 25).