The Guinness Book of World Records has no entry for Shortest Amount of Time Needed to Make a Feature Film. But if it did, the listing might be on the same page as Most Consecutive Dives in Shark-Infested Waters.
And it's just possible that Charlotte-based Lucky You Films would hold the title.
Writer-director-producers Kent Smith and David Temple had a novel, if mildly insane, idea: They'd make a full-length movie from scratch in 30 days.
They vowed to spend only a month from the first keystroke on the rough draft of an outline to the last touch of post-production necessary to get "The Last Passport" to a film festival.
The co-creators of this uplifting drama knew the project would be grueling. They didn't realize it would crumple their partnership, leaving them cordial but distant as "Passport" came out on DVD last month.
How much pressure was in this cinematic crucible? Directors on large Hollywood movies often shoot three pages of script per day. "Passport," which was filmed over one long weekend in February 2009, managed 30 pages a day.
"What those guys were able to do in 30 days is truly a feat," says Charlotte-based writer-director John Schwert, himself a veteran of two independent features ("Among Brothers" and "In/Significant Others").
"Typically, a film needs at least 30 days of pre-production just to get ready for production. These guys wrote it, shot it and edited it in that time. It is quite an accomplishment."
The strange thing is, the partners climbed willingly into this temporal Iron Maiden.
They'd met through a mutual friend, had lunch, lost touch and reconnected when Smith saw Temple visiting his next-door neighbor and went over to discuss movies. He ended up lending Temple "I Walked With a Zombie"; comradeship and partnership followed.
Temple's "Poke the Sleeping Bear" had won best short at the 2008 Solstice Film Festival in Minnesota, and organizers asked what else he had. The answer: Zip. He and Smith had formed Lucky You to work on a project called "360," about a rapper whose world collapses and throws him back into his hometown, but it had stalled.
However, they'd have a 30-day window after Smith got back from his Caribbean vacation to submit a picture to Solstice. Smith got the idea while sitting in a passport office to shoot a feature about the people who go there. The main character would be an elderly man who shared wisdom, tough love and the benefit of decades of experience, not all of it happy. Telling more would require a major spoiler alert.
And so it came to pass.
Having a wild weekend
Except for post-production tweaks to get the DVD ready, the two men plotted the story and wrote the script with Alex Bailey, hired Corrigan Johnston Casting - which supplied unflappable leading man Jimmy Hager - hired veteran local cinematographer Steve Saxon and settled into an "office" built inside a studio.
There world-weary George had encounters with a selfish physician, would-be thug rapper, flighty middle-aged woman, a man concealing his illness and many more characters.
"Because we weren't maniacal enough, we said, 'Let's cover this live via the Internet and do it for under $5,000.' We decided that was as insane as it could get," says Temple, 51.
"We didn't know we couldn't do it," says Smith, a 46-year-old Alfred Hitchcock fan who wanted to emulate the closed-in, single-set feeling of "Rope."
"I'm a perfectionist. I'd like a ratio of 8 to 1, to make sure everything is just right. (That's 8 feet of film shot for every foot used in the movie, leaving room for lots of retakes.) But the best we did was 3 or 4 to 1, and in some situations, we shot 1 to 1. Do it once, and move on!"
Both directors describe Hager, who's in almost every scene and ad-libbed chunks of his monologues, as the key to the project. He remembers the gig as intense, but smooth.
"I've done a lot of work on sets where people were difficult or downright rude, but that didn't happen here," Hager says. "Kent and David never showed that they were at odds with each other. There was such energy in the room that nothing except the electricity being cut off could've stopped this thing from being done.
"There was something bigger than the sum of the parts, something bigger than all of us, and it guided everyone who made themselves available to it. When we walked outside to shoot the final scene, we saw 30 or so white doves circling a church spire - and that's what we needed for that shot."
The good, bad and ugly
The pressure-cooker process made life easier in some ways: No one could waffle endlessly over choices or indulge in temper tantrums. People who "didn't want to play," as Temple says, knew the pitfalls and never joined the team to begin with; those who signed on were willing to learn lines on the fly or, in the case of Smith, literally sleep in the editing room to save time.
The rush to be ready paid off: "The Last Passport" won best actor and best director at the 2009 Solstice Film Festival. Yet the heat in this kitchen also burned up a relationship.
"Unless you're the Coen Brothers or the Wachowskis, you probably shouldn't have two directors," says Temple. "I've got my vision, the other guy has his vision, and you have to make sacrifices along the way. It was a glorious experiment, and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything, but would I do it again? Probably not. You sacrifice too much and gain too little."
Moving on (apart)
Yet the film left both with a yen to make more movies.
Temple, who does voice-over and commercial work, has made "Take 2," an experimental short he wrote, directed, produced, cut, scored and acted in, playing twin brothers.
Smith, a still photographer who has shot for the Carolina Bobcats and Panthers and has directed ads for national companies, soldiers on at the helm of Lucky You alone (for the moment) and is preparing to pick up with "360" again.
"I turned down four jobs this week, because it's not feasible to take those on and work on the next film," he said last month. "I want '360' to have the look of an 'Amelie' mixed with the feel of an urban version of 'My Name is Earl' - and it won't be shot in three days, either!"