Feb. 10, an out-of-the-ordinary Saturday-night deadline of 9:00 p.m. mercilessly falls upon film and German studies double major Shant Derderian as he edits with hurried fervor the final scenes of his project entitled ‘Rejuvenation,’ only to meet with the worst possible outcome: his computer crashes.
Derderian and his fellow team members of 425 Studios, third-year bio major Tigran Tovmasyan, third-year mechanical engineering and chemistry double major Vahe Gabuchian, second-year biomedical engineer Paul Ocalian and third year political science, philosophy and classics triple major Silva Galstyan, all tired and frustrated after staying up for almost 24 hours, lost hope in even completing their task in the UC Irvine 24-Hour Mad Film Dash.
With a cast list that resembles the Armenian National Bobsled Team, 425 Studios is made up of only one film major and, besides Derderian, have little experience in film.
Now we rewind to 24 hours before, 9:00 p.m. on Friday night, when 425 Studios and 70 other teams were given their prompt for the competition and sent on their merry moviemaking way.
425 began the competition with a bit of luck, managing a few days before to be the first of 12 teams selected in a lottery to be given one of the Computer Store’s new digital cameras.
Once the prompt was given, 425 split up to gather random items at their respective apartments before meeting in Villa Coronado, where Tovmasyan, Ocalian and Derderian all share an apartment.
I followed Gabuchian to his place where he gathered suits, hats, nunchacku and a small Russian accordion. The idea, I believe, was to gather inspiring items or random props that would hopefully serve a purpose.
The presence of a prompt in the competition was put into place to prevent teams from writing a script beforehand. However, after receiving the prompt, the guidelines were obviously not restrictive enough to completely discourage this. For a number of reasons, 425 had absolutely no idea what they were going to film at 9:00 p.m. on Friday night.
This brings us to around 10:30 when the team convenes at Tovmasyan’s apartment (also Derderian and Ocalian’s) to brainstorm. But, first thing’s first.
‘555 or 777?’ asks Ocalian, obviously getting his priorities straight. ‘What toppings do you guys want?’
10:30 p.m. As 425 eat, brainstorming begins. This process seems like the most arduous, seeing as everyone has an idea about what the movie should and should not be about.
‘Fuck politics,’ says a forward Gabuchyan in response to several ideas that attempt to make fun of George Bush.
‘What are we trying to say in this movie?’ an analytical Galstyan says.
Eventually, an idea is brought to the table that everyone can agree on.
‘Jesus comes back from the dead,’ Galystyan says.
Somehow, a slightly insane-sounding plot is devised involving a chemist, a formula and Jesus of Nazareth coming back from the dead and terrorizing the Newport Beach looking Mediterranean.
By now it is 12:30 a.m. in the morning and not one shot has been filmed. But spirits are up and the troops mobilize.
Before the first shot is filmed, the team assembles a fake sniper rifle out of pizza boxes, much in the spirit of the DIY-ness of the project. Black spray paint is needed and the team heads to Gabuchian’s apartment in Stanford Court.
Outside, as Gabuchian and Tovmasian spray paint a gun made out of cardboard, the team is met with their first major obstacle.
‘Slowly put down the weapon,’ an Irvine Police Officer says. Both he and his partner have their guns drawn, while a concerned neighbor stands behind them.
Both members of 425 slowly drop the fake gun and shakily attempt to explain their situation. After the weight of the gun is established to be that of paper, the police send them on their way.
A lesson is learned: Don’t make a fake gun at night in Irvine if your skin is darker than, say, a deep olive.
1:40 a.m, Spirits are still high as the team heads to the first location, an empty chemistry lab on campus.
‘We can do this, but we have to do it fast,’ Gabuchian says. ‘This looks so suspicious. If I came in here and saw this I would be very afraid.’
Tovmasyan, who is also an amateur photographer, sets up the first shot with Derderian, both seeming to actually know what they are doing.
As the first shot takes its form, the chaos of this project begins to unfold. No dialogue has been written, so everything is improvised.
‘Don’t talk. Just act,’ Tovmasyan says.
2:30 a.m. 425 roams around a dead UCI campus looking to set up their next shot. Despite the hour, everyone is having fun, even forming a credo: make it look cool and don’t take it too seriously.
3:00 a.m. We gather on the roof of the Social Science Parking Structure. The light fog presents some picturesque shots and 425 set up camp as a hot-boxed car quickly flees.
The parking structure seems to be a hub of activity this evening, with at least four teams shooting on different levels. The open spaces, elevators and rooftops seem to appeal to all of the thriller-based films.
5:00 a.m. Everyone is tired, hungry and the batteries have died in the camera. Also, very little light is left. It is a tense time. By the end of the hour everyone decides to sleep. At this time everyone feels frustrated and just wants to sleep.
3:00 p.m. I meet up with Team 425 after they have just finished their first day scene. I overslept, while they woke up five hours earlier to get more day shots in.
Team 425 is pumped again. They have slept and eaten and seen the night scenes on the computer, which they say turned out much better than they imagined. The level of optimism and enthusiasm is back to where it was when the contest started.
Now, we head to Newport Beach to film the final day scenes with enough time for Derderian to edit everything. Ocalian is at home cutting scenes and saving time.
Derderian is playing the mock Jesus part and dons a long black wig, thorns and a blue Speedo. We hit several spots around Newport: a liquor store and beachside. At each location, passers-by look on with expressions ranging from curious to shocked as Derderian swigs a bottle of wine and tears pieces out of a baguette, in some twisted connection to the sacrament.
This is the most fun part about the process, running from location to location and getting quick shots before people really notice. This guerrilla filmmaking style seems to embody the spirit of the Mad Film Dash, with the presence of a deadline, making the best use of your surroundings and having fun while doing it.
4:00 p.m. Finally, we head to the Newport Hyatt to get the final shot of the day. This is the most anticipated scene, one in which speedo-clad Derderian stumbles through the lobby while drinking and smoking, recreating the somewhat-famous scene from the recent Pierce Brosnan movie, ‘The Matador.’
‘I don’t want to do this,’ Derderian says as I wait with him before he enters. ‘I regret this decision.’
I wish him good luck and quickly walk ahead to sit in the lobby and get the full effect. The Hyatt lobby is a classy place, and all eyes are on Derderian as he stumbles through, camera trailing behind. What I expected to be more serious is taken as humorous by the Hyatt staff, who do nothing but look on and giggle.
9:00 p.m. The movie is done and the computer has crashed. A call is made to one of the men in charge, Andrew Capra, who calms Team 425 down.
Eventually the movie is turned in late but accepted due to technical difficulties.
At the end of the day everyone is just happy to finish. The overall experience seems to have been both frustrating and enjoyable, which is common for a challenge of this sort.