On the afternoon of March 1, a group of 70 La Cañada High School students split up into seven teams and received marching orders to produce their own original short films of up to seven minutes in length.
What seemed like a simple enough after-school project, however, came with some major qualifiers.
Each film would have to incorporate a magnifying glass as a prop, feature a character named Merman Gypsy and include the line “No, no, no — OK, a little.” Groups would also have to use at least one shot filmed from a bird’s eye view, include the sound effect of a galloping horse and write the plot in adherence to a randomly assigned wacky genre.
Lastly, students would have just 64 hours to write, shoot, direct and edit their films before submitting them to teachers Justin Eick, head of the school’s theater department, and Kevin DeSimone, who heads the high school’s film and television program.
The results of their efforts — which, for most, amounted to a madcap weekend of nonstop commentary and sleepless nights punctuated by moments of cinematic genius — will be on public display Friday evening at 7 p.m., when LCHS hosts the 64-Hour Film Festival.
Senior Henry Vaughn, who directed the horror mockumentary “Slasher Disaster,” said he appreciated how the process forced him to think on his feet and use his directorial instinct about what to keep and what to cut.
“Every step of the way we had fun, and it shows in the product,” Vaughn said, chuckling at his use of the word “product.” “You can see it in the film and that’s what 64 is all about.”
The festival is a fundraiser for the school’s theater and film departments and a concept Eick organized as an instructor at L.A. County High School for the Arts. He brought it to La Cañada High last year.
“It’s a great event for students because it truly is a multidisciplinary opportunity — you have kids who are writers and directors and actors and costumers and production designers all working together,” he said.
LCHS’s inaugural festival was a success, and many who participated last year signed up again this year.
“I would not do it if I didn’t love it,” said junior Grey Ingrassia who worked with classmate Carly Witteman on the team that created classic rock biopic “Sunset Dynasty.” “I edited all day Sunday — there was not a single second where someone wasn’t doing something.”
Teams competed to raise the most number of tickets in exchange for certain advantages over other teams, including the ability to pick a genre, steal another team’s genre, use special equipment or have their final deadline extended.
“But once the competition is over, the kids come together and the different teams actually help each other,” Eick said. “It’s a great team building exercise and community building event.”
Freshman Hayden Eick, son of the theater instructor, said despite the melee of working in a big group and having to learn production skills on the fly, he’s pleased with the resultant Marvel murder mystery film, “Lost Soul.”
“We actually created something I ended up being proud of,” he said. “I feel like we made something special, and it was really cool.”
Witteman participated last year and was thrilled to hear the audience laugh at a punchline she wrote. Although “Sunset Dynasty” took a lot of work, she says she’s “heavily in love with the film.
“I never thought before this I could have made a classic rock biopic, but I did,” she said.
Students won’t know what the other teams have created until Friday’s festival. Sophomore Agatha “Kai” Monn, who helped create the romantic comedy road trip film “Feels on Wheels,” said she cannot wait.
“I’m just really excited to see all the other films, there’s such suspense,” she said. “I haven’t even seen my film yet.”
“The moral of the story is I want it to be Friday — I want to see them so bad,” he said.
FYI: The 64-Hour Film Festival takes place Friday at La Cañada High School’s auditorium, 4463 Oak Grove Drive. Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased at 64hourfilmfestival.com.