Agent Pepper

Last weekend, a group of us (Emma Coats, Brandon Hyman, Erick Tyrzelaar, Vladimir Kooperman, and I) participated in the Mill Valley Film Festival Cinemasports. What is Cinemasports? It’s a one-day movie making event. All the teams come together in the morning to receive an official list of “ingredients” and duration limit (3 minutes for the short and 20 seconds for credits). Then they each try to write, shoot, and edit a short film using those ingredients in 10-hours. Finally, all the teams meet back together in a theater to enjoy everyone’s short film. This event’s ingredients were:

  • a spicy pepper
  • a stolen document
  • a shaman

Vlad, Brandon, me, Emma, and Erick at the Mill Valley Film Festival

As soon as we got the ingredients, our group headed over to a coffee shop and brainstormed for a while. Do an infomercial about spicy peppers that heal all ailments, including stolen documents? A team of assassins that uses a spicy pepper? How about a team of secret agents and one of them is named “Pepper”? Or how about an agent that is a pepper? Genius.

Once we settled on a concept, we pitched various ideas. Some of them got used (ie., I look like the secret agent at first, but I’m actually just a driver). And some were a bit too elaborate for the 3-minute limit (a series of fights between Agent Pepper and various human thugs).

Emma, our director and writer, started working on a script with Vlad while Erick, Brandon, and I started shooting the intro of me riding up to Dr. Shaman’s mansion. We planned on driving 40-minutes back to East Bay where we all lived to do the interior shots (and also to do some shooting of me riding on the freeway) but traffic was pretty heavy and at the last minute they decided they couldn’t spare the two hours or so it would take us to go back to one of our homes and back. So we started scouting around Mill Valley for some locations.

Fortunately, we happened to stop right outside a PG&E power substation which made for a great intro. We shot a couple scenes. (“Hey, how about if Mach climbs up the wall?” “But there’s an opening right next to it.” “Yeah, that’s what makes it funny.”)

But then we had to figure out what to do about the interior shots. Like I said, the closest any of us lived was 40-minutes away, so that was out. Then someone hit on the idea of using a public library. We whipped out a mobile internet device (thank you iPhone!), found the local library, and met back there. If you want something even more challenging than trying to make a short film in a day, try doing it surreptitiously inside a quiet library. We got more than our fair share of odd looks and puzzled glances. (By the way, the Mill Valley Public Library is absolutely gorgeous.)

We also lucked out in that the library was located right next to a beautiful forest with a stream running through it, which we used for the final fight sequence. Emma, Brandon, and I shot that while Vlad and Erick did the amazing stop motion animation that appears after the end credits.

Throughout the whole process, Emma was editing the raw footage on her laptop. Once the principal photography was done, she focused on the editing while the rest of us did ADR (additional dialog recording) in the car.

In the end, we were just glad to have come up with a more or less cohesive short film. The audience really responded to it in the screening, which made us even happier. It’s obviously pretty rough but hopefully it’ll still make you smile.

Some lessons learned:

  • Making a short in a day is intense but a lot of fun.
  • Leave more time for editing.
  • Always bring a spare battery for your camera.

One Response to “Agent Pepper”

  1. Paul Robinson Says:

    I think Mach is a natural movie star in the making….