AND THE OSCAR FOR BEST PICTURE GOES TO… When five Vassar filmmakers set out to make a movie in 24 hours, they had no idea that their work would leave such a lasting impression. For Apple’s 2007 annual Insomnia Film Festival, Ben Rutkowski ’09, Brian Paccione ’09, Lauren Rubin ’10, Woodrow Travers ’09, and Sebastian Weinberg ’09 headed down to New York City in October to write, cast, edit, and score their film, Hobopus—all in a single day.
“Knowing that you have to make something in 24 hours really gets the creative juices moving, and it forces you to think in a totally different way,” says Rutkowski, who, since high school, has made nearly 20 films with time constraints (the other filmmakers also had prior experience). The group quickly brainstormed the plot on the drive down. Then, when the clock started ticking at 9am, they met over breakfast to hatch a plan to create the story of a young musician (played by Rutkowski’s friend) struggling to compose a new piece of music. When an idea finally strikes, he quickly records it, only to have the pages fly out his apartment window as he sleeps. He later encounters a homeless man (the same man he had previously ignored outside his apartment) playing his composition in the subway.
Rutkowski based the story on an incident that actually happened to a friend of his father’s. The filmmakers decided to run with the idea, filming Hobopus in a friend’s apartment while incorporating several of Apple’s required elements (a specific camera angle, narrative device, and dialogue) in the three-minute film.
The team decided to keep the film low-budget, picking up a smoke machine, cheap lights, and fishing line to enhance the dream sequence, where papers appear to fly through the air and out the window, and books flutter open and closed. “With the proper lighting, it didn’t matter that we were using a cheap camera,” says Rubin, who worked on the special effects. The film was made sans dialogue (though the group incorporated the prescribed element of dialogue with a sign held by the homeless man, played by Travers) and used a musical score previously written by Rubin and recorded by professional musicians, with Weinberg improvising on violin.
As the team filmed into the night, Rutkowski quickly edited the footage. “My favorite part is always when everyone else falls asleep, and I can stay up and edit,” he says, adding that most of the group sacrificed sleep to keep filming. “It’s interesting to watch the film change and transform itself in every stage of planning, shooting, and adding music.” After the final edits were made, he frantically tried to upload the film to Apple’s website, struggling until it finally uploaded just 10 minutes before the 9am deadline.
“When it was finished, we knew that it was the best 24-hour movie we’d ever done,” says Rubin. “That, in itself, felt like enough.” Out of the 3,000 teams that entered nationally, only 1,900 met the 24-hour deadline. And then the public voting—and the waiting— began. “When we were finally told we were in the top four, we freaked out because it was such a surprise,” she says. They anxiously waited as a panel of famous film producers judged the entries, finally announcing that the Vassar Filmmakers had won the popular vote. The win not only meant a Macbook Pro and software for each filmmaker, but also a screening of the movie and the film’s inclusion in future Apple products. “It was incredible— I was shaking,” says Rubin. “We definitely couldn’t have done it without the support of Vassar and everyone who viewed the film and voted for us.”
The group is part of a larger Vassar organization that formed in the fall to give students of any background or major the opportunity to make their own films. The Vassar Filmmakers have already hosted guest speakers and held screenings, in addition to regularly creating films and sponsoring those in production.