Omaha filmmakers compete in smartphone challenge

Omaha filmmakers compete in smartphone challenge

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September 5th, 2012

Omaha, NE – 48 hours to make a movie using only your smartphone. That was the challenge for a group of Omaha filmmakers this weekend as Omaha Creative Week swung into motion.

In the artsy digs of the downtown Image Arts Building, publisher of The Reader, John Heaston, kicked off Omaha Creative Week on Friday. The Reader helped sponsor the week, which sought to celebrate and unite Omaha’s creative community. “We’re going into the Creative Age,” Heaston told dozens of people gathered to welcome the 36-event, 10-day lineup.

John Heaston, center left, at a planning meeting for Omaha Creative Week. (Photo credit Leigh Ellis/OCW)

“Creativity is not just the providence of entrepreneurs and artists,” Heaston said. “We have a great creative economy growing and emerging in Omaha.”

The week of events, which runs the gamut from fashion-focused to technology-centric, began with a creative challenge for some of those creative minds. Omaha’s film community was challenged to put a five minute film together — in 48 hours, using only their smartphones to get the footage.

“Each filmmaker will get a genre, they will get a location in the city that they have to shoot at least one scene,” explained Jason Levering, executive director of the Omaha Film Festival. “There is a line of dialogue and a prop and all kinds of different things that we’re kind of throwing at them. So we’re actually going to get a variety because they’re going to be forced in whichever genre they get.”

As 17 filmmakers awaited their instructions, Levering said the limitations will force them to really get creative, and it’s another way to get new names in the spotlight.

“There are so many great filmmakers here,” Levering said. “There are a lot of Alexander Paynes waiting to break out and they just haven’t had their shot yet.” Alexander Payne, of course, is Omaha’s own Oscar-winning director and the city’s most famous filmmaking export. But as Levering said, Omaha has a growing film scene with many directors looking for a break. Enter Chris Zech. Zech is an amateur filmmaker who has been making movies for about six years, and now has a few shorts under his belt.

Chris Zech (2nd far right) of Echo Factory Productions with his crew on the set of [Blocked]. (Photo credit Echo Factory)

“Just starting out, there’s nothing wrong with starting out small,” Zech said. “This is a prime example of the perfect opportunity for people to come out. If you have a smart phone, come out. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the best equipment; it doesn’t matter if it’s just you and a few friends. It’s all about the passion and just creating the project.”

“That’s sometimes what it takes to start,” he said. “That’s what it took for me to get started.”

Zech said he has slowly put together a team of different talents that he can call on. And Friday night, he had a crew of about ten waiting directions. But first, they needed the details.

“All right, so…. the first person I’ve got here is Scott Hertz.” In the back of the building, Jason Levering handed out sealed envelopes to the filmmakers with their genres, location and prop details.

“Chris Zech…”

Zech grabbed the envelope, and headed to the back of the room to open it up. “So our prop are sunglasses. Our line is ‘Get off.’ Our location is the Bob Kerrey Bridge. And our genre is mystery…”

“That’ll be interesting,” he said. “It’s definitely not the first choice, but it’s definitely one we can work with.”

The next day, under a blazing hot sun, the crew filmed all the scenes they needed at three locations or a hastily-put-together story. “So we pick up our packet, and we bolt out the door,” Zech said. “We have a planning meeting already started. We meet up… and we just hit the ground running.”

Using the mystery genre, the team went with a series of mysterious murders, the clues of which are sent to the main character by text message from an unknown number. “Oh my God.” On set, Zech’s lead actress takes a sharp intake of breath as she reads the message on her phone. It’s the address of her boyfriend, and a foreboding image of a knife.

“When you have such a small amount of time to cram that much in, to try and get that type of emotion out of an audience with that short of time, you have to bring up almost ten times as much emotion and energy into the production itself,” Zech said. “Needless to say at the end of the day, everyone was pretty much exhausted, but had a good time.”

Zech and his crew handed in their five-minute film on time for the Sunday night deadline. This week, the Omaha Film Festival judges will review all the pieces and choose the winners. All the entries will be shown at the awards ceremony at the Omaha Film Festival offices on Saturday at 3 pm.

Omaha Creative Week continues with events throughout the week, through Sunday. Click here for a full schedule.

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