My name is Mark Hammer. I was fortunate enough to win the Oklahoma Film Institute/Studentfilms.com short script contest. The prize was a scholarship to the Oklahoma Film Institute's three week summer program (although I unfortunately had to miss the first week). Well, I've been asked to write a brief journal of my day-to-day experience of Production Week and I enthusiastically oblige.
DAY 1 - MONDAY
The program is stationed at the Oklahoma City Community College. The campus, however, looks like a university campus. I was impressed by that as we pulled up for the first time.
The first day got off to a quick start. After some quick introductions, we all headed down to the school's theatre. There on stage, a film lighting guru nicknamed "Bull Dog" had begun to lay out all his equipment. We followed him outside where his huge grip truck was parked. It was packed with lighting and camera equipment. We finished unloading the massive truck and returned to the stage. There we went over the different equipment pieces. It wasn't an hour before we were setting up and lighting backdrops ourselves. That's the way I like it. You go over the basics and then jump right into things. It was a hands-on lighting intensive.
Previous to this, I had known nothing about film lighting. But afterwards, I had a respectable grasp on both the artistic and technical aspects of the very complicated field.
Then we broke for lunch. After lunch we had a camera demo with a JVC regional representative. He went over the camera we'd be shooting with.
We then returned to the main room and were introduced to Kini Kay, a professional sound technician who has worked on many films such as "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey" and "Don Juan DeMarco".
We watched a film that had dialogue but no added sound effects yet. We discussed what sound effect were needed as the film played. It was amazing to see him rattle off countless sound effects as he watched. Most of them would have slipped past me unnoticed. He was great.
Bad sound and poor lighting are the two main things that red flag a film as being amateur. I think it's real neat that those were the main focus of the very first day. Right off the bat I feel like a more well-rounded filmmaker.
DAY 2 - TUESDAY
Today began with a talk by David Farrow, an award winning commercial director. He's a real nice guy and a lot of fun, too. We watched a reel of his best commercials and discussed how they were done. Almost all his effects were done during production. Not added later with a computer. And we're talking incredible effects. There's a shot of a pick up truck going through a huge upside down loopity loop. They really did it! Then again, commercials did have bigger budgets then. He also directed a German-language breakfast cereal commercial starring a very young Leonardo DeCaprio.
Next we met Bill Butler, a famous Cinematographer who had under his belt an array of famous films including "Jaws", the "Rocky" sequels, and "Grease". He, too, was a real fantastic guy. We talked about the job of a cinematographer and all it entails. He told great stories about his experiences on shoots.
Then we moved down to the school's locker room for the very first shoot. My position today was grip. This seemingly low position is one I actually enjoyed. Grips are in the thick of things and always helping out.
It was a few hours before the camera started rolling. And, boy, did it roll slow! I hear that's always the case. First shots take forever because people are just now easing into things. But after the first shot things started picking up. Near the end of the shoot we were working at a pretty good pace.
DAY 3 - WEDNESDAY
Today we shot on location at a house in the area. I was in charge of props. This job included making a new cover for an old yearbook. Nothing wakes you up in the morning like a little graphic design! It turned out pretty good, though. I also assembled a realistic but appealing-to-the-eye grocery bag. Another job of mine at the house was Air Conditioner Operator. We couldn't have the air conditioner on during the scenes because of the noise. But if we left it off, the crowded house turned into a crowded sauna. Therefore, it was my duty to switch on the air as soon as the director yelled cut. I truly feel as though I saved some lives today.
Then we packed up and headed to the school's gym. There we would set Cheerleading Tryouts. We brought in extras to fill the bleachers. I did some set dressing here. You can do some amazing things with streamers and balloons! We also had a student in the program make huge signs with butcher paper. They looked great! The coolest part of this scene is that a huge jib crane was brought in. It was so big it had to be disassembled and brought in piece by piece. We got some pretty dynamic shots with it.
DAY 4 - THURSDAY
Today we had a location shoot at a real nice red brick Catholic church. The problem is that we needed a Protestant church. The only thing that shouted Catholicism was a stone plaque of Saint Francis. That was solved quickly with a bundle of fake foliage.
My position was 2nd Assistant Director. I spent most of the day as a sort of ambassador to the cast. I'd relay messages and directions between cast members and director.
The heat was killer, and the day was long, but we got some great footage.
DAY 5 - FRIDAY
Today started off on location at a new nearby house. This time we shot in a teenage girl's bedroom. I was 2nd Camera Assistant today. I was in charge of the slate. This wasn't your grandfather's slate, however, this was a $1300 electronic timecode-recording slate. This brings up the topic of equipment at the program. They truly have top-of-the-line everything. I was very impressed with the equipment.
After that scene, we moved over to the school cafeteria's industrial kitchen. It had rows of slick steel machinery and cooking utensils that made for a neat set. For this scene, I operated the camera. It was a blast! We set up a long track with a platform that the tripod sat up on and I kneeled on. Then I was rolled down the track, carefully keeping the two actors in a tight two shot as they walked. It was an elaborate shot that was a lot of fun to do. It was a great end to a great week.
The Oklahoma Film Institute Summer Program does not teach text book theory. Instead, it totally immerses you in the industry. You will learn hands-on how to take part in or conduct a professionally-run film shoot. You'll learn how not to get fired when you're working on the next Hollywood blockbuster, and you'll learn how to stay on track when you're shooting your next indie film. If you put the necessary effort in this three-week program, you'll get in return a respectable grasp on all facets of filmmaking.
The Oklahoma Film Institute is over for 2004, but it'll be back for the summer of 2005!