A Christmas Encounter – 12 for ’10 December Submission

by Jimmy on January 12, 2010

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Again, I’m jumping the gun on my 2010 resolution but the Christmas spirit and unexpected blizzard put me in the mood to make a quick movie.

Synopsis: The unlikeliest of things occur during the strangest of times. Five days before Christmas, a once a decade snowstorm blankets a sleepy suburb in Virginia. Two women plan to enjoy the day happily trapped inside their warm house when something unexpected stumbles into their lives.

Making the movie (possible teaser alert, watch the video first then read this part): My friend and roommate Linda Suarez is an accomplished actress with the Mystery Dinner Playhouse, a place where you eat dinner and enjoy a murder mystery play at the same time.  I decided to put her acting skills to good use in a complex role that sees her character change from a cheery, naïve momma’s girl to a jaded and scarred junkie.  Of course, you didn’t get to see the full transformation of her character in the short 4 minute movie.  However, we can only assume that after she sees the man-creature crawl from her shed and run after her, the only natural way for this story to end was for her to end up being a junkie tricking herself out so that she can get a quick fix just to forget what she saw that one fateful day before Christmas.  But I digress.

The idea for this movie came from simply looking out my backyard at our smashed shed rusting prominently in the middle of our eyeline every time we looked out the window.  I knew that only strange things could come out of such an old and dilapidated shed.  (Most of the damage to the shed was done by my dad when he cut down a huge pine tree that slammed down directly on top of the shed).  The snow was almost 10 inches high that Saturday morning and it was going to snow for many more hours to come.  The woods abutting our yard made a natural eerie backdrop for a suspenseful short movie.  It was obvious that we had to have something supernatural and brightly decorated come out of that shed to contrast the thick white snow and bare, spindly trees.  It had to be a man-creature.  I had recently seen the independent film “Ten Canoes,” a beautiful aboriginal folk story starring real Aborigenes as opposed to the fake ones.  In the movie there was an imposing witch doctor who painted his face and body bold colors when he had to perform rituals involving the dark arts.  This was my inspiration for the costume of the man creature that crawled out of the shed, albeit my costume seemed to look more American Indian than aboriginal.

Initially, I wanted the man-creature to be a time-traveler with the rusty shed being the vessel.  The shed would be a combination of the DIY time machine in Primer and the silly hot tub time machine in Hot Tub Time Machine.  However, since we did not have enough time to write up a complete script about a time traveling shaman from some ancient tribe, it can only be inferred by the truly imaginative that the man-creature was indeed time-traveling in the shed.  Most people, however, would logically assume that the man-creature was squatting in the shed and living off groundhogs and chipmunks that he killed with rocks.

The entire movie is one handheld shot.  We had to do two takes because Linda Suarez, the camera person, was not able to control the camera and walk through knee-high snow at the same time.  Thus, the first shot came out too shaky even for the type of homemade feel we were going for.  Plus, Linda was so scared and anxious during the part where I came running at her that she failed to capture me actually running at her before she closed the door.  Without my scary, brightly painted face coming at her, the movie would not have been scary in the least bit.  So a second take was warranted and it came out much much better than the first shot.  The thing we had to give up by doing the second shot was untrammeled, virgin snow.  If you look closely, you can see that there are footprints all over the backyard from the first take.  But that was a trade-off we had to make.

My favorite part of the movie is the inane banter going on when the man-creature briefly disappears into the woods.  Some notable lines include:  Linda: “I think it’s watching us.  I THINK IT’S WATCHING US.”  Linda: “Where did it come from?” Lenah: “It came from our shed.”  Linda: “That thing is…it is creeping back.”  When people comment to me on the movie most of it concerns the 3-D credits at the end.  However, I don’t think enough praise was given to the acting of Linda Suarez and Lenah Nguyen.  I mean there was no script and Lenah had only a day earlier gotten 4 wisdom teeth taken out.  The conditions were terrible and yet they both put in solid performances.  Now I understand why today’s action movies have horrible acting; it’s because people don’t pay enough attention to good acting and only care about the special and visual effects.  By the way, the 3-D credit effects at the end of the movie were done with Adobe After Effects and it took me nearly 20 hours to do it.

Fun facts: If I had enough time, I would have dragged a dead deer into the shed to give the appearance that the man-creature was indeed squatting in the shed and eating wild animals raw.

If I had even more time, I would have had the dead deer and added some flashing buttons to the interior of the shed to explicitly infer a time machine.

If I could do it all over again, I would have painted my whole body bright orange or red and worn only a grass skirt.  Sure it was cold, but when I get into character I feel only what my character feels.  And in this case, the man-creature was only feeling numb.  Numb at having to time travel aimlessly for the rest of his life because the shed time machine was broken.

If you watch closely, when the man-creature comes back from the woods to try to attack the girls, he briefly grabs his hair.  The reason for this was because just a few seconds earlier my wig got caught on a bramble and was pulled off.  I had to hunch down real low to avoid being in the frame and put the wig back on.  After I reappear through the brambles, I put my hands on my head one last time instinctively to ensure that the wig was on right.  I didn’t realize it would be captured so clearly on camera.  But, I’m hoping you assumed I grabbed my head because I was in a crazed state.  These little beautiful mistakes are what make movies so wonderful.

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