*Names have been changed at my discretion
Synopsis: A college girl is diagnosed with cancer, parties hard in an attempt to hide from her potential mortality, spirals from alcoholism to drug abuse to addiction, overdoses and dies only to find out in the afterlife that her diagnosis was a false-positive.
All of this was to be accomplished in 3 minutes of screen time.
Unofficial Subtitle: “The Worst Student Film Ever Made.”
Let me lay the groundwork for how we brought this abomination into the world. Foundations of Production was an entry level course culminating in a semester-spanning project of producing a short film. The class was split into small groups, mine consisting of myself, a girl that I kinda knew (Laurie*); a stoner that used to live in the same dorm building as me (Tyson*); and a best friend destined to betray me in the months to follow (Elle*).
We all prepared short scripts and presented them to the class for feedback. Everyone in our group took their film ambitions fairly seriously, but this whole project was technically “homework,” so inevitably our efforts became very convenience-driven. This led us to produce Elle’s script, which featured few characters and locations. We put together an airtight production schedule that would knock out the brunt of production (scenes taking place at parties) in one night.
Everyone resigned themselves to an irritating group dynamic that emerged long before cameras started rolling – Elle insisted on being in charge of everything. She shot, directed, starred in, and edited the partially autobiographical monstrosity, ignoring everyone else’s input, and calling all of the shots along the way.
Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that her script was loosely based on something that she was going through.
Now it may seem inappropriate for me to be so harsh about this girl who made a movie about her cancer, but she didn’t actually have cancer. She had some sort of lady part cyst. I always figured it would be rude to ask for more details, so I only ever knew what she confided in me (her then-best friend). It’s not cool to have lumps of any sort growing on your insides, but Elle’s cyst was deemed benign in an expeditious manner. There wasn’t a prolonged period where she pondered its cancerous possibilities. Also, this not-cancer could not be blamed for her drinking problem.
The production churned on painfully. Our character entered a party, did shots, smoked pot, popped pills, snorted coke, shot up heroine. She changed clothes between each substance abuse escalation to signal that these were different parties – a subtlety that didn’t override the four, practically identical bedrooms in the same apartment where we shot our smorgasbord of parties.
Each scene was terribly lit. Overhead lighting was abandoned in lieu of a single lamp that we carried from room to room. Every frame of the footage was grainy or full of awkward shadows, or both.
When it was time to set up the heroine scene, Tyson shepherded extraneous extras out of the shot. “You only want 3-4 people max in the room when you’re shooting heroine,” he explained. No one dared ask him how he knew this.
Elle asked what she should do after she pretended to shoot the drugs into her arm. Tyson’s answer was something along the lines of: “After you shoot up, you’ll probably just want to lay down on the floor and feel the carpet.”
By the time Elle was ready to edit the footage, I was the only person willing to stay involved with this dumpster baby of a film. She trimmed every take and pieced it all together while I just sat around and watched. Rarely, she would ask for my advice, but only on small matters. This take or that one? Establishing shot before close up? Close up, insert, close up?
For the sequence of the main character getting ready to go out and party after receiving her cancer diagnosis, Elle insisted on using Katy Perry’s “Hot N Cold.” For those unfamiliar, this upbeat pop song is an absolutely perfect soundtrack for getting dressed up to go out drinking with friends on literally any day of your life except for the day that you get diagnosed with cancer. My polite input on the thousands of reasons why this song didn’t fit the tone was extravagantly ignored. I mean that. Extravagantly. Ignored.
Elle considered sneaking the volume down and running the song through the entire substance abuse escalation montage. Katy Perry – the soundtrack for a downward spiral and heroine overdose. At least I talked her out of that.
The end of the film played out as follows: Elle’s character wakes up in heaven, an area of pure white (the white walled hallway of Laurie’s apartment). “A screen appears.” That’s what the script reads. We had no special effects capabilities or budget. A picture-in-picture effect was edited sloppily onto one of the white walls. On the “screen” Elle’s doctor (yours truly in a lab coat and black rimmed glasses) is shown explaining to Elle’s mother (Laurie) that the cancer diagnosis was a false positive. Oh no. Elle did all of those drugs and died and she didn’t even have a good reason to be depressed!
Each group had to show their films to the entire class. We delivered the final cut to the professor on DVDs. Thank God this thing wasn’t uploaded onto the internet.
After a brief introduction, the lights were killed and the movie started rolling. I’ve never blushed so hard in my life. The class roared with laughter at the substance abuse escalation montage. Elle’s editing made it seem like the entire downward spiral unfolded in one comically wild night. To the audience, her character got dressed to go to a party, drank too much, smoked some weed, popped some pills, snorted coke in the bathroom, shot up heroine and dropped dead all within the course of like an hour. The professor applauded us before admitting that he wasn’t sure whether or not the tone was supposed to be so freaking hilarious.
This was Elle’s mutant progeny. We let her answer his inquiries into what the hell everyone had just witnessed.
An almost equally horrible film took some of the heat off of us. It was called, “Mrs. Jickle’s Pickles.” It was about an old lady who can’t open a pickle jar. She really, really wants a pickle. She calls her son. He doesn’t have time to drop what he is doing and drive across town to help her open a pickle jar, because “Really Mom?” She tries everything before calling 911 as a last resort. The cops show up and aren’t nearly pissed off enough when they realize that this old lady is wasting their time with such trifling bullshit. They scold her but can’t stay mad and end up opening the pickle jar for her. The End.
For a student film that is as awesome as is just as “Positive” was horrible, check out: Evil Beer.