“What are you guys still doing here?”
Though the kickoff event for the 48-Hour Film Festival ended an hour ago, Cameron Kadis, Nikki Saraniti and Dwight Wilt sat in the front row of chairs in the otherwise empty Williams Hall TV studio talking back and forth, throwing out ideas for their film.
Dwight had come up with the premise of the film a few days before: a wrestling-style tournament, but the contestants play Rock, Paper, Scissors. He doesn’t know exactly how or why the idea came to him, and thinks of it as a product of pure creativity and stupidity.
Miami University’s Association of Filmmakers and Independent Artists (MAFIA) hosts one to two 48-Hour Film Fests every semester, each with a different theme. Inspired by the notoriously bad 2003 film, “The Room,” this fest’s theme was simply “Bad.” Each film had to include a character named Denny, feature a spoon as a prop and someone had to say the line, “You’re tearing me apart.”
“We have to kick you out now,” one of the executive board members of MAFIA told the trio around 8 p.m.
After agreeing to meet at 10 a.m. the next morning, they said goodbye for the night and went their separate ways.
“You better not drop his $10 Walmart tie,” Alec Hamblin said, watching Dwight walk with Nick’s four neckties draped over his left arm.
“Actually, it was $8,” Nick Schraub corrected. Nick played the announcer for the Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament.
Nick and Alec don’t go to Miami, but are Dwight’s friends from high school. They drove in that morning from Eaton, Ohio, about a 25-minute drive from Oxford, to help Dwight with his film.
They have made a few movie projects together in the past, so Dwight asked them if they could help. He felt more confident in working with actors he knew already, especially since he only knew the other crew members from a few MAFIA meetings.
“Here’s the hat for your costume,” Dwight said, tossing a red snapback hat to Alec. Alec’s character is contestant Mitch Bison, a trucker who fights on the side.
“Just say no to drugs,” Alec said, reading the white lettering printed on to the front of the hat.
“Yeah, you’re a straight-edge trucker,” Dwight said.
Nikki and her friend Maggie arrived at Collins Hall soon after. It was 10:30 a.m. and they were still waiting on two of the main actors: Hannah Eyre, whom no one had met before, and Dwight’s friend, Riley Kitts.
Dwight called Riley around 10:30 a.m. Riley picked up, but Dwight could tell he had just woken up.
“I told him to get here at 11, so he’ll probably be here around 11:30,” Dwight said.
Riley’s character is a stereotypical “frat boy” named Dude Bro, who is competing in the tournament despite partying the night before. Dwight cast Riley for this part intentionally, figuring he would be hungover when they filmed anyway.
In the meantime, Nikki drove Maggie and Dwight to Walmart to pick up ingredients to make fake blood. They returned with two bottles of corn syrup, two packets of black cherry Kool Aid, one packet of strawberry Kool Aid (they thought that black cherry would be a darker red, but got strawberry too, just in case), blue food coloring and a box of Fruity Pebbles (for a scene where Alec’s character eats a bowl of cereal, but also for a snack).
Riley showed up at 11:30 a.m., just as Dwight predicted, wearing a USA basketball jersey over a dark gray hoodie. He admitted he was hungover, just as Dwight predicted.
Worried about wasting too much time, they decided to start filming the scenes without Hannah. The six of them filed out of Dwight’s dorm room, each person carrying some of the equipment — camera, tripod, light reflector, microphone, audio recorder and a printed copy of the script.
Nikki set up the tripod outside of Collins Hall, in the grassy area of East Quad. It was a sunny day, slightly cool in the shade of the trees. They couldn’t have asked for a better day to film outside.
Or, at least for the next 45 minutes, a better day to solve their technical difficulties outside.
Neither Nikki nor Maggie had worked with that particular camera before, and took turns pressing various buttons to try to get the camera to zoom in.
Meanwhile, the audio recorder was both not reading the SD card and running low on batteries. Dwight ran back inside and took the batteries out of the TV remote from the common room. When Alec tried Googling the problem with the SD card, his only results were people experiencing the same problem and a YouTube video titled “Do not buy, you’ll be sorry!” in reference to the recorder brand.
Dwight joked about ditching the script that he had written the night before and making a silent film instead. But the more time that passed without any luck, the more seriously he considered taking a different direction.
At 12:30 p.m., Hannah texted Dwight saying that she had just woken up and that she was on her way. She played the female fighter nicknamed “Crazy Eyes.” Unlike all of the other characters, she had no backstory and no lines.
Cameron had told the team that he would be late today because he had Yom Kippur services in the morning. At 1 p.m., he texted Dwight saying that he wasn’t going to come at all.
Things went more smoothly once their technical issues had been solved.
Hannah arrived right as they were done filming all of the outside scenes and packing up the equipment to move to a study room inside of Collins.
Around 3 p.m., they all went to Jimmy John’s for a lunch break. They wrapped up filming around 7 p.m. that evening, earlier than any of them had expected.
Dwight and Nikki sat at a table just outside of Cafe Lux huddled around Nikki’s laptop. They met at 10 a.m. and had spent the past four hours importing all of the video and audio clips into Adobe Premier Pro, putting them in order and clipping them as needed. By 2 p.m., all that was left to do was add effects and music.
“She’s been doing most of the work,” Dwight admitted. “I’m just kinda sitting here.”
As a Media and Culture major in her junior year, Nikki has editing experience from previous class projects. Not one for acting, editing is her favorite part of the process.
“The caffeine has worn off,” Nikki said around 2:30 p.m., resting her head in her hands.
“Really? I’m still a little shaky,” Dwight said.
Nikki would edit a section, then tap the spacebar to play the clip. She and Dwight watched, making comments when they saw something that needed cleaning up or something they liked.
After adding music, the finishing touch, they watched the entire movie.
“I can’t believe this turned out alright,” Dwight said.
“There’s a lot of magic that goes into editing,” Nikki said, smiling.
They finished around 4:30 p.m., with two and a half hours to spare before their 48 hours were up.
Participants of the film festival — MAFIA members and non-members alike — sat on blankets, lawn chairs and even skateboards in the side yard of Surf’s Up, a small blue house on Spring Street that belongs to Gabi and Lindsey, MAFIA’s Education and Social Chairs.
A white bedsheet taped to the side of the house served as the screen, and was paired with a projector plugged into a line of Christmas lights hanging out of the kitchen window.
As the sun set and the air grew cooler, everyone was growing impatient. They were told the screening would start at 7 p.m., but it was only dark enough to see the screen at 8 p.m.
People passed around bowls of popcorn and cracked open bottles of beer as the movies began to play. There were six films to view, including one that the executive board made.
The laughter was almost constant. They laughed at the witty lines, the pop culture references, the goofy characters, the nonsensical plots. They laughed at the out-of-focus shots, the awkward cuts, the deliberate and undeliberate “badness.”
The film fest was also a competition, but it seemed as though everyone had forgotten.
The bed sheet screen went dark after the last movie ended. Bowls with handfuls of unpopped kernels sat among the crowd. Applause filled the air — not just in praise for the last film, but for all of them.
The executive board congratulated everyone on a great “bad” movie festival, then disappeared around the side of the house.
After a few minutes of deliberation, they chose “Bad Apples” as the winning film, based on its ingenuity, ambition, humor and technical abilities demonstrated by the cast and crew. But MAFIA President Jack Ryan was pleased with all of the submissions.
“They all walked the line between being well-made and filling the genre of ‘bad,’” he said.
As a prize, the members of the team all received copies of “The Room.” It’s only fitting that the prize for making the best “bad” movie is the bad movie that started it all. Everyone laughs.
Though they didn’t win, Dwight and Nikki consider their first 48-hour film festival a success. They both plan on doing it again, and would do it together again, despite starting out as strangers.
The air is buzzing with conversation — compliments to other teams, quotes from funny scenes and propositions of collaborating on the next 48-hour film fest just a few short weeks away on Oct. 20.