Recently I had the pleasure of taking part in my 8th film challenge, with this particular contest being a 48 Hour Film Challenge. Our team, made up of Running Wild Films and 5J Media, not only completed a five-minute short film in less than 48 hours, but we won three awards in this contest where 22 films were submitted. Our lead actress Michelle Palermo won for “Best Actress” and the team won “Best Film” for our entry titled “Star Babies.” As the Production and Post Sound Mixer, I am particularly proud that I won the IFP’s first ever “Best Sound” award in this year’s IFP Phoenix Beat the Clock Challenge.

IFP’s 48-Hour Beat the Clock Challenge

So what is the contest all about? Well, teams sign up ahead of time by paying an entrance fee. Presumably the team already has a cast and crew committed to spending a full weekend together for the sole purpose of making a short film. The teams meet at a kickoff location on Friday night, and this year we were hosted by Rosie McCaffrey’s at 9th St and Camelback. At the kickoff, the rules are stated and everyone receives a sheet of paper listing the contest rules. The requirements give each team a choice between two different genres, two lines of dialog, and two props. This time around we could create either a Sci-Fi/fantasy or a buddy flick using either a disco ball or a candle as a prop, and we had to use the line “…is the life of the party” or “I can’t feel my…”
No sweat.

best-sound-ifp-phoenix-production

Preparation

Where does a team start? Well, I brainstormed with Travis Mills from Running Wild Films and a couple of actors for a bit. Then after the actors left we finished up the idea and started writing our script. We knew all our actors well and what we could expect from them so we were able to write specifically to their talents. Within two hours we had it mostly framed up and were able to fine tune from there. We originally chose to use the disco ball because we had a funny dance sequence in mind that worked perfectly with it. However, trying to find a disco ball in the middle of the night turned out to be virtually impossible. Before we began filming the next morning, we rewrote part of the script to include the other prop option, the candle.

best-sound-ifp-phoenix-james

We also knew in advance what places we would have access to for filming. We had an empty house and a restaurant that was closed for remodeling. Since I knew there wouldn’t be much time for post-production, I wanted to film in quiet places that we had control over. Some of our script called for flashback scenes that were set outside, so we decided to use voice-over and music in those scenes to eliminate the need to get clean audio outside. But we couldn’t plan for everything!

Problems

We were filming in Arizona on a weekend where temperatures reached 110 degrees, so of course no one was fond of turning off the air conditioning during filming. Sleepy and sweaty is not a great combination for actors, but our team was full of professionals and we finished most scenes quickly so we could turn the air back on. Otherwise the sound of it kicking on and off and the low rumble of the units running would be tough to cover up in post production. I also had to turn off the refrigerator to prevent that hum from showing up on my audio tracks during the few scenes we shot in the kitchen.

best-sound-ifp-phoenix-kitchen

The restaurant we filmed in was quiet since it was closed for remodeling – but the fish market next to it was most certainly not. The wall to wall freezers there rumbled loudly enough to be heard through the vents and walls. I had to make sure I had the axis on the shotgun mic pointed in the same direction in order to keep the frequencies of the tone consistent from shot to shot. I also made sure to get plenty of room tone before leaving in case I had to make any adjustments.

Post and Creation of “Star Babies”

We wrapped on filming by 4:30pm on Saturday and sent all the actors home. Luckily this gave Travis and I time for a much needed rest and shower. We started editing at 7pm and were joined by one of the lead actors, Michael Coleman, to assist with Post. Fueled by a lot of pizza and maybe a little bit of whiskey, Travis worked on editing the footage while I searched sound libraries for some of the SFX we would need. We had music created by a local musician, Gork, and he was thankfully prompt getting it to us so we didn’t have to wait on anyone else.

Travis finished the edit about 12:30 and though I was running on just a few hours of sleep I jumped right into mixing. The first thing I did was clean up all the dialog. I made sure the lines were clean of environmental artifacts, all lines were being delivered at the same level, and everything cross faded into each other. Since I was able to get such clean production audio, I didn’t need to add any tone, but I did add some restaurant ambience for one scene.

best-sound-ifp-phoenix-mix

Initially I hoped to add some sonically artistic touches I’ve learned, but in the end I changed my focus from winning the sound award to simply making this film the best it could be in the time allowed. I kept things clean and simple, and rather than throwing in as much ambience and SFX I could, I added subtle touches. For example, I enhance the door opening in the very first scene as well as add the sound of the siblings changing the television channel. Interestingly enough, the recording you hear the most in that scene was recorded during an infomercial for the “Silver Bullet” at 2am on my living room TV. I also decided to add a welding sound during the part when Mike shocks himself with the jumper cables.

Since I kept things simple I needed to add dynamic contrast. Luckily the music we had was so good that I could showcase it by letting the music be the ambience. The timing and changes in the song worked like they were composed to the film.

On a side note, we probably spent about an hour trying to come up with a name for the film. Initially we wanted to call it “Disco Rainbow”, but since Travis thought it might cause confusion with one of the props, we decided against it. Instead we used part of the very first line of the film, and thus “Star Babies” was created.

Submission

Once we rendered out the film, we sent our file over to the IFP committee at 3:30 am on Sunday morning, and then promptly killed the rest of the donated bottle of Whiskey. We were one of the first three teams to submit, which earned us an automatic entry to Filmstock. We were sleepy but proud of our creation and knew that most of the competition wouldn’t be able to come close to the quality we produced. Two weeks later, we reassembled as a group for the IFP Screening and Awards. The event was held at the Phoenix Art Museum, and filled every one of their 300 seats with several people standing in the back of the theater.

To mark the first time a Best Sound Award was given at this challenge, Sennheiser and BKW Inc. donated a Sennheiser MKE600 microphone to the first place winner. It makes a great addition to my gear collection.

Thanks to this win, we also have an entry to the Phoenix Film Festival in April of 2014. We look forward to that as well as to next year’s IFP 48-hour Beat the Clock Challenge!

IFP-poster-star-babies

Blog Edited and Contributed To by Holly Foreman

Post Written by James Alire

An accomplished musician and consummate professional, James Alire brings education, passion, and a wide range of experiences to the sound table. He has functioned as an IT specialist, recording engineer, and sound mixer/ editor in many arenas. He lives in Chandler, AZ, where he is expanding his company, 5J Media, to include web design and audio/sound services for musicians and filmmakers. For quotes or to hire James for audio and web services contact 5J Media.