By Michael Balderston
The third annual Speakeasy Shorts competition, which mixes live storytelling and filmmaking, kicked off this past Friday with the performances of 10 stories. After each performance a filmmaking team was randomly selected to adapt the story into a short film in five days. I followed Rob Raffety, a graduate film student at George Mason, and his Tragedy Plus Time team over the weekend filming their short, “Game Night.” Here’s what happened.
Friday, 6:55 p.m.: The Tragedy Plus Time meets for the first time at the U.S. Navy Memorial Heritage Center’s Burke Theater. The team includes Raffety, Travis Edwards, Amanda Ottaway, Rachel Link and Aaron Merrill, plus members Satya Thallam and Matt LeClair, who were absent. The team introduces themselves and each grabs a Heineken, raising them to the journey ahead.
7:51 p.m.: It isn’t a long wait for Tragedy Plus Time to know which story they are going to adapt after their name is drawn for the first performance of the night. Told by Mikael Johnson, the story focused on Johnson as a teenager and his experiences with practical jokes, particularly one time when he tried to get in on the fun by mispronouncing the word magician to a man who he later found out to be illiterate during a game of Pictionary.
9:32 p.m.: After all the stories have been given out and Tragedy Plus Time spends only a few minutes at the “actors market,” where local actors pitch themselves to filmmaking teams for potential parts in their productions, the team heads off to Edwards’ home for a brainstorming session. I ride with Raffety and Edwards, who are eager to bounce their ideas off each other in the car ride over.
9:51 p.m.: Once everyone has arrived and is settled in, the team hunkers down and discusses how they can turn their story into a short. Merrill throws out the idea of doing a 1950s type of educational video on practical jokes. Link thinks they should play up the family angle of the story, particularly the older brothers teasing the younger one. Ottaway thinks it would be funny to have the short focus on an actual magician who does inappropriate tricks. Each idea is given some thought, but eventually Raffety and the team lean toward focusing the film on a couples’ game night.
12:28 a.m.: After a few hours of narrowing the plot down, throwing out some jokes, some pizza and beer to keep the creative juices flowing, the team thinks they are in a strong place where Raffety can get a first draft ready by the afternoon. Everyone heads home.
Saturday: The full team doesn’t actually meet, but a number of emails are exchanged starting with Raffety’s first draft of “Game Night.” People chip in with their thoughts on possible revisions and a few hours later Raffety sends everyone a second draft, and the process repeats itself. The other details of the production also pan out as they settle on shooting the film at Edwards’ home, find their actors, then lose one of their actors and have to replace him. Raffety sets a call time for 10 a.m. on Sunday.
Sunday, 12:23 p.m.: After reading through the script to make cuts and last minute changes, the team is ready for the first shot. Raffety calls action and actors John Crowley and Allison Howard walk down the sidewalk, but they only make it a few steps as Howard trips. Everyone laughs and they get back in position to go again. It was a great sign of the loose nature and comradery of the production despite the ticking clock of the competition.
9 p.m.: After nearly nine hours of shooting, mostly inside thankfully on the cold and dreary day, production wraps on “Game Night.” The process moves into Edwards’ hands as he will handle the post-production for the film.
Wednesday, 11 a.m.: After two days of editing, Raffety submits the finished project with an hour to spare before the noon deadline.
You can see the finished “Game Night” and all the other films in competition this Saturday, Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. at the Navy Memorial Heritage Center. Get tickets here.