Story in Photography: Summer 48 Hour Film Project 2021

To watch the short film that we created, check out the Director’s Cut of “Open Wide” on YouTube.

Time flies and projects come and go, but the stacking workload seems to stay the same, pandemic or not. Luckily, I’ve had time to work on and highlight some of the things I’ve been up to in recent months. Particularly, I wanted to highlight some of the behind-the-scenes photography of one of the film productions I had the opportunity to work on.

Before shooting started

Last summer marked a return to a bit of normalcy. I was again working on a string of films in the independent community. In addition to working with my friend and colleague Joe Bucci on Child Warfare, I worked alongside my friend and colleague Ian Altenbaugh and producer Edwin Huang on last summer’s Pittsburgh 48 Hour Film Project. Under the ironic team name “Everything But the Name”, we made a film with the same project conditions as the competitions before. We needed to write, produce, and edit a short film in 48 hours or less.

In last summer’s competition, the competition officials tasked our team with creating a time travel short which also featured or referenced a dentist character. The dentist was an interesting departure from previous project constraints. While I was not involved in pre-production this time, I still got behind the camera with the usual project freedoms and challenges of impromptu filmmaking. Since many of us had participated in a 48HFP before, the production felt fluid and unrestrained, but the contest constraints introduced challenges we had not experienced before.

Preparing for the first shot of the film
The streets of Pittsburgh

To start our day of production, we shot a majority of our scenes outside. Our first location fused eclectic urban concrete and rustic metal. The usual Pittsburgh scene contains old steel workers’ homes and abandoned, graffitied factories (with a tiny touch of overgrowth and swamplands). The aesthetic is great for varying and interesting exterior scenes, but exterior shooting still depends on the perfect weather conditions.

More specifically, shooting can depend on the consistency of sunlight. On this day of shooting, the natural light did not completely overpower the exterior shots, leaving a tone and temperature that set the look of the film.

As we rolled through the summer heat (and got our skin a little crispy from the aforementioned sun), we soon found that time became a common enemy. We were behind schedule and had much of the shooting to complete. To alleviate this, we began to splinter our crew to separate locations. Some were shooting across town, while others prepared gear and resources at our home base for the scenes to come.

Pittsburgh exterior shooting
Rolling through the summer heat

By the afternoon, a skeleton crew moved to our office location. The scene setup included a conference room with a simple look that was important to exposition and imagery. To create the empty, white space in the photos below, we developed a look that matched the tone as the protagonist’s dilemma deteriorated.

We played off of the dynamic of the lighting and look to capture the repetitive and trippy nature of a time loop, which was an integral part of the plot. The camera setup and movements were simple, so we were able to knock out those scenes rather quickly.

Working with a small set space by recording audio wirelessing… from the next room over.

Spacing provided a challenge in a small room like that. Where do we place the actors and the essential crew? Luckily, our sound mixer recorded wirelessly from the next room over, providing extra space for camera blocking. Part of what made this project equally fun and challenging was the ability to adapt to the ever-changing conditions.

Setting and shooting the stunt
Carefully preparing and shooting the stunt scene

The sun began to set as we moved to our final shooting location. Soon, we replaced artificial lighting with the absence of natural lighting. Several large light units were brought onto the location to expose our space. Our final two scenes took place in a perfectly reproduced dentist office. We just needed the right amount of light to set the tone. For artificial lighting, we built ARRI lights to overpower our faux waiting room with a fabricated glow. 

Once we set and blocked the room, I was beginning to feel exhausted. My body and mind began to ache and disconnect from the shooting process. I needed a boost of caffeine. In this case, can or two of soda helped me focus on the finish line. The most involved shot of the night still had to happen. 

The aforementioned special effects shot required extra time and preparation. We needed an effective execution of effects, however the actor’s safety was equally important. Part of this shot involved a stunt that needed to be choreographed with precision and precaution. Once we were sure of every little detail, the actor executed the stunt and effects perfectly.

Setting of the final scene of the film
Setting up for the final scene

The Director of Photography shot the remainder of that scene with one camera. This allowed me to splinter off and prepare the next and final scene of our production. We were on Hour 14 of the shoot, but we were very close to wrapping.

Blocking for the final scene
Blocking out the final scene

As I finished blocking the lighting, everyone moved onto our last set for the final scene. The scene was a short but very important sequence that acted as the ending to our film.

For this scene, there was a dentist chair in a room bleached with white LED lights. It carried the same effect as the conference room scene before, providing the feeling of disorientation. It was nothing too complicated, just something to perfectly tie together the message of our film.

Wrapping the film shoot
That’s a wrap!

After a short few takes, we finally wrapped. Covered in an air of joy, exhaustion, and dried sweat, I felt relief and joy around the room. At last, we broke down the set and released the cast and crew. It’s always unreal to see how much can be accomplished in a single day of shooting, but with a roster of such talented individuals, I had no doubt we would accomplish this major task.

It doesn’t seem real at the moment of inception and writing, but in the late hours of the day, I stood there with yet another sense of fulfillment and pride. I saw the smiling faces around the room as we reviewed the footage from the day. In that moment, nothing else mattered. We had made a film.

For more coverage of the filmmaking process, please check out the photo gallery on my portfolio website.

The Final Product – “Open Wide”

Author: Steven E. Croner

Hey, everyone. How are you? I’m doing pretty well. My name is Steven. I’ve been living in Pittsburgh for a few years now. What sort of projects have I been working on, you ask? Well, I’ve assisted with several indie film productions in that time, mostly directly behind the camera or working with camera operations. It has been pretty fun. I’ve also been working on several other projects individually. This website is a collection of those projects that I do on in my spare time. Please click on the links above to learn about some of the work that I do in digital media and writing. I hope you enjoy my collection, which is a combination of old, archived work and new content I am compelled to share with you. Please feel free to interact, engage, and help me make some friends and colleagues in the creative media communities!

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