Tape heads: Is this any way to make a movie? | Calendar | Chicago Reader

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Tape heads: Is this any way to make a movie?



"Never so weary, never so in woe, / Bedabbled with the dew and torn with briers, / I can no further crawl, no further go; / My legs can keep no pace with my desires." At midnight on a sweltering night last July, 100 people took those four lines of iambic pentameter from A Midsummer Night's Dream and ran with them--at times literally.

Participants in the 5 x 8 Video Festival, started in March by friends Adam "Atom" Paul and Sean U'Ren, pay $15 to $20 for the chance to make a five-minute video in eight hours flat; tapes are due back to the organizers when the time's up--no exceptions--and the results are screened the following night for an audience of participants, festival judges, and curious bystanders. Prizes have ranged from $80 for first place to "some fake press-on nails and bubble soap" for the runners-up, though for this weekend's festival the stakes are higher: first prize is $1,700 worth of donated editing software. Festival themes are chosen by Paul and U'Ren. The first installment required the filmmakers to find inspiration in a particularly oblique haiku, the third (in October) in a passage from Edgar Allan Poe's "Berenice."

In July, after meeting at Atomix coffee shop on Chicago near Damen (which Paul owns and manages) for briefing, one group dashed off to shoot on location at O'Hare; four others incorporated footage of a gushing Ukrainian Village fire hydrant, and another inadvertently wandered into a fight outside a Wicker Park bar and had its tape seized by an irate bouncer. The absurdist piece that finished in second place--which people are still talking about--was entitled Dew and Breyer's and featured a man lying in the street being vomited upon by his girlfriend, who stood in a second-story window drinking Mountain Dew and eating ice cream.

"Atom and I will give the quote," says U'Ren, who works for a video postproduction house, "and there's something thrilling about just watching people run back and forth in front of the shop."

Paul and U'Ren, who met while film students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, were inspired by a grad student there "who had a 12-hour film festival," says Paul. "It was film, it was sound, it was everything, and people were running around like crazy....For me it was one of the best days I've had in my whole film career." The organizers say they don't have much time to do their own work lately, and the festival is "a really cool way to sort of put a gun to people's heads and say 'Go make something.'"

Participants have ranged from film and video pros to total novices, including one father-and-son team. "Some people have this supersophisticated editing," says Paul, "and some just do it in-camera....Some of the stuff that's really well produced, it's kind of like, 'This is really pretentious and arty.'...It's more about just the core of the idea." Anyone attending the screening, he adds, "shouldn't expect polished work."

"People love rules," says U'Ren. "I mean they just get excited when you tell them they can't do something....So the more restrictions we give people the more excited they get. We're happy to supply them with hardship. Because we all have it pretty easy. Anybody that's got a video camera, they're doing OK generally."

For the fourth 5 x 8 Video Festival--themed "Choose Your Own Adventure" ("like the books," says U'Ren)--they've stretched the rules a bit partly on account of winter weather, giving the filmmakers 21 hours rather than 8 because "it would give people a better chance [and] it might be just horrible out." The participant list was closed by midweek; the results will be screened Saturday, January 19, at 8 PM at 123 N. Jefferson. The suggested donation is $2, and seating is limited; call 773-263-7057 or E-mail toshiro3000@yahoo.com for more information on the screening or on participating in future festivals.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Suzy Poling.

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