June 23, 2009 | Myrna Anderson
Three Calvin media production majors created a superhero with an unusual superpower for their entry in this year’s 48 Hour Film Project. "Super Ben’s Super Day," produced by ’09 graduate Mike Rohlfing and sophomores Alex Docekal and Josh Schroyer, won “Audience Choice” and “Best Sound Editing” in the St. Louis edition of the contest, held June 5–7. The film project, hosted in more than 70 cities around the world, gives filmmakers two days to produce a short film, all of which must contain the same character, prop and line of dialogue. (This year, the character was “Ashley or Ashton Brown,” the prop was a “photo of mom and/or dad” and the line was, “Have you ever seen anything like it?”) Rohlfing recently took a little time from post-production chores to answer a few questions about the contest.
1. How was this time around different from last year's film festival?
Every year is very different, but I’d say this was definitely one of our smoothest and easiest. This was our fifth year participating in the competition, so we pretty much have the process down to a science; we just have to think of a good, original story each time. As far as technical problems or mishaps, we normally have one or two, but nothing major happened this year.
2. Was the competition tougher?
The first year we participated in 48 Hour was 2005, and there were only around 30 teams. This year there were 74 teams from around the St. Louis area. Obviously the more teams there are, the tougher the competition for the two dozen awards becomes, especially when only around 10 of the movies actually win awards. It’s always our goal to make it to the Top 15 “Best Of” screening, which takes place the week after the competition. We have been in the “Best Of” the last three years.
3. How did you like your category this year?
We drew “Holiday Film” as our genre this year, which was probably one of the ones that we wanted the least. Fortunately there’s a holiday for just about everything, so we just made up our own. We started with “Romance” in 2005, then “Comedy,” “Sci-Fi” and “Spy.” It’s kind of hard to get better than “Spy,” but “Holiday Film” is certainly open for pretty broad interpretation, which worked for us.
4. Which category would you like to land?
Much to the dismay of my producer, Alex, I’ve always not-so-secretly wanted to draw “Musical/Western,” which is quite notorious in 48 Hour. You can either make a musical, a western or combine the two. Musical would be a great challenge, and we’ve always had some good ideas for it. “Thriller/Suspense” or “Horror” would be fun ones to do too.
5. What were the big challenges in getting this film made?
The biggest challenge is always writing the script. Once we have the script, it’s pretty easy to picture what the movie will end up being like. We always have great technology, great actors, and great locations, but without a decent script, those things are useless …
We always have a few rules for ourselves when writing during 48 Hour. The first is to never write anything that takes place at night. If you have night scenes, you either have to film them immediately after writing, which isn’t until 2 a.m. on Saturday, or film them Saturday night, when you should already be editing. If everything in the movie takes place during the day, we start shooting Saturday morning at 10, and finish by 5 in the afternoon. That way I can have a rough edit done by midnight and spend all Sunday polishing the cut.
The second rule is to keep locations to a minimum. Our first year, we had four location changes, which takes up way too much time. This year, we shot at Alex’s house in the morning and my uncle’s office in the afternoon, using each place as multiple locations in the movie.
We also try to keep it short. The rules say the movie can be 4-7 minutes with a minute extra for credits, but often 8 minutes can feel like an eternity if it’s not engaging. “Super Ben” is around 6:20 including the credits. Short and sweet.
We always try to have a variety of actors on hand. It’s pretty apparent in our movie this year as you can see the wide variety of ages of our actors. We had friends from high school, family members, neighbors, parents of friends—and they all did an awesome job.
7. What keeps you going back to compete in this festival year after year?
What’s nice about 48 Hour, is that it’s only 48 hours. That’s obvious, but I say that because it really helps. We can get actors and locations and equipment that may not always be accessible to us because it’s such an official thing. It’s very easy to get people involved. They know it’s only going to take two days, and they know that they’ll be able to go see it at a theater downtown. It’s become a summer event, where 20 or more of us will free up our weekend to make a movie. How much more fun could it get?
8. What are your post-graduation plans?
I actually graduated from Calvin in December. Since then I’ve been working as an editor at Coolfire Media in St. Louis. We produce various commercials, podcasts, tv shows, and corporate videos, and we also have an interactive department that makes Web sites, iPhone apps, and the like. It’s a great place to work and a lot of fun. On the side, I am constantly brainstorming various movie ideas. My cousin Carey and I have three or four new ideas in the works to shoot this summer. We recently submitted our zombie short “Playing Dead” ( http://vimeo.com/3916042 ) to the St. Louis Filmmaker’s Showcase, and it will be screening at that event in July and will be eligible for the St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF) in November. We have also been asked by the SLIFF Creative Director (who was a judge at 48 Hour) to submit “Super Ben” to the International Film Festival, so that’s a possibility too.
9. Are you going to keep on collaborating?
Alex and I work very well together. We each have our own specialties which combine to make a great team. Though he’ll be away in Grand Rapids for the next year, we will certainly continue collaborating and more than likely continue to participate in 48 Hour. Hopefully sooner or later we’ll win the top prize in St. Louis.
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