Practice makes perfect says the old adage. So three times each year the Alabama Moving Image Association, the folks who put on the nationally recognized Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival each September in Birmingham, offer an opportunity for Alabama filmmakers to hone their skills by participating in a competition called the Sidewalk Scramble. The Scrambles take place over a weekend and films created for the competitions must grow from concept to completion in 48-hours.
To ensure that the films don’t include any ideas or footage created before the weekend, each Scramble includes specific requirements, called inspiration items, which must be included in the film. Inspiration items are chosen for each Scramble team by random drawing at the Friday night kick-off and can be objects, images, words, or filmmaking styles. The completed films must be turned in by Sunday night.
Participation in the Sidewalk Scramble promotes networking of film professionals and non-professional film enthusiasts who work together in teams for the weekend. A typical Scramble team includes people who have previous experience writing, shooting, or acting in a film working alongside film enthusiasts who are seeking experience.
In July of 2005, producer/director Max Shores set out to do a documentary on the Sidewalk Scramble along with cinematographer Preston Sullivan. Both are a part of the University of Alabama Center for Public Television and Radio, where students studying film and TV production gain practical experience to supplement their classroom experience. They put together three documentary teams including six UA students and did their own Scramble production of sorts. The documentary teams followed three teams participating in the Scramble.
The result is the documentary, Scrambled Films. The documentary shows the process of conceiving, writing, shooting, and editing three short films over the Scramble weekend. The three teams featured range from veteran professionals to high school students and all three teams won awards for their films.
Under the leadership of team captain Tom Paisley and his actor/director brother Bob, the Stickmen team created a bank robbery narrative staring Jerry Sims, events manager of the Alys Stephens Center in Birmingham, and Bob Penny whose film credits include “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Forrest Gump.” Their short film, “Drive,” had to include a car thermostat and be a buddy film shot in the action/adventure style.
The Insomniactive team, led by captain/director Kenn McCracken, produced a buddy film in the romance style which had to include a small piano. It involved two plumbers (Kevin vonHyning and Michael Shelton) working on a stopped up tub while four young ladies (Mia Frost, Shanda Bizzle, Melissa Bush, and Liv von Oelreich) discuss their romantic relationships in the adjoining room.
The team Soppy Suit? (The question mark is a part of the team name.) consisted of four young men who were still in high school when the documentary was shot. Daniel Sheinert was team captain/director and Zach Rucker produced, “Brax to the Max,” starring Stuart Webb and Jake Bridges as two brothers caught in a power struggle. The film had to include a clothespin as well as film noire and sitcom elements.
In all, 44 teams participated in the Sidewalk Scramble visited in this documentary. All of the films were required to include a body of water and a sunrise or sunset. Those requirements were made particularly challenging by the approach of Hurricane Dennis over the weekend.
“With 70 mph winds and torrential rain approaching, these teams created entertaining films under a lot of pressure,” said Shores. “As you watch the teams work on their films from behind the cameras, you’re not sure how they’re going to turn out. But when you see the completed films, you can understand how everything came together to tell three great stories.”
Scrambled Films is a production of the University of Alabama Center for Public Television and Radio, a division of the College of Communication and Information Sciences.