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One of the most important events in my life was, oddly enough, a calculus project.
The assignment was to make a short film about trigonometry, which made sense given that our teacher was also president of the Movie Club. We had to make a movie and throw some math in so it wouldn’t be completely irrelevant to the class. Not a bad premise for a project, all things considered.
To begin the project, of course, we needed a group. That was easy enough; I had an old friend in the class already, a new friend who had joined the Swim Team with me that year, and another acquaintance who always offered interesting perspectives.
That completed, we needed a script. Several ideas were tossed about, and by popular vote my Mafia film noir idea won out. Math in a Mafia movie? Certainly: the mob boss kills two people and threatens a third murder, making some strange allusion to triangles. Our heroic detective realizes in the nick of time that the murders’ locations, which were, say, 42nd St. and 18th St., are angle measures of a sick Killing Triangle, and with sines and cosines and whatnot he predicts the location of the final murder just in time. Unfortunately, it’s a setup, and everyone dies, but that’s show business.
I wrote the 8-page script one Saturday morning in a moment of inspiration, and was quite impressed with myself for doing so. However, that only made everyone else’s corrections sting all the more. At the time I was rather indignant, for I felt confident my script was more or less flawless. Looking over the finished product, though, I saw just how stupid some of my lines would have sounded, and realized that nothing but good came from having everyone help revise it. That was the first of many valuable lessons I would learn on this adventure.
The next weekend we began filming, or planned to. None of us had ever made a movie before, and so a recurring theme throughout the entire production was our severely underestimating how much time various steps and scenes would take. Friday evening everyone congregated at my house, and that was the first time we all met in one place together. Our hope was to gather costumes and film or at least rehearse a couple of scenes. However, we very quickly ran into two small but crucial problems: 1) we had no costumes and 2) we had no camera.
We were determined to not let the night become a total waste, though, so we ordered some pizza and set out to “scout locations”. The nearest feasible site was the elementary school near my house, so we walked over there, inexplicably wielding plastic lightsabers. Once there, we “scouted locations” for all of three minutes, and then decided to reconquer our childhood playground. There were actually a few kids there already, but when four high schoolers approached, in the dark and armed with plastic swords, the kids didn’t put up much of a fight.
Before long, we all found ourselves sitting atop the monkey bars, laughing and talking about all sorts of nonsense. It was great fun, but gradually the conversation grew more focused. We were, after all, at our old elementary school, so we began reminiscing about the early years and all the funny things we thought and did when we were young. Then, very naturally, the conversation simply flowed through 5th and 6th grade, then the Dark Ages of middle school, then the beginning of high school, and then we found ourselves right there, almost grown and almost done with high school, and sitting on a set of monkey bars. In a lot of ways, each of our lives made a little more sense after that.
More than that, though, we had each just shared our entire lives with each other. That probably meant we’d have ample group chemistry to film a movie together, but more importantly it meant that we could count on being friends for quite some time. This was somewhat new to me, actually- not that I’d never had friends, but I didn’t typically keep a very interconnected group of friends. In the coming months, I would learn just how valuable such a group can be.
We finally found a camera, but not before I was able to ruin one lead (a word to the wise, if a girl has promised to let you borrow a video camera, but she hasn’t given it to you yet, do not—I repeat, do not—get into an argument with her about the recent performance of the NASA space program, even if you don’t [and I still don’t] have any idea how you could possibly get into an argument about the performance of the NASA space program, because she will invariably hate you for criticizing such an honorable government program, and will change her mind about lending you a video camera). Fortunately, another friend came through at the last minute and donated his camera to the cause. So finally, at long last, we began filming our movie. Or so we planned.
For the second time- but certainly not the last- we grossly underestimated what was involved in preparing to shoot a scene, so when we met again planning to knock out two, maybe three major scenes, we instead spent two hours putting costumes together and another hour figuring out how to go about filming the first scene. Then, of course, we all had to memorize the lines that we hadn’t bothered to memorize during the week, which was all of them. We got a few minutes of footage down, which was good enough, and the following weekends were considerably smoother. In the end, we wrapped up filming only slightly behind schedule. All in all, we had a great deal of luck during those weeks, particularly in that we never had to explain to local law enforcement why we were walking around a public park at night wearing trench coats (and, sometimes, fake blood) and carrying fake guns that did not look fake enough to be quite legal.
If I may digress for a moment, that edge of peril associated with us filming in public places at odd hours was an absolute thrill for me. Granted, it was nothing that would likely earn us anything except a stern talking-to, but I’ve historically not been one to take many risks, and this experience—not just the nominal affront to city ordinances, but many things we did during the movie-making months—virtually eliminated the latent fear of society that I had borne. I wasn’t dysfunctional before, of course, but those months helped me see myself as entitled to certain things in life, and capable of working or fighting to achieve others, rather than at the mercy of the world. By the way, one of the things we did after it got too dark to film was ringing various doorbells in our neighborhood and hiding across the street while the homeowners grew ever more exasperated. This pastime grew constantly in scope, too; at one point we would ring more than four doorbells at a time, and at another point we got chased all the way home by a crazy man with what looked quite a lot like a shotgun. Needless to say, this wasn’t the most mature activity we could have engaged in, but it did sort of fit the theme of “revisited childhood”, and man if it wasn’t exciting.
Unfortunately, our great luck from filming did not hold up through the editing phase. As we were working with someone else’s (very cheap) video camera and the relatively foreign world of Macintosh Computers, it took us nearly a week just to figure out how to get the footage onto the computer. (As it turned out, I was forced to prostrate myself in apology before NASA Girl and beg a firewire converter cable from her). Once we had the footage loaded, we approached the editing process hesitantly, because no one quite knew how to go about it, and in the process made perhaps our most egregious underestimation yet.
Now, iMovie is a wonderful program, but it is not quite so wonderful as we had trusted. The deadline was fast approaching, and as the school year picked up we each found ourselves increasingly occupied with other school and extracurricular work, so before we knew it there was but one weekend left to create a final product. That’s fine, we said, we can do it. We’ll meet up right after school and edit everything together, trim the scenes, add some sound and maybe a flashy transition here and there, and then we’ll order some pizza and play some video games. It should only take a couple of hours, right?
Oh, how wrong we were. Potentially, editing could have taken only two or three hours. In fact, it did. Then Justin presses a button he shouldn’t have, and every audio clip in the movie is suddenly off by four seconds. An hour later we resolve that, and then (and only then) someone else decides that we should reorder these scenes halfway through. We correct that, and all the other mistakes we discover along the way, around 1 a.m., burn a DVD, heave a sigh of relief, and pop the disc in for an inaugural screening. Nothing happens. We run back to the computer, retrace every step we took, consult various support centers, try three other options, and very nearly despair. In a moment of clarity we finally figure out what we did wrong. We burn another disc, see that it plays, and, in our jubilant celebration, almost immediately fall asleep. But we made it. And we made a great movie.
And the next morning, in class, we completely blew every other movie away. No one came close. It was a good feeling, being the talk of the school for a few days, but it was an even better feeling having simply completed such a monumental undertaking, and making it a success.
As that was by far the largest and most complex creative work any of us have ever realized, individually or together, all other assignments have rather lost their intimidation. An 8-page research paper? No big deal, I wrote a script that long in one morning. The SAT? I’ll be fine, I’ve made a movie. Ask that cheerleader out on Friday? Uh… maybe I’ll just make another movie.
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