Pepperdine students compete in 48-hour film contest

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Team completes film five minutes before deadline.

By Ryan O’Quinn/Special to The Malibu Times

How long does it take to make a movie? Well, the answer varies depending on budget, locations, amount of postproduction work and many other factors.

A group of students at Pepperdine University recently found out what is involved in making a movie right down to putting the final product on DVD. The only catch was they had to do it all in 48 hours.

Pepperdine was chosen as one of 13 schools to compete in a nationwide DVD-making competition called Project Pioneer 2880 (the number of minutes they had to write, cast, shoot, edit and turn in a DVD of their film). The annual event is sponsored by Pioneer Electronics and gives student filmmakers the opportunity to use digital technology to create a product that will be judged by a celebrity panel and an opportunity to win a share of $20,000 in prize money.

Students across the country gathered at their respective schools at noon on Oct. 24 and opened a sealed envelope containing $500 for their production budget and a one-paragraph story idea from which to base the script. Each school also received a DVD burner to use in putting their final product on DVD to turn in to the judges.

Sophomore Jason Eppink spearheaded Pepperdine’s project and wore many hats during the weekend including writer, director, narrator and executive producer. Eppink, who hails from Houston, said one of the reasons he chose Pepperdine was to be close to the film industry and this project was one opportunity to break in to the entertainment industry.

“I chose Pepperdine for more opportunities to do stuff like this,” Eppink said. “I tried to do something of quality and have important people see it. That was definitely my driving goal.”

When Eppink and his crew of about 10 other students opened the sealed envelope, they were initially surprised by the parameters and instructions. Following a brief paragraph of rules, their only information around which to build a script was the sentence: “Chris and Pat’s mutual admiration becomes an issue.”

“We just kind of brainstormed for a couple of hours,” Eppink said. “I wanted to make sure and get everyone’s input so we were all working on a project we all wanted to do. A lot of energy was going into this and I wanted to make sure they were happy and everyone had a personal interest in getting it done.”

When the team agreed on the style of the film, the other producers went to work on casting and locations while Eppink and a few others began writing the script. They decided on a plot revolving around female corporate spies and wrote the first scene that was finally shot in the conference room starting about 7 p.m. that night.

“It took us a long time to get a script,” fellow producer Chelsea Evans said. “After we wrapped shooting at 10:30 last night, we finished the script at about two in the morning. I slept three hours.”

The next day’s call time was 8 a.m. and they assembled at Alumni Park on campus and shot a scene with Mother Nature providing a perfect early morning fog as a backdrop. A few hours later at the next location at Zuma Beach, the crew realized there was an audio problem and they would have to go back to the park for reshoots.

“We had to run back up and try to shoot that stuff again, but of course the fog was burned off by then and the picture wasn’t consistent,” Eppink said. “Our editor was incredible. He made it all come together.”

Editor Nicholas Sheldon and producer Ryan Robinson stayed up late and worked in the editing room throughout the weekend as the team continued shooting other scenes.

“Our team was incredible. Everyone had such great strength in what they were doing,” Eppink said. “I learned so much. I learned how much it is a team effort. We built off of everybody’s ideas.”

Another obstacle they overcame was a science lab location on campus that fell through at the last minute; the crew rallied together to construct a lab on the sound stage in the communications building. They also endured a 20-minute power outage in the midst of postproduction in the early hours of Sunday morning. With constant news stories about wildfires a few miles to the north, the team stayed focused and worked right up to the last hour.

“That last hour I probably lost five years of my life,” said Eppink, who tweaked the final product right up to the deadline. “If the first burn hadn’t worked, we would’ve been disqualified. That’s the worst kind of stress when you can’t do a thing about it.”

The film was officially turned it at 11:55 a.m., five minutes before the deadline.

Various industry professionals from academics to professional actors will judge each of the 5-minute entries on cinematography, screenplay, performance, editing, use-of-technology and overall impression. The top place winner will be announced in the coming weeks and will receive $10,000 for their school and the film will be screened at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January in Las Vegas.