The College of William & Mary brought me to Williamsburg, Virginia this weekend to participate in a "long weekend of short filmmaking." It's been a busy, and rewarding, weekend. Friday, after arriving to town, I was a judge at 24Speed, William & Mary's variation on those twenty-four hour filmmaking contests that have grown in popularity throughout the country.
In this case, eight teams of six filmmakers each were provided the same line of dialogue (a line from one of last year's videos: "I'm not taking you out, I'm taking you down") and a 1920s yearbook from the college's archives, which they had to use as a prop. After a drawing in which they received two film genres at random each team had to choose one genre in which to work. They then had 24 hours to produce a three-to-five minute video.
By the time of the screening the place was packed. Each of the eight videos had their charms and their share of cleverness. Of course, all of them had their rough spots, too -- what video produced in 24 hours wouldn't? It's funny, though, how those "rough spots" (some out of sync dialogue, say, or let's-roll-with-the-first-and-only-take-performances) become charming in and of themselves when you consider the context of how quickly these things were produced.
After watching all the videos, the two other judges and I had a healthy debate about the merits of the eight videos. Every video, to its credit, managed to produce at least a handful of laughs, jolts, or cringes.
Speaking only for myself, as a judge I was looking for videos that had adequate craft, for starters. Beyond that, though, I wasn't necessarily looking for the best shot or best edited video. I was looking for videos that gave me a fresh take on the genre instead of merely rehashing it. That might sound like a tall order, but there were more than a couple that did this.
Ultimately, after forty-five minutes, the other two judges and I had settled on the prize winners. The winner was a mockumentary that used consistently smart deep-focus cinematography to execute its jokes with a lot of subtlety; an honorable mention was awarded to some ambitious students that came this close to nailing their chosen genre, the musical. That's right, in 24 hours they wrote, scored, shot and edited a musical. It was rough around the edges, sure, but it definitely had me eager to see what these guys could accomplish in 48 hours, and that's worth something.
That night, after the screening was over, I realized that I had experienced a change of heart about competitions like 24Speed. In the past, to be perfectly frank, I've had some reservations about the benefits of such competitions. I guess I feared that the 24 hour time constraint reinforced bad habits (mainly, thinking that making a film is something you can rush through) and emphasized competition over collaboration. I see, now, that I've been wrong.
First, the competitive nature (at least at this one) was entirely overshadowed by the fun everyone was having. That was great to see. Competition can push people to do better work, even (especially?) with art. You just can't take it too seriously.
Secondly, and even more importantly, I see now that what these competitions can do is remind us that there are times when it's better to make something as quickly as possible just to do it.
More than anything else, watching these videos (and meeting the students that produced them so quickly) I was reminded of the collaborations I have undertaken in the past with friends on videos for Termite TV. To an outsider, such projects might seem "insignificant," but I always learned something by making them, even if the final product sometimes ended up being kinda rough.
This afternoon, browsing Termite TV's website, I ran across a quote from Manny Farber's "White Elephant Art vs Termite Art" essay, which reads as a kind of found poem for what I saw at 24Speed: a peculiar fact about termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss art is that it moves always forward, eating its own boundaries, and likely as not, leaves nothing in its path but evidence of eager, industrious, unkempt activities
Part 2 of W&M's Long Weekend of Short Filmmaking coming soon...
ADDENDUM:All of the entries for the contest are now online for viewing by the general public.