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September 27, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
BY 9 P.M. THE THICK SMELL of Pall Malls wafts up the outdoor stairs to the Stephens College library basement. It’s three hours into Columbia Access TV’s One Night Stand 24-hour filmmaking competition, and teammates Madeline Carl and Meredith Jacob are writing the script for a three-minute film. The movie must include three randomly selected themes given to them at the start of the competition: a Western genre, a smartphone and the phrase, “I am a dubstep dancer from Hannibal.”
Leaning against a stone wall, Jacob puffs from her cigarette and bounces ideas off Carl, who paces in front of the library doors. The Stephens College students are writing the lines for the cowboy, who will be played by Geoffrey Harris. He’s sitting next to Jacob, whose hair is pulled back in a ponytail. An open bag of Lay’s potato chips lie nearby. As the sun sets, the intensity of their all-nighter makes food an afterthought. They are surviving on junk food such as day-old McChickens.
The directors decided that the film will be about a cowboy who falls in love with a woman and decides he must fight her boyfriend. The cowboy character will fulfill the Western genre requirement, he will text the boyfriend using a smartphone, and at one point, he will accidentally write, “I am a dubstep dancer from Hannibal,” and blame it on autocorrect.
Humor is the directors’ strong point, and it led them to win this competition in April. With the given mockumentary theme, the duo produced a short film about a ghost whisperer. A friend of theirs had agreed to play the part and dramatically pushed himself up against walls to “feel spirits” and ran around with a ghost-finder machine that they made from a pencil and duct tape.
Humor also happens to be the main focus for another competing team. Julie Hill, 14, Mackenzie Thomas, 13, Bryce Hill, 11, and Shelby Thomas, 10, form Hee Haw Productions, inspired by the western theme. Although they’re the youngest team competing, Mackenzie and Julie are able to use skills they gained from the Citizen Jane Summer Film Academy, a program designed to train young women to be filmmakers. The academy taught the girls how to recognize what elements comprise a good film.
While Carl and Jacob’s team stays up all night rehearsing ideas, the kids write up a script at their slumber party and are in bed by 10:30 p.m. “I’m not really intimidated because even though they’re all older, I think ours will be cuter,” Mackenzie says.
At 6 a.m. the Thomas and Hill kids are still in bed, but Carl and Jacob have not slept. As the sun rises, they film a scene by the gigantic bur oak tree near McBaine. Despite admitting to fatigue and stress, they keep going, even when it means Jacob has to fall face-first into the mud of the nearby field — twice.
“Even if it’s like, ‘Hey, Meredith, you’re going to have to play the guy actor in this scene, just go for it,’ I’m going to run out in the muddy, water-filled trenches and basically get bronchitis again,” Jacob says later, laughing through staggered coughs.
|Geoffrey Harris, who plays Cowboy Larry, and his teammates, Madeline Carl and Meredith Jacob, work on their film. Photograph by CHARLES MINSHEW|
At noon, Hee Haw Productions’ members munch on leftover pizza from the night before. Surrounded by troll dolls from a previous film project, Mackenzie and Julie take turns editing while Bryce and Shelby watch. They’ve just finished a film about pioneers discovering a smartphone, shot at Mackenzie and Shelby’s grandfather’s farm. Now, they’ll edit and probably end up turning in the film a little early — that is, if they don’t get distracted. “We always end up playing Rock Band halfway through,” Julie says.
At 7 p.m. on the final day, Sept. 15, competitors, judges, CAT members and the general public gathered at The Bridge to watch the videos and find out who won. Three judges, all professionals in filmmaking, graded the technical aspects and creativity of the videos.
Although nine teams originally signed up to compete, only eight turned in their films. Each team varied in age and displayed different level of experience. However, it was 10-year-old Shelby and her team who turned in their film first.
Despite being the fastest team to finish, Hee Haw Productions watched Carl and Jacob’s team take home the winning prize of a Whole Hog pass for the Roots ’N’ Blues ’N’ BBQ Festival, a Columbia Access TV membership and all of the resources, including expert help, needed to create a short film. The prizes were worth more than $300.
The end of the competition caught Carl and Jacob between the invigorating feeling of winning for a second time and pure exhaustion. For these women, the real value of the competition was in their ability to collaborate. Jacob says: “It’s about being able to work with someone who is so unlike you that it inspires new creations and new ideas that you wouldn’t normally think of.”