“It’s going to be a cast of thousands.”
Those words came from Joel Chineson early Friday afternoon as he anticipated the next two days — two days spent creating, filming and editing an entry into this year’s 72 Film Fest. The theme is professions, and his team, Flatdog Media, received their assignment about 16 hours prior: “Repo (Wo)Man,” at Olde Mother Brewing during the Thursday night kickoff party.
He knows the drill, much like the other 46 teams competing this year know it. Receive an assignment. Take the weekend to build a film from scratch. Turn it in at Area 31 by 9 p.m. on Sunday. Watch the finished product in all its glory at the Weinberg Center the following weekend (which, as you are reading this, is this coming Friday and Saturday).
It’s a tradition unlike any other in Frederick. There’s chaos and creativity. Sleepless nights and constant brainstorming. A job within a job within a job. This year marks the festival’s 14th year and this isn’t the first time Chineson and his team have competed in it.
Still, as he mock-revels in the anticipation for his team’s cast, he has no idea what lies ahead in the next three days. Will his squad get the green screen the way they want it? How much time will be needed for editing? How many belly dancers can they fit into one frame? And, perhaps most importantly, will they even be able to finish the thing in time to be considered among the 46 other entries in this year’s competition?
A cast of thousands, maybe. But an infinite amount of hours before deadline? That’s where things get complicated.
“I worked like a demon yesterday.”
That comes from Chineson’s wife, Karen Peacock. She took the day off from her day job as a graphic designer to work on the film today and in order to do so, she had to ensure things were copacetic at the place that pays her. Right now, she’s fretting over the green screen, which amounts to two pieces of green cloth pinned in tandem on two poles.
The location for filming is the second floor of Serendipity Market and More on East Patrick Street. Turns out, above the groceries is an open room used for private functions, classes and, well, in the case of the next 48 hours at least, a team making a movie. Chineson, Peacock and their team have to be out by 4 p.m. on Saturday, however, because a 50th birthday celebration is booked for the space.
Such is the least of their worries right now, though. Joined by their friend, Shannon Beatty, the group is figuring out the best approach to use the green screen so it looks as though a body-less head can float through the air. This requires Beatty to don a makeshift poncho of green cloth herself as they work on different approaches to accomplish their task.
Currently, the plan for the film is to tell the story of what happens when someone repos a circus, Peacock explains. They want it to be a story of hope that begins in the early 1900s and if all goes well, will end in the year 2020. They aren’t exactly sure of the specifics quite yet, but they know they’re going to need the green screen to be up and working all day tomorrow if they have any hope of completing the film on time.
“I guess maybe we should do these things in the proper order,” Peacock tells Chineson and Beatty at one point. “But either way, we can fix it in post.”
She is filming everything on her iPhone XR. While she has used a green screen for entires in the past, she wants to run a check on the system tonight, which is why Beatty is currently standing in front of the screen as beeps emanate from Peacock’s phone, indicating her recording.
“I kind of have a feeling we’re going to have to reshoot this tomorrow anyways,” Peacock says as Beatty dons a frightening mask. “This is kind of like dress rehearsal.”
And while that might be true, the clock ticks from 72 to 48.
“I’ve always wanted a street-legal sword.”
Beatty, the floating head prototype, asserts what could be a deeply rooted secret after one of the many belly dancers finishes a solo dance. In the case of this particular dancer, a sword is balanced on the upper part of her chest, near her throat. It’s as impressive as it is terrifying. It also inspires Beatty’s words.
The time is a little past noon and the top floor of Serendipity sounds like Santa Claus’s garage. Jingles. Jingles. And more jingles. That’s because the belly dancers are in full belly dancer garb, and that includes jingles. A lot of them, actually.
Before long, a man who calls himself Captain Ron emerges as the cadre of dancers gather for a group scene. Nobody knew Captain Ron until yesterday, when Peacock randomly met him as the trio was setting up. He works at Serendipity and as the dancers are filmed, he bursts into the frame for a cameo. The move elicits laughter from a crowded, jingling room.
As it goes, the work from yesterday will actually be usable, Peacock says, so that should put the group right where they need to be. Even so, by the time 1:30 hits, a dancer asks her for the title of the film, and Peacock, while speaking with someone else, admits, “I haven’t quite decided that yet.”
The dancing scenes, complete with Captain Ron, wrap up and the filming turns to the main characters of the movie, played by Shelly Cox and Tracy Waldon. They made the drive from Bethesda to participate and this isn’t the first time they have worked with Peacock and Chineson.
A real-life couple, the plan now is for the two to play time-traveling lovers. Waldon is a magician who doubles as a time-traveler while Cox, with a gray pixie cut and a right arm full of tattoos, is a woman rejected by the early-1900 times. The story is that after Waldon takes his new-found love on a tip to the future, Cox realizes she is accepted for who she is in said future and happiness ensues. They initially find each other, naturally, at the circus.
Somewhat lost in all this is the amount of shots Peacock uses her phone to film. Some are short. Some are long. But no matter the length, there are a lot of them. Though the crew must be out of Serendipity by 4 p.m., the girth of the editing begins to pile up.
“She really likes it,” Chineson says of the relationship between his wife and editing.
But a lot of this seems improvised, and very much in the moment, doesn’t it?
“I think that’s why she mostly does silent films,” he responds, making sense of the free-flowing atmosphere that’s apparent throughout each day.
A few hours pass when, five minutes before 3 p.m., Peacock makes the proclamation.
“Cut!” she says. “We are done.”
From there, she’ll go home. Take a nap. Head out for some Chinese food. Import her phone’s clips into a computer. And begin organizing. And organizing. And organizing.
“This is the most behind I’ve been. Not sure if I’ll finish in time.”
It’s 1:09 p.m. and the editing process is taking much longer than anyone anticipated. Peacock comes to that realization matter-of-factly in the early afternoon. She has almost eight hours, but it’s not looking promising.
The good news is that there’s a title now — “New Eden,” which is based on the name of the film’s circus, “New Eden Entertainment.” When Cox travels forward in time, it turns out that Waldon brings her to Frederick, which, as Peacock explains, is Cox’s “New Eden.”
She’s working on the green screen art, which, at this point, is mostly a red curtain reminiscent of a circus. Eventually, Peacock says, when Cox arrives in her new Eden, there will be scenes of Frederick in the background. A tattoo shop where she can go to add to her right arm. A stroll through Baker Park on a romantic afternoon.
Those things are for later, though, because as she works with two computers — one she uses for Adobe Photoshop, the other, for Adobe Premiere — she realizes that the green screen isn’t working according to plan. In a twist, nobody realized that the cloth would shift with the wind whenever people walk by. It’s a happy accident for the curtain scenes, which make the curtain look like it’s swaying in the background, but not so much for the outside scenes where things look … complicated.
“Well,” she says at one point looking at a scene, “it’s not great.”
Then the unthinkable happens. 4:20 p.m. rolls around and the white flag goes up.
“No way this will be done by 9 tonight,” Peacock admits. “I always got it in on time before, but those weren’t this complicated and they were also pretty awful. I could have had something in by 9 and it would have been not perfect. This way, I think it can be better than awful.”
“I have to finish it, though,” she continues. “I’ve got all these other people and they want to see it at the Weinberg.”
Indeed, while she may not make the 9 p.m. deadline on Sunday, which is established for entries that are considered for prizes in the competition, as long as she submits something Monday, the festival will screen the film as part of the celebration this weekend.
Fast-forward to about 7:30 p.m. and Peacock needs one more nap before embarking on the home stretch. Because her team signed up in the amateur division, the movie must be six minutes in length, and it currently hovers around the five-minute mark. She’s almost to the finish line, but what she doesn’t know yet is quite how long it will take to get there.
That question is answered at 4:33 a.m. when she offers a text message.
“I have something to turn in,” it reads. “Will probably add to it after some sleep in between the day job.”
If only “79-and-a-half Film Fest” sounded as good … .
Follow Colin McGuire on Twitter: @colinpadraic.