A digital shootout? What’s that?
It’s a one-of-a-kind film contest held in Roswell, NM each summer in conjunction with the Sci-Fi Film Festival. Five short film scripts are chosen from hundreds sent by writers from around the world. The five screenplays selected are produced in a week’s time by production teams that compete to win Best Film. Now, you might think, that’s a piece of cake! But wait a minute. The budget is only $1500 provided by the sponsors of the shootout. Not a lot of money to produce a top-quality short film, but it can be done.
During the spring each year, screenwriters from across the globe submit twelve-page movie scripts that can be made into films approximately twelve minutes long. The format is the same as any feature-length movie script, including characters, dialog, setting, and special effects. The authors need to keep the special effects reasonable–no epic battle scenes, huge zombie crowds, or massive amounts of goo–because special effects can be expensive. However, if the production team is creative, it can produce awesome special effects with very little money and pure ingenuity.
Each team begins with a script, a Director, and a Producer. These ìabove-the-lineî staff members then choose the Production Designer, Director of Photography, and Assistant Director. In New Mexico, two and four-year universities send film students to participate and gain valuable production experience. The majority of the workers on the films are college-age film students or people from the community interested in movie production.
At the start of the process, the producers hand in a detailed budget that explains where the money will go. Since the film programs lend cameras, lighting, and electrical equipment and some vehicles, most of the budget goes to feeding the crew, set construction or props, and paying actors. The Director chooses the actors at casting calls. Once the budget is set, the teams compiled, and actors signed, the fun begins.
When I say fun, I mean full-tilt, non-stop, twelve-hour a-day work-until-shooting-is-done. Film crews work on twelve-hour schedules, but some will go up to fourteen or sixteen hours if needed. For these short films, the fast-approaching deadline, production hassles, and possible bad weather can contribute to a longer daily schedule. The goal is to get everything filmed by the end of the week, so the editor can cut and splice the footage into a movie. This is also where digital special effects might be added in to augment the fun effects done while filming. It all takes a huge amount of time, creativity, and energy to get the films ready for judging on the following Saturday morning.
Then the films are shown at a gala event thatís just like the Oscars in Hollywood. People from all over come in fancy dress to see the premiere of the five short films and to hear whoís won. The audience also has its chance to vote for its favorite film, and that film will receive a prize as well. The Digital Shootoutís gala is the final event in the Roswell Cosmic-Con and Film Fest. For three days, attendees can watch famous and not-so-famous, new and older, science fiction, horror, and fantasy films at the Roswell Museum of Art.