The 2014 Olympus 72 Hour Filmmaker Showdown
It isn’t often that I run into bathroom self-promotion these days. But during intermission, as I stood at the urinal listening to two men discuss the videos they had seen in the first half of the night and which they liked best, a loud “Vote for Stalk and Peel!” came echoing out of a stall. But that’s the way things go when you cram a few thousand artists, athletes, and mountain town residents into an end-of-season party.
Going on for almost 20 year now, the World Ski and Snowboard Festival is a springtime event in Whistler BC. Perhaps the press release from the WSSF website says it best:
“The World Ski & Snowboard Festival is a 10 day and night showcase of the best of snow sports, music, arts and mountain culture. Featuring major professional ski and snowboarding competitions, the largest annual free outdoor concert series in Canada, cultural events that match up art-lovers with the art-makers, career-making fashion, photography and film showcases, the best spring snow conditions in the world, and burn-the candle at both ends nightlife, the World Ski and Snowboard Festival is the poster child for the ultimate ski and snowboard festival experience.”
Most interesting to photographers are two Olympus sponsored events, the Pro Photographer Showdown and the 72 Hour Filmmaker Showdown.
The Olympus 72 hour Filmmaker Showdown challenges filmmakers to shoot, edit and produce a 3-5 minute short film within 100km radius of Whistler over the course of 72 hours. There are no subject matter rules or themes that must be adhered to. Gear choices are wide open. Though Olympus offers a loaner program giving access to virtually their whole line of OM-D and Tough series cameras (and puts up an extra $5000 prize to the winner if they user Olympus gear). The only requirement is a surprise prop that must be worked into the film in some way. This item remains a mystery until the directors’ meeting that directly precedes the opening of the contest. This year the prop was an old-time wind up alarm clock.
Powered by creativity, cleverness, efficiency and a whole lot of caffeine, the 72 Showdown culminates in a rawkus nighttime screening at the Whistler convention center that is sold out months in advance. “There are a few things that make this event unique, mostly the time crunch, the addition of the surprise prop for a 5 consecutive second shot, and having zero guidelines for theme,” said 2014 winner Darcy Turenne. “There aren’t many race-style head-to-head filmmaker competitions out there, so that draws a lot of different types of talent. Also, the crowd is always really vocal, verging on rowdy, which makes for the best film screenings!”.
The ten 2014 finalists ran the gamut as far as subject matter. Comedy was a common genre, but arthouse and drama also made appearances. Subject matter ranged from aliens to drug trips to the Olympics to pointed commentary on snow fashion. There was a half naked banana, forest sprites, a displaced mime, and bird puppets. Not to mention the alarm clock, which was worked into some films better than others, but was creatively done in every case.
Overall, the production quality was pretty outstanding. When you consider that the teams had no control over weather or lighting and almost no chance of reshooting scenes that didn’t work, one can’t help but be impressed with the talent of these filmmaking teams. Equipment choices were all over the map. While some high end DV cameras were seen, DSLRs and MILCs were the most common. Twenty teams took advantage of Olympus’s loaner program and the opportunity for that extra $5000 prize, the rest mostly being the usual bodies from Canon or Nikon. A few teams had access to some accessory lighting, sound, or steadycam/jib rigs, and if you were looking closely, you could see the advantages of that gear. Still, getting technical brings challenges of its own when the clock is ticking (pun intended, see what I did there?). “This year our biggest challenge was all of the locations and the opening Paris scene,” said 2013 winner Conrad Schapansky who’s film “Into the Mime” was also a finalist this year. “I wanted to film outdoors and incorporate green screen to make sure it still had that big open feel to it. In retrospect it would have been waaaaaay easier to just film it all indoors. It was a challenge and we learned a lot. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Using the Olympus gear, I am really proud of what were able to accomplish.” Overall, the 72 hour timeline tends to put concept/storytelling/execution over technical wizardry or fancy equipment.
That said, and perhaps unsurprisingly, this year’s winner was a nice combination of all of those things. Darcy Turenne’s “The Trip” was built around a single, uncut, steadicam/stabilizer shot. While the stabilizer rig (from Revered Cinema) undoubtedly made a huge addition to the overall “feel” of the film—a dreamy, trippy experience that wouldn’t have worked as well with choppy and shaky handheld footage—planning and execution of a single five minute camera shot is incredibly difficult. Not only to you have to plan your story around the path that the camera will take, but when shooting, every mistake, each time someone is out of position, any random distraction requires going all the way back to the beginning and doing it all over again. “It was a 5-minute continuous take that required a lot of coordination and organization between all of the cast and crew…it was definitely an adrenaline rush each time I yelled ‘action’ because if something or someone forgot their role, we’d have to re-set the shot and that would take about 45 minutes,” explained Darcy.
Some may argue “Oh, but editing is so much easier. There’s no post production.” But as Darcy asked in her acceptance speech, “Have you ever tried to color correct a five minute shot?” So it’s not all wine and roses. She and her team consumed as much caffeine as anyone.
The 2014 People’s Choice winner ,however, took a different path to success. Created without any special equipment or editing magic, and in fact filmed with gear that most photographers would have available (Canon T2i & 7d along with lenses from Sigma, Tokina, and Canon), Oliver Popley’s “Stalk and Peel” is nothing more than an excellent joke set up perfectly. Benefitting from both it’s absurd concept and a timeslot that placed it behind two more serious finalists, it had the whole room laughing hysterically. Geoffrey Steventon was part of the “Stalk and Peel” team. “My experience,” he said (and it was his first year entering the competition) “was incredibly relaxed. We had a main crew that consisted of 5 and that was basically it. We didn’t have to worry about tons of people and we are all quite good friends (also co-workers!) so we get along very well and it allowed for all of us to input our ideas freely.”
While some comedy films can drag on too long with the setup or try too hard to stretch out the joke, “Stalk and Peel” was paced perfectly and avoided both of those traps. Would it have played as well to another room? One that wasn’t suffering from some twinges of a grey snow season’s worth of cabin fever and predisposed to love unexpected absurdity? Who can say? But on this night “Stalk and Peel” won the audience choice easily. “Haha, yeah that was me self-promoting the film during intermission,” said Geoffrey when I asked him about the bathroom shoutout “Our goal at the beginning of the festival was to make the top 10, simply so that our film could be shown on the big screens to the large audience. When we found out we had made top 10, we were already happy with the results going into the first showing! Hearing the reception to our film during the screening, mainly the laughter/cheering felt amazing. Our whole team that made the film were all just looking at each other shocked at how much the crowd was loving it.”
In fact, the restroom advertising probably wasn’t even needed. But it sure didn’t hurt.
2014 Winner: “The Trip” by Darcy Turenne
2014 Winner website: http://darcyturenne.com
2014 People’s Choice: “Stalk and Peel” by Oliver Popley
2013 Winner: “Katch Up” by Conrad Schapansky
2013: People’s Choice: “Adventures In Loonie Land” by Swift Rock Productions (Katie Schaitel & Angie Nolan)