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What's lurking on 'The 4th Floor'? Filmmaker Sage O'Bryant tells all

A man alone in a dark empty building
What is lurking on the 4th floor?

It probably only took 48 seconds for the filmmakers at Big Jones Productions (BJP) and Kinook Creative to receive the award for Best Film. This is good, seeing as how it took 48 hours to make the movie that took home the prize: The 4th Floor.

But let’s get a little more specific.

The BJP and Kinook team burned a weekend last summer (2009) to compete in the popular 48 Hour Film Project, a self-described “wild and sleepless weekend in which (a team of filmmakers) make a movie — write, shoot, edit and score it — in just 48 hours.”

Moments before the contest begins, filmmakers are given a character, a prop, a line of dialogue, and a genre to include in the movie. The completed film – editing, music, credits, the works – must be turned in before the deadline.

In 2009, nearly 40,000 filmmakers made 3,000 films in 76 cities. In Cleveland, that included BJP and Kinook’s team. And by the end of it, they took home the prize for both Best Film and Audience Favorite.

“Winning ‘Best Film’ was totally unexpected,” says Sage O’Bryant, BJP’s director and producer. Recently, Midwest Movie Maker sat down and chatted with O’Bryant about the 48 Hour Film Project and making movies in Northeast Ohio.

Midwest Movie Maker (MMM): Give us a sense of your history, the path that brought you to filmmaking, how Big Jones Productions was founded, and how everyone came together.

Filmmaker Sage O'Bryant
Sage O’Bryant (SO)
: I grew up in a mix of places, but mostly in the greater Cleveland area. I'm not sure there is a clear path that brought me to filmmaking, but I have always dabbled in one art form or another: illustration, graphic design, photography, poetry and even music. More often than not, I would lean more toward the visual arts. Once I started messing around with videography and video editing it became very clear to me that filmmaking was the one art form that encompassed all other art forms.

Big Jones Productions was put in place to add a level of legitimacy and run any paid media projects through that help pay for gear, insurance, and so forth. The people involved came together through the common interest in some aspect of filmmaking. Peter Balint through his interest in film and writing, Mike Goulis through his passion for acting, and me with my interest cinematography and film directing. The same goes for everyone else involved with any of our projects as well.

MMM: Can you describe how the 48 Hour Film Project came about and a bit about the production process?

SO: It was somewhat by random chance that I got involved with people doing to 48 hour film project. The previous year I came down to shoot camera-B for a friend of a friend. This year I was asked to co-produce and bring the BJP cinematic look to the production.

MMM: Who was involved?

SO: Our team consisted of several talented writers, actors and filmmakers plus enthusiastic friends that helped out tremendously. Brian Conti. of Kinook Creative Studios led the team and for a list of names, check out the film The 4th Floor to see the ending credits for an exhaustive list...

MMM: Describe the 48 Hour film contest. What is each team tasked with?

SO: The 48 Hour Film Project is a contest where filmmakers compete to make a short film within a 48-hour period. They are given a genre, a line of dialogue, a character and a prop that must be incorporated to prove the film was made within the contest time frame. Plus, it adds to the challenge.

A man with wide open eyes
Actor Mike Goulis discovers the secret of 'The 4th Floor'

: Can you walk me through how the project came together?

SO: The idea came together during a brainstorming session among the writers and director the Friday night of contest kick-off. The locations were established ahead of time and the following morning we started filming. A large part of the production morning was spent filming the ending since that was the part needing the most care and attention. The remainder of the scenes were filmed throughout the day, dashing to several locations and filming late into the night with very few breaks. Sunday was spent hunched over the computer for the edit – which was completed just in the nick of time. We rushed the final output downtown for the drop-off just seconds before the deadline.

MMM: You won best film in Cleveland. What’s next?

SO: Winning "Best Film" was totally unexpected. As a result, our team was invited back to compete in the International Shootout in 48 Hours. At the time, I had a lot on my plate and was not going to participate, but two days before, the filmmaking bug took hold and I signed on to co-produce and direct photography again. It was a good thing because the final product came out great. We truly feel that it is worthy of an international challenge.

MMM: Tell us a bit more about Big Jones Productions.

SO: Big Jones Productions is a fledgling film entertainment company, whatever that means. We are currently building a portfolio of short films, mastering our process and meeting great people to work with that have symbiotic interests. In the near future we will tackle larger films and obtain funding.

MMM: The team seems to be mastering short films.

SO: Short films are the best way to learn and master the skills needed to make entertaining and visually appealing work. Personally, I see short films as the film-school-of-hard-knocks and for all intents and purposes – it's the only way that I learn. I am out to achieve a certain level of production quality before tackling a larger project. Time is valuable.

MMM: Any thoughts of doing a feature?

SO: Absolutely. But care needs to be taken when choosing the right script. Producing a feature film consumes your life for an extended period of time so it is important that it is a worthy story.

MMM: What’s your next project?

SO: BJP is just wrapping up the musical scores for a couple of short films that were produced a while back and will be released soon. Also, I am now exploring cinematography and camera work using vDSLR cameras which is proving to be quite promising.

MMM: On a more blue sky note, what dream project would you like to do? And would you do it in the Midwest?

SO: Blue sky? I would love to see BJP develop into a highly efficient production company specializing in narrative feature film. Using local resources and talent, I believe this can be done in the Midwest. Heck, with today's accessibility to camera and editing technology, it can be done anywhere. But yes, I would love to produce features right in my own backyard.

MMM: Our mission at MMM is to both showcase and promote films, filmmakers and the craft in and from the Midwest. So we always ask: what would it take to make the Midwest a mini-Hollywood? In other words, attract more productions and production companies to the area?

SO: I'm not too sure what would attract outside production to this area, but I think a few solid ultra-low budget indie films that showcased what the Midwest/Ohio has to offer would be a great place to start.

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