Dordt College News

48-hour race to the finish

March 14, 2014

The Prairie Grass Film Challenge offers a way for participants to experience hands-on learning and create films worth watching.

At 4 p.m. on Thursday, January 16, the members of a group of five Dordt seniors calling themselves Cascade Entertainment gathered in a classroom in the basement of the Dordt College classroom building. On the long whiteboard at the front of the room, bits of dialogue, plot points, and story outlines were scrawled in blue, red, and green marker. In the upper right corner of the board, the words “Genre: Comedy, Prop: A new penny, Line of dialogue: ‘Tomorrow will be a new day,’ Character: George the Food Critic,” were written, along with four other names, including Piety the Pet, and Candy Cane the Cutest Pet.

The Prairie Grass 48-Hour Film Challenge had just begun. Within the next two days, teams at Dordt College and at various locations across the United States would come up with stories that used the elements assigned to them, and completely write, film, and edit six- to eight-minute short films. 

They do it simply because they love creating stories.

“He who has the best story wins,” said Mark Volkers, digital media professor at Dordt College. He started the film challenge eight years ago, not knowing if it would be possible to even pull off that first year. This year, 35 teams signed up, including teams from California, Colorado, Missouri, and even Northwestern College in Orange City.

“Good stories still captivate us,” Volkers said. Judges across the country watch the Prairie Grass films, not necessarily looking for technical skill or how the assigned props and characters are integrated into the film, but for good stories. 

Cascade Entertainment, made up of Andrew Miller, David Mahlum, Giovanna Romero Sarubbi, Karin Heitzman, and Mark Dadisman, spent Thursday night developing their script.

“We devoted the rest of the day to smashing, sculpting, and reforming the story,” said Mahlum. They also planned for the next day, which involved finding people and locations, planning shots, and filming.

This was Mahlum and Miller’s fourth time completing the 48-hour film challenge, and they had worked with Heitzman and Dadisman before. They keep doing the challenge because it’s “crazy and fun,” another opportunity to make stories.

Tanner Brasser, a junior who completed the 480-hour challenge last year, an option not offered again this year, participated in this year's 48-hour challenge. “It seemed like a no-brainer to sign up,” Brasser said. “I love making film.”

He, too, began brainstorming with his team as soon as they received their instructions and assignments. Because of the wind, cold, and snow falling on Thursday night, Brasser was concerned about filming conditions for Friday.  “But beyond that,” Brasser said, “I am not worried. I am excited to get into the rush of it.”

Fifteen hours later, Food Fight Club, another group of Dordt seniors, gathered in Sara de Waal’s basement apartment off campus. Jayson Korthuis, their “powerhouse editor,” sat in the living room on a straight-backed wooden chair.  His laptop was open in front of him, hooked up to the TV, which showed a round cake with white frosting. The word “CAKE” appeared and reappeared in the frosting. 

De Waal, Justin Gloudemans, Darin Lammers, and Kyle Dykema gathered around, excited about this title scene. This is their fourth year working together as a team. Heidi de Waal, who played the female protagonist in the film, joined them for the night to watch the editing process. 

The team drank tea and coffee while they discussed the day’s events, reminisced about previous film challenges, and offered suggestions to Korthuis.

For this team, the best part of the challenge is spending time together and working together. They say they have really grown over the past four years, both in their teamwork and in their filmmaking skills.

“We balance each other out,” said Gloudemans. “Now it’s like, ‘Let’s just hang out.’”
Food Fight Club had a great cast to work with, too. They asked Dordt College History Professor Paul Fessler and his wife, Avonda, to act for them, and they borrowed ASK Center employee Sanneke Kok’s dog Floris to act as Piety the pet. 

“It was really a picture of what the Dordt community is really about,” said de Waal.

This cast came with its own set of challenges. The Fesslers had never acted before, and the crew had to figure out how to make Floris do what they wanted, resulting in a few funny and failed liverwurst experiments. According to Gloudemans, it can be difficult to ask people who may never have acted before to figure out their characters and scripts so quickly. 

But the pace of the challenge makes it fun.

“Every film feels great to complete,” said Dykema. “But here, you complete it so fast, it’s like instant gratification.”

“It’s stressful, but it’s fun in the end,” Lammers agreed. “It has good pay off.”

Despite the need to complete everything quickly, however, this team does not sacrifice quality. 
Korthuis did the bulk of the computer work, but the whole team contributed, offering suggestions on how to piece scenes and shots together, and discussing the style of the film and the benefits of different angles, framing, and camera movement. They were also concerned with how best to reveal character and how the audience might perceive the film.“

Sacrifice the hug for the flames?” Gloudemans suggested about one scene.  At another point, Korthuis raised his hand to break into the conversation and ask about switching out audio takes to improve the shot.

There was silence for the first time in an hour as Korthuis worked out how to cut shots with precision, and Gloudemans watched for continuity errors.

By 7 p.m. Thursday, three hours after they’d received their genre, line, and character, Food Fight Club’s outline was complete. They wrote the script between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Friday morning they met at de Waal’s apartment, where they planned to do all of the filming, to begin arranging the room and setting up shots. By 8 p.m. their filming was complete, and they took a break for supper before starting the long editing process.

Editing is where the real work begins. 

For the next 11 hours, the group took turns editing, napping, drinking coffee, and eating the homemade bread it has become tradition for de Waal to bake in the middle of the night.

By 9 o'clock on Saturday morning, they watched the whole film together. They added some final touches, and were mostly able to relax for the rest of the day before submitting the film that afternoon.

Other teams did not have time to relax.

At noon on Friday, Cascade Entertainment was trying to find actors. Their story involved children making snowmen, but because they were filming on a very cold school day, they had limited time to work with the kids, and they had to melt snow in a heated car in order to form the snowmen.

They were still filming on Dordt’s campus that evening and then had to start editing. 

“It took us all night to forge our film into something worth watching,” Mahlum said.

Saturday morning, he described himself as being in a zombie-like state, having already gone over 20 hours without sleep.

Despite these challenges, however, Mahlum said they are pleased with their results.

“I’m proud of the final product,” said Mahlum. “It is charming and quirky. I think one can follow the story and connect with the main character, which is something I personally hope to see in a movie.”

Saturday afternoon, Volkers and Darlene Reichert, a member of the PGFC organizing committee, set up a table in the Dordt Campus Center, where teams came to submit their films, exhausted and stressed. Four teams came between 3:30 and 4 p.m., and a few rushed in within the final 10 minutes. The rest submitted their films online.

Every year groups have last minute technical difficulties, or issues with sound or editing. According to Volkers, there are always a few teams that don’t finish.

Volkers said he expected students to spend the rest of the day sleeping after submitting their films, but sophomore Kaylie Ogle had other plans. She rushed over to the Rec Center to compete in an indoor track meet.

“I thought I was going to do really bad,” Ogle said. She had only gotten about three hours of sleep Friday night, on the floor in a classroom and on a couch in the education department, but adrenaline kicked in for her race. “It actually turned out pretty well.”

For Ogle, the lack of sleep and the fact that everything had to happen so fast was the most challenging part of the film challenge. But she said it was exciting to watch it all come together, to make something from nothing.

“When the time comes again next year, I know I’ll do it,” Ogle said. “It’s a fun experience.”


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