Break a Leg (September 2011)
by Mia Lalanne, age 16, New England
I must have been six or seven when I received my first camera. The memory card was about four megabytes--tiny by today's standards! A few upgrades later, I got a camera that shot high-definition videos and had a manual focus. My new camera went everywhere with me; otherwise I felt like I was missing out on huge opportunities to capture moments that would never come back.
I decided to teach myself how to shoot movies. My little brother, Max, shared the same interest, which made our research fun. We soaked up all we could about frame rates, steadiness, lighting, and lenses. After months of trial and error, I felt ready to start a short film.
My first movie, Ten O'Clock, was about two siblings, played by Max and me. My favorite part of the shoot came while I was filming a night scene. There was a magical feeling that I was the only one doing what I was doing that July evening. (Max, though, wouldn't stop complaining about the mosquitoes.)
When I proceeded to postproduction--everything that happens after shooting--the challenges really surfaced. My MacBook balked at the huge amount of high-definition footage. Editing software crashed, data files came up blank, and hard drives overheated. Sometimes I felt like ditching the entire project and starting a new one.
In the midst of it all, I decided to score the movie (compose and record the soundtrack) myself. I loved the thrill that came with creating custom music on the keyboard for each scene. I've since composed tracks for several short films, including Max's debut project.
Max's and my first short films finished at 18 and 15 minutes long, respectively, and each one took three months to make. So for our next projects, our mom suggested we each make an under-five-minute short film within two weeks.
My initial idea for Break a Leg was that it would be a spoof of 127 Hours, an Oscar-nominated movie from 2010. Halfway through the script, thought, I no longer felt like following this path. I saw no reason for not making the project my own. This decision took a weight off my chest that I didn't know was there. I wrote more pages, then cut the script to half its size, keeping in mind that every move and every bit of speech should drive the story forward.
After revising the script a few times, I printed it out. It was time to shoot.
I would be working solo. Max usually helps me shoot, and vice versa. Not only was he busy on his own project this time, but I also saw this as a challenge: Could I be the one-woman crew on my five-minute movie, and simultaneously be the lead actor?
I trekked into the snowy woods behind our house, lugging my heavy-duty tripod, camera bag, sound recorder, and other equipment. I filmed by holding the camera pointed at me at arm's length. I could have flipped over the LCD screen to watch myself at the same time, but I found it too distracting.
I had some technical issues since I was never sure if I was in focus or not, but otherwise the visuals turned out the way I'd imagined. After I shot the final scene, I cheered, "It's a wrap!" But the only ones who heard me were three chickadees in the trees. Then I packed up and headed home.
After I finished editing and scoring, my mom suggested a few film festivals that I could submit my movie to. I tried to "submit and forget," moving on by tackling the next project. But deep down, I was hoping. Then an e-mail came: Break a Leg had been selected for the Monaco Charity Film Festival.
I was in a total daze for a few days--OK, a week. I would be returning to France (I was born in Paris and speak French) for the world premier of my movie. And it would be followed by a live Q&A session with the audience.
My movie would be screened at 9:00 PM. Up until 8:58, I was high up in the projection booth, hovering over the poor projectionist and tweaking technical details. By the time I raced down the flights of stairs into the theater (in my heels!) the lights were already dimmed. Mom gave me an "It's about time!" look, and Max was already in position to shoot the whole experience with his own camera.
My music swelled from the surround-sound speakers. When the title appeared, I saw the audience settle deeper in their seats. They were ready for my movie! My thoughts flew a thousand miles a second, anticipating some technical glitch I'd neglected all along. But as I watched my movie on the biggest screen I'd ever seen it on, I stopped wondering what people were thinking.
Five minutes later, the end credits rolled. Everything had gone perfectly. People started clapping. Since they all knew where the director sat, they turned to look at me and clapped some more. Some were smiling--maybe they knew I was still holding my breath.
As the clapping died down, my legs brought me toward the stage. Then there was a silence and the presenter, George, handed me a wireless microphone. A spotlight shone on me, and my legs felt detached from my body. I looked across the audience: Two hands were up with questions! George picked one.
Somehow, I processed the question and gave an answer that made the audience laugh. The laughter felt great. The next question came, then the next. I was on a roll. I tried not to blink when the camera flashes came.
At the end, there was a sea of applause. I handed the microphone back, and the applause followed me as I walked down the aisle toward my mom. She high-fived me and took a picture, but I didn't feel like sitting down.
I was ready for more.