Los Locos Manos: a film for the 48 Hour Film Project 2012 Boston by The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library

Los Locos Manos 
full film, created for 48 Hour Film Project Boston 2012

All of our 48 Hour Films:

LOS LOCOS MANOS!!! [Facebook] [https://mjeml.michaeljepstein.com/]

“Los Locos Manos” screening happened:
Kendall Square Cinema
Group E Screening Thursday, May 24, 7 PM
(this is the family-friendly screening group – PG-13 or lighter)

Brietini Productions, The Brownie Theater (full film link), Cinemasolo, Evolution, First Thursday Films, J – movie,
Moose Films, North Shore Players (full film link), PDPsi, Talent Tools, Vaudeville Pictures, Wax Idiotical Films, YTeens Productions


I’ll give a detailed breakdown of the script with spoilers at the bottom for anyone interested.

About the 48 Hour Film Project

Susannah as Ivana Wright.
Photo by Tanya Palit.

I don’t have a whole lot of filmmaking experience, but I had heard about the 48hfp a couple of years ago when a friend of mine participated and Sophia and I had discussed doing one ever since.

The premise of 48hfp: groups are assigned a film genre, a character name and occupation, a prop, and a line of dialogue. The groups then have 48 hours to write, film, edit, and render/encode a final product that is between 4 and 7 minutes long (plus a flexible additional minute of credit roll).

Earlier this year, https://mjeml.michaeljepstein.com/ made a silent film based around our music. We will be premiering that film at a show at TT’s on June 15th! I had such a good time working with the band on it that I asked if they’d be interested in trying it again for the 48hfp and they all agreed! We decided that we would do a musical in whatever genre we were assigned and would write all the music for our film on Friday night, shoot all day Saturday, and leave Saturday night and Sunday for editing, etc.

How we spent the 48 hours

Photo by Jane Allard

In advance, we prepared the clearance and record documents required by the 48hfp, everyone cleared their schedules as much as possible for the whole weekend (planned to sleep over), and I started to study narrative approaches in short film. Although we had no idea what story we’d tell, I wanted to make sure we had some ideas about putting a succinct, but complete story together. I creeped the band out by making them listen to some Miranda July pieces, for example. We made the rough schedule…and I hoped that we wouldn’t get comedy, which was the only genre I really had no interest in. We kind of had a running joke about the phrase Los Locos Manos for a few months and had hoped we could find a way to work it into our movie, despite its lack of grammatical accuracy. We ended up using it as the title and incorporating it in a fun way.

Friday 5:30 – 7 – All of the 48hfp Team Leaders met at Boston Beer Works and were assigned our genre and other info. We were released and the 48 hours began at 7 PM. Here’s a video of me drawing our genre, “Thriller / Suspense.”

All of the teams in Boston for 2012 were assigned the following other items:
Character Name – Ivan or Ivana Wright
Line of Dialogue – “You’re making a big mistake.”
Prop – Chocolate

Photo by Jane Allard

Friday 7 PM – drove home to Somerville to meet team at 7:30.

Friday 7:30 – 9 PM – We collaboratively wrote the plot, planned how we would approach the story, assigned roles – particularly singing and speaking roles. We sat around the table, ate pizza, and figured this all out as a group, which is a challenging task. Rachel Leah Blumenthal took on the job of Production Manager and mostly excused herself from appearing in the film to perform that task, to act as a 2nd camera, and to shoot some photos of the production. Because we decided to do the whole thing as a musical, we knew we could skip doing live sound and while there would be a big frontload of work with getting the audio recorded and ready (dialogue, vocals, and cue music), it would be easier during shooting in some sense. The tricky part, of course, is that the performances then required lip-syncing rather than just freestyling the delivery of the lines.

Rachel Leah Blumenthal (production manager) describes the script after we finish the draft on Friday night.

I wanted to appear in the movie, but not really appear in it (a la Alfred Hitchcock). Hitchcock had some clever ways of doing this for films that made no sense for him to do a walkthrough (e.g., Lifeboat), by appearing in a photo or a newspaper ad. So, for my appearance, we used a painting that Sophia had made of me based on this photo.

Friday 9 PM – Saturday 6 AM – We wrote songs, recorded songs, split into groups to handle different aspects. Rachel and Susannah took over as kind of “music directors” for the cues and styles, ensuring that the music for each scene fit the tone and that the tones varied throughout the film. We very intentionally decided to work with the uncomfortable contrast between creepy and almost humorous (in a dark comedy sort of way). I was inspired to consider this approach by the masterfully balanced darkness and humor of Twin Peaks. I knew this would require a lot of shooting work as well – changes in lighting, angles, etc., but was ready to give it a shot, despite my limited experience.

Interviews with cast/crew:

Saturday 5:27 AM – Susannah (Ivana Wright) records vocals and Lisa (Chocolateer [sic]) records bass (plus other recording behind-the-scenes videos).

Saturday 6 AM – 9 AM – Various members of the team started going to sleep around 3 AM with tiered amounts of sleep from 6 hours down to 0 hours. I myself got to bed at 6 AM, while Rachel did production planning/management work (shotlists, prop lists, etc.) straight through the night.

Saturday 9 AM – Shooting is scheduled to begin and recording resumes to finish up the final bits that we didn’t quite get to during the night. I start to freak out because we actually don’t have any of the stuff we need for any one shot, so we are at a standstill until we locate a bunch of small items. I may or may not have been yelling at people at this point in my panic. We call stores frantically looking for items, send people running errands to buy erasable chalk for the wall, surgical masks, chocolate rabbits (we couldn’t quite find what we wanted in the end even), etc. Everyone gets ready to start shooting while we await necessary prop arrival.

Preparing for shoot, Susannah (Ivana Wright) has fake eyelashes put on.

Saturday 11 AM – Actual shooting begins – we start with a scene that ultimately gets cut – Ivana’s reaction to doctor coming at her with the drill. The doctor shot ended up being creepier without it, so I decided to omit this one. I worked hard to not shoot anything extraneous during the day, but as things always go, a few shots got cut for time, quality, or flow reasons. As props all arrive, we shoot all the scenes we can before 3 PM when we were planning to go outside and play the Somerville Porchfest. Why? Partly because we are insane and partly because I screwed up and booked both.


Photo shamelessly stolen from Jade Sylvan

Saturday 3 PM – It’s a perfect time to take a break from shooting as we realize that we didn’t remember to dump all the audio from the computer. The interrogation scenes use the same music, but have different dialogue. In our exhaustion, we only dumped one of the three tracks. We run outside and are shocked to find about 10 people waiting for us to start playing. We thought we might go out and play a few songs to no one and call it a day, but by the time we got rolling, we accumulated about 50 people throughout the course of our 45 minute set. It was kind of a nice treat. We didn’t have time to don our normal librarian outfits, so we just threw on some funny hats, wigs, or whatever we could grab. For continuity purposes, Susannah kept her drilled head wound on while playing, inspiring some questions about whether she was okay. We had a blast! (Huge thanks to everyone who stopped by!)

Saturday 4 PM – shoot resumes. We need to wrap by around 8:30 to let Susannah go. Others started getting sent home starting around 5:30 as we finished shooting with them. We decide last minute that Lisa’s character didn’t have enough screen time to make clear what her purpose was, so we add an extra scene of Susannah (Ivana) receiving her secret instructions from Los Locos Manos while being watched by a chocolate-eating Lisa. I later cut this scene to imply that she was mailing the letters as I didn’t think the receipt shot worked. It was particularly hard to shoot because it was outside and required no one else to be in the shot. As it was Porchfest, there was a lot of activity on the streets, making it impossible to get a clean shot in the brief time we had. The mailing shot required less isolation.

Susannah (Ivana Wright) burns the Los Locos Manos code page:

Saturday 5 PM (approximately)  – Boston 48hfp organizer Ben Guaraldi (a brave soul for dealing with 86 teams doing this!) and photographer Brian Fife visit our shoot. Some photos at: http://bluesock.org/~brian/photos/48hfp2012/mjeml/index.html

Saturday 9 PM – shooting wraps – we cut some shots that aren’t totally necessary. We simplify others to get them done on time. I work to ensure that story is not harmed by these cuts and changes.


Photo by Holly Collins

Saturday 9 PM – Rachel, Sophia, and I go grab dinner at Veggie Galaxy.

Saturday 11 PM – I begin editing and mixing all of the music.

4 AM – I am done with music, I pull it all into the Adobe Premiere session, build the basic structure of the movie and then go to sleep around 5 AM.

9 AM – I wake up and begin cutting
I cut as fast as I can. Color correction, lighting correction. – make sure shadowed out, lighting tells the right story – consistent for shots

Sunday 3 PM – editing complete. attempt to export fails. No idea why, but something went wrong. I retried. Same error. I freaked out a little and rebooted. Then, there was a cascading comedy of errors in which I opened the wrong session, freaked out that I had lost an hour of editing, and then started editing it again before realizing the wrong session was open. Once I realized that, the export worked.

4 PM – I now had an export in MP4 (which is what I would usually export for a movie I worked on), but now I needed to make it an MOV or DVD. I frantically tried both. It didn’t work out so well for a while.

4 – 6 PM – I spent two hours fighting to figure out how to make MOV or DVD (keeps failing in Quicktime, DVD comes out with damaged aspect ratio, SNAFUs left and right). Finally, I realize I can run MP4 to MOV conversion on my ProTools Mac in Quicktime. I do that despite the fact that it offers no options about bitrate, etc. I get a file that isn’t quite the size I want, but looks adequately good, so we roll with it.

Sunday 6 PM – We leave the house to deliver final product.

Sunday 6:30 – 6:45 PM – We drop off the movie! I feel relief. No tears are shed.

Technical Details
The entire film was shot on a Panasonic HDC-HS900K with no lens attachments (I do own a few lenses, but given time constraints, I didn’t mess around).
Backup shooting was done with a Nikon D7000, but none of the footage was used due to time constraints.
All of the audio was recorded on ProTools 9 with an RNP and an Oktavamod NT1 modified mic. Normally, I’d use a variety of microphones for tracking different instruments, but we were in a big hurry, so we just used one mic for everything except the bass was tracked directly from the output of a Hartke HA-3500 amplifier.
Editing was all performed in Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.


Photo by Tanya Palit

The Script/Story/Songs (spoilers)

Here’s an inside look at our quick work. 
Shotlist and props list with rough script
Lyrics and “final” script (collaboratively written and edited by numerous people, so it’s not consistent in form):

The full Los Locos Manos Soundtrack is available for free download or you can listen via this player:


Photo by Jane Allard

An outline/some thoughts on the script (BIG SPOILERS):

We kind of favored making Ivana Wright a spy. The original idea was to leave it open to the audience to decide if she was really a spy or it was a matter of mistaken identity, but we thought it would be more clever (or perhaps easier) to allow the audience to know things that the characters did not and to watch (hopefully in suspense, as is our genre assignment) as the story unfolds and we learn more about what is and is not known by the interrogators.

The film opens with her functioning as a decorator until she sees something that scares her, and she is immediately kidnapped. She wakes up in a medical setting to find that her head is being drilled. We wanted to do a musical, so we threw in an aphasic head injury as a plot device to explain why there was singing happening in the interrogation, which is the main piece of our film. The interrogation itself was an opportunity to allow for flashbacks to include many characters and a contrast between the words and the visual accompaniment. Ivana sings about helping decorate houses while we see tangentially related images of her performing spy activities.


This also allowed for dark, foreboding songs for interrogation and light, bouncier songs for the flashbacks (which are all shown in black and white). That is, until the final flashback when something goes wrong and Ivana (who we learn is living under an alias) tries to expose Los Locos Manos and escape.

We decided to have Ivana recount her tales of interior decorating work for suspected agents as innocent in lyric, but obviously not innocent in visual presentation. I thought this was a particularly interesting contrast of tone that I had seen done very well in Twin Peaks and done disturbingly well as a musical in Dancer in the Dark.


Photo by Lisa Battiston

We wanted a “big reveal” at the end. I am not sure the reveal is as surprising as we had originally planned, but I like it anyway. We inserted our assigned line of dialogue, “you’re making a big mistake,” as many times as we possibly could. We even wrote a song in which both the interrogators and Ivana accuse each other of making a big mistake. The stylistic contrast across songs, particularly the interrogation vs. the innocent claims of interior decorating, are perhaps my favorite element of what we came up with.

Additionally, Sophia and I are particularly obsessed with The Prisoner, so I enjoyed going down the path of not revealing too many details (and calling her “unmutual”) about who she worked for (or works for), who she is, who had her in captivity, etc. We don’t know her real name or identity. We don’t know what it is that Los Locos Manos is doing or what her instructions were that caused her to react so strongly. We also leave the ending a little bit open to interpretation, although I think there is a clearly implied finality.

Perhaps someday we’ll make a prequel or sequel to the story.

Until then, beware Los Locos Manos…

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