Ethan Clark // Contributing Writer
Revenge. A bottle. The phrase “You promised.”
From these three prompts Middle Tennessee State University’s Film Guild had only 54 hours to write, film, edit and produce a short film.
From Feb. 27-March 1, more than 14 teams from around Rutherford County spent an entire weekend competing against each other to make the best short film in 54 hours. There are several teams from MTSU that compete each year, but the Film Guild was eager to prove themselves this time around.
“We got a couple honorable mentions [last year], but we were five minutes late turning it in last year so we weren’t qualified for any awards,” said senior Tiffany Murray, Film Guild’s director of photography.
The competition began Friday evening when various teams met in Room 103 of the John Bragg Mass Communication Building to find out what kind of film they would spend the next 54 hours working on. Each group was assigned a genre, prop, line of dialogue and an action they must incorporate into their movie or else be disqualified. This part of the festival can get cutthroat; teams are allowed to trade genres from other groups to find the one they like most. Film Guild started out with “chick flick,” but by the end of the selection process they had secured the revenge genre from a less fortunate group.
With the genres assigned, Film Guild’s writing team went to work brainstorming plot ideas and figuring out how to incorporate a bottle into the story. The team met in one of the building’s massive TV studios, with couches and chairs arranged around one of the walls re-purposed as a storyboard for the evening. Scotty Wright, head of MTSU’s Film Guild, directed this year’s short film and kept track of the Guild’s large team of producers and writers. For over six hours the team hammered out the main ideas of their film and figured out which local actors to use. Sometime after midnight, the group called it a night and prepared for a full day of shooting on Saturday.
The next day started early and ended late for the Film Guild. The group had access to an abandoned quarry on private property a few miles outside of Christiana, Tennessee, which turned out to be the perfect location for their revenge story. The film’s writers spent the night before crafting the story of a young girl going on a camping trip with a former teacher so she could finally avenge the wrongs he had committed.
Film Guild had plenty of equipment to make this story come to life. Generous companies from around Rutherford County sponsored the Guild so that they could get all of the lights and equipment they needed. Wright’s parents even made dinner for the crew while they waited to start working on the nighttime scenes.
However, the day was not without its obstacles. There were a couple of scenes that involved using GoPro and drone cameras, so Wright and his team had to find a way to make these shots look right. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done. They may have found the drone easier to navigate if, instead, they had access to something like the Mavic Air 2 from places similar to DrDrone.ca to help capture these aerial shots instead. But they didn’t. So, they had to make use of the equipment that they had on hand. At one point, one of the equipment trucks’ front tires fell into a ditch, so the entire crew worked for almost half an hour to get it free.
For the majority of the weekend, most of the team worked on just a few hours of sleep. The 54-Hour Film Festival’s motto is ‘sleep is for the weak,’ after all.
“I didn’t sleep, per se, and by 5:30, people started showing up,” Wright said.
Sunday was more subdued than the day before. Only a handful of producers and editors met in the Mass Communication building to polish scenes filmed less than 24 hours earlier. All films had to be submitted by midnight on March 1 and, unlike last year, Film Guild got their revenge film turned in with four minutes to spare.
Now, the team will wait until March 21 to find out if their film will win any awards. If it doesn’t, the Guild is still proud of the movie they worked so hard on.
“I’m definitely super proud of this film,” Murray said. “It was a great experience, and I’m really glad I got to be director of photography on this one.”
Finished entries will be screened at Regal Hollywood 27 in Nashville, Tennessee on Friday at 2:45 p.m. An award ceremony will follow the screenings at 5:00 p.m.
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