(Originally published on 17 October 2016)
My friend Steve, whom I’d previously worked with on a couple of short film projects a few years back, contacted me on September 1st about a short film competition and wrote, “This is right up your alley.” Naturally I was curious and clicked on the link he sent me to something called the “Small and Creepy Film Contest.” Sponsored by the Boomtown Film and Music Festival (in Beaumont, TX), this particular contest was accepting entries for films that were four minutes or less, including credits, and in a creepy, offbeat style reminiscent screenwriter Caroline Thompson’s work (of which I am an absolute fan) – she is best known for writing Edward Scissorhands as well as co-writing the screenplays for The Addams Family, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and The Corpse Bride. Ms. Thompson was also the contest judge and Steve was absolutely right – it was DEFINITELY up my alley!
After kicking around a few ideas for the next day or so, I called my mother on the phone and pitched her three possible shorts I was thinking of pursuing . . . she’s a voice of reason when my creative brain turns into a game of pinball and she picked the soundest of the three choices: “FRANKENFRIEND.” Once I settled on the short’s title and scenario, I only had about three weeks to write a script, rally a cast and crew together, order props, and complete some other pre-production tasks before filming. Pinterest, Amazon, eBay, Michaels, A.C. Moore, Home Depot, and the Spirit of Halloween Store became regular haunts (in person and in cyberspace) during that time. I also cleaned out my 500 square foot garage during that time-frame, on top of working my regular 9-to-5 job on the weekdays, and turned half of it into a mad scientist laboratory worthy of an Ed Wood film. I spent many hours taking seven six-foot plastic shelves, covering the front of each shelf with cardboard, and then sprayed them all with a metallic bronze paint to make them look like equipment racks. I worked late into the night and had a blast.
Somehow, by the time the day of the filming had arrived (Saturday, September 24th), I managed to get five actors (four kids, 11-13, and one adult), a cinematographer / assistant director, a special make-up FX artist, and another production assistant / behind the scenes photographer I would also tap to do the editing, to all show up at my house at about 10:30 AM for the shoot. Due to significant time constraints one of the kids had, the seven-to-eight hour shooting schedule I hoped for was reduced to five and we really had to scramble to get everything done – even scrapping a couple of scenes and most of the makeup (luckily, the FX guy had a half mask in his car we were able to use) in order to meet this adjusted deadline. We did get everything done by the skin of our teeth, running half an hour over, but the general consensus was that everyone had a lot of fun that day. Here’s the group shot me editor took right after we wrapped filming (I’m the goofy guy in the Wolfman tee shirt running on 45 minutes of sleep in a 34-hour period):
Now that the filming was complete, I spent the next few days working with my editor on his first two cuts (reviewing the footage in Dropbox and sending him notes) and also tapped a co-worker with a pitch-perfect radio voice to record the voice-over narration I’d written – and subsequently revised to match the footage we’d shot. Additionally, since I wasn’t able to get a Van de Graaff generator or Jacob’s Ladder Climbing Arc , I created my own crazy electric gizmo using craft foam, plastic, pre-keyed footage of a green screen electric surge I found on Youtube, and some recorded sound effects.
On October 1st, also the deadline for the “Short and Creepy Film Contest,” I left my house at 5:45 AM and made the 75-minute drive out to my editor’s house (near Frederick, MD) to collaborate on final edits, and we submitted the completed film (running 3 minutes and 20 seconds) online about five-and-a-half hours later. Afterwards, while we were eating some lasagne he’d made, The Shining happened to be on and it was at the point in the film where Jack discovers what’s really waiting in room 237’s bathtub. It was a perfect ending to a rather hectic and sleep-deprived month.
According to updates on the Boomtown Film and Music Festival “Special Film Contests” page, the contest winners are expected to be announced and screened at a Halloween Blood Drive-In event on October 29th – yikes! We’ll see what happens!