Volume 75, Number 23 | Oct. 26 - Nov. 01, 2005

Photo by Chris Tiné

A quickly assembled movie crew shoots a film by the West Side Highway for this week’s RIPFest, a 16-day moviemaking marathon. Finished films will premiere at Anthology Film Archives November 1 and 2.

Ready, Set, Direct: Speed filmmaking at its best

By Rachel Fershleiser

“Actually, you can already buy your tickets for the screenings,” Jackie Stolfi announced to a room of sixty actors, screen writers, directors, composers, editors, and cinematographers, “the films just haven’t been made yet.”

“That’s faith!” someone yelled from the back of the bright rehearsal studio.

Faith, indeed, is a key component of RIPFest, a sixteen-day whirlwind of moviemaking that kicked off October 15th at Ripley Greer Studios on 8th Avenue. RIPFest is a popular event run by Raw Impressions, a nonprofit that aims to “inspire artists to be prolific with excellence.” The artists who met that Saturday morning to launch RIPFest #7 are professionals from every corner of the industry, spanning 60 years in age, and boasting credits from music videos to cartoons to political propaganda. After some introductory announcements, the group was divided into six teams. Most had never met; in just over two weeks each will have collaborated on a ten-minute film.

At the kick off meeting, each team was assigned a cast and crew, two locations in which to shoot the film, and a two-word theme. Last year’s RIPFest, “Without Thinking” spawned films about splurging on sports cars, dying of cancer, and singing on Hollywood movie sets. This time around, the theme is “Don’t Panic”—a relevant message, especially considering that these guidelines have made it completely impossible to premeditate a film idea.

“If you have any expectations or ideas about what kind of film you’re going to make, that’s a great thing….to let go of right now,” Creative Director Erik Bryan Slavin advised the group mischievously.

Raw Impressions has been fostering instant collaboration since 2001, when Founding Artistic Director David Rodwin and a friend sought to bolster artists distraught by 9/11.

“Everyone was overwhelmed … they felt like, what’s the point of making art? So our goal was just to bring together a lot of people, to make a lot of art really quickly.”

They created Raw Impressions Music Theatre and, after its initial success, RIPFest, the film version. Current Executive Producers Chris Tiné, a BBC producer by day, and Bruce Kennedy, an Emmy-Award winning writer/producer, came on board, in different capacities, for this first film foray, as did Slavin. The four are still on the executive team for this seventh Fest, along with Supervising Producer Jackie Stolfi.

At RIPFest #7’s launch, a circle of nearly a hundred folding chairs held a motley cross section of filmmakers, from bespectacled Brooklyn hipsters to silver-haired Shakespearians in turtlenecks, most clutching cardboard coffee cups. After introductory remarks, each of the actors addressed the group to tell a true story of a time he or she lost control. Seventy-seven year old Tom Toner shared a triumphant tale of telling a rude casting agent to “kiss [his] Irish ass.” Doe-eyed eleventh grader Tim Ehrlich held the group in rapt silence as he reenacted a tirade against a homophobic bully. Nikki E. Walker drew audible gasps as she told of a snotty prep school debate team receiving a trophy rightfully belonging to her team from the Bronx.

“This isn’t an audition,” Slavin reminded everyone, “you already have the parts—they just haven’t been written yet.”

Casting Director Nora Brennan loves offering actors the opportunity to have a script custom written. “I just go for talented actors,” she says. “No one has to fit a role, so I can bring in a large range of age and ethnicity and type.” The only requirement: “a great, game attitude. No egos, no diva stuff—there just isn’t time.”

But, in truth, the time constraint is only a small part of this project. Every participant is a professional, and the fests turn out consistently excellent films. The breadth and caliber of experience in this group is startling. Actor John Schiappa is a frequent fixture on Broadway. Director Eric Heimbold is responsible (for better or for worse) for the music videos “Who Let The Dogs Out” and “Jump Jive An’ Wail.” Composer Aleksandra Vrebalov has performed her classical compositions all over the world, but is scoring her first film for RIPFest. Director Tom Barnes just returned from MTV Asia. Jimmy Bennett, John Gregorio, and Stephen Guarino are the creators of a show that has been running for almost three years at HERE.

After all the actors had spoken and the teams were announced, Tiné shouted “Now let’s go make some movies!” and the room erupted in cheers.

Each team retired to a nearby diner or Irish pub and, over French fries, personalities began to emerge. Actor Russell G. Jones advised his team’s writer on dialogue for an African-American actor. Director Jadina Lilien ruminated on the nature of beauty. Team six expressed an almost unanimous adoration for the movie Showgirls. Writer Kevin Lawlor described for the group his recent work: a short film comprised of a man on a floor connected by a mysterious viscous substance. He admitted he leaned towards the avant-garde and experimental. “But for this project,” he assured them, “I feel wide open.”

After the meetings broke, writers had just 48 hours before everyone reassembled in another rehearsal room to hear six completed scripts. As they were handed to actors for the first time, gut reactions could be heard; “fantastic” and “oh, for God’s sake” seemed to resonate the loudest.

“The last two days were very intense,” said Stephen Levinson, writer of a funny and original script about an exorcism-obsessed man pretending to haunt a church. Levinson threw out an earlier script that wasn’t working and wrote this one on the subway Monday morning, but is happy with the result. “I’m thrilled that it got laughs,” he said after the cold reading, “and that now I can nap.”

If the writers can nap, the hard work is only just beginning for the actors, directors, and cinematographers who will shoot these films in two days, and the editors who will postproduce them in a week. All six films will debut on November 1st, even though, as of this writing, they are not yet complete.

“We finish what we start,” says Slavin. “So far RIPFest has begun 39 films and finished 39 films. I’m entirely confident that by November 1st, we’ll have finished 45.”

RIPFest #7 will premiere at Anthology Film Archives (32 Second Ave. @ 2nd St.) on November 1st and 2nd at 8 & 9:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at www.smarttix.com. For more information, see www.rawimpressions.org.

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