Sunday, December 26, 2021

“Race the Drop”—a short comedy film with a twist ending

In 1993, while a student at Brandeis University, a spiral staircase on campus gave me the idea for a short film.

I made a four-page storyboard for it and intended to film it in that stairwell, with myself as the lead (only) character. 

page 1 of 4; note how the original concept 
was dropping keys, not a ball

But I didn’t follow through.

Until 2021. 

It took a pandemic to give me the kick to finally make the film, but now I live several states away from that staircase, so starting in October 2020, I spent more than a year on and off as a location scout, trying to find a different one. The stairwell had to meet certain criteria:

  • 4-5 stories (what I feel is the sweet spot for the gag to have maximum impact)
  • you can see the ground floor from the top 
  • not heavily trafficked (but then, most probably aren’t)

Early in the search, I found what seemed like an ideal location—a school in Baltimore that had closed, so little risk of more than one or two people in the building (a criteria that became critical during COVID-19). But the person in charge said no, multiple times, no explanation.

Fast forward to November 2021, when my son had a soccer tournament far enough from home that we stayed a night in a hotel. Across the parking lot from that hotel was this sight:

I called the restaurant on the ground floor to ask who managed the building, then contacted the management company. I explained that I was seeking access to the stairwell for 3-4 hours to shoot a short film with my son and two of his friends; I’d be using my iPhone to film and the only other equipment would be a chair and a tennis ball (technically 18 tennis balls). I was worried that liability would be an issue, though I was prepared to sign a waiver.

To my strong surprise, the president of commercial management gave me the green light almost immediately without condition. He suggested we do it on a Sunday because no one else would be in the building. 

If there’s one thing teens can’t get enough of, it’s waking up at 8 am on a weekend. But my son is a trooper in more ways than one, and so are his two buddies we recruited to be ball boys (more commonly referred to on film sets as the “crew”). We got to work at 9 am; 95 clips and two short breaks later, we wrapped at noon. 

No one broke an ankle, or a window. Craft services was lunch at MOD Pizza. 

Of those 95 videos I shot, 36 made it into the 2½-minute film. I edited it with Movie Maker, needing almost no special effects (only a couple of slo-mo moments). 

I had not titled the idea upon creation, but after the shoot, two came to me: Ball Drop and Race the Drop. As is my tendency, I went with the one that would sound more original. It also sounds more active, a good fit for this fast-paced scene.

Thanks to cooperative kids and a pretty tight concept, if I do say so myself, the final film is strikingly loyal to the storyboard I sketched 28 (!) years ago. I think it benefited from me being behind the camera. As an “actor,” I might’ve gotten in my own way. Plus my son (and his friends) are way more photogenic.

Only after finishing the edit did I realize two things about the film that made me like it even more:

  • it’s kid-friendly
  • it’s world-friendly (i.e. it has no dialogue, so no matter what language you speak, you will understand it)

The most grateful of thanks to Mike Klein of WPM Real Estate Management for granting us access to one of your buildings in Columbia, MD.

And now…enjoy the race!


Unknown said...

Creative and well done. Mr. Keaton would approve.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks! But who is Mr. Keaton?