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Barry Snyder on the LPFF’s Sleepless in Lake Placid 24-hour Student Film Competition

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Interview with Barry Snyder, Coordinator of the Sleepless in Lake Placid Student Competition at the Lake Placid Film Forum

By Monica Sirignano and Dave Bower

Sleepless in Lake Placid. Courtesy Lake Placid Film ForumFor the past five years, the Lake Placid Film Forum has featured a competition, Sleepless in Lake Placid, in which teams of film students from area colleges make a short film within the course of 24 hours. With all the complex elements that go into making a narrative film, this is a challenge that cuts it down to the wire. The competition has been extremely popular, featuring teams from Syracuse, Ithaca, SUNY Purchase and RIT over the years. This year’s competition will feature all New York teams, who will, from storyboard to final cut, use Lake Placid as their location. The screening of films takes place on Friday, June 17, at 8:30pm at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.

Spearheading this effort is Barry Snyder, a former Chair of Cinema Studies and Film Production at Burlington College, a professional photographer and current professor at the Community College of Vermont. We recently spoke with Barry to find out more about the competition and his role in heading it up.

The Free George: For those who aren’t familiar, how does the 24-hour filmmaking competition work?

Barry Snyder: A 24-hour film competition is a kind of race against the clock. The four member teams from participating schools are given the elements they’ll be working with the night before the shoot, and the next morning cast their films from a roll-call of enlisted actors. At that point the clock starts, and the student filmmakers have 24 hours in which to produce a short film, from shooting to editing to mixing the movie down and generating a DVD. The films are screened in a showcase in which the teams field questions from judges and the audience, culminating in the presentation of awards.

TFG: How did you come up with the idea to do a 24-hour filmmaking competition for students, as opposed to just a short film competition or festival?

BS: When we came up with the idea of this competition five years ago, 48-hour filmmaking competitions, largely conducted online, were just becoming popular. Our idea was to incorporate the basic concept of a time-constrained competition but done in the context of a film festival, with the filmmakers present. From its inception, the Lake Placid Film Forum developed connections with schools, and I personally got involved with the festival in this way, as instructor of a class that brought students from Burlington College, where I was chair of Cinema Studies and Film Production. The Sleepless in Lake Placid competition is basically an extension of the continuing educational focus of the Forum, and its interest in making connections among established filmmakers and the generation of filmmakers coming out of film schools.

TFG: All of the student filmmakers this year are actually from New York State. Was that organic?

BS: In the past Sleepless in Lake Placid has had a regional focus, including, at different times, teams from schools in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont. But New York schools have always been central to the competition, and this year we decided to run an all NY state program, in an effort to establish stronger relationships with these schools, and the possibilities these relationships represent for future development of the festival. Syracuse has been a participant from the start, and Ithaca is back for the third time. SUNY Purchase and RIT are among past participants. This year Marist, Hobart & William Smith, and SUNY Oswego will be participating for the first time. The number of schools with some form of media production programs is growing, suggesting how strong the interest in media is among the latest generation of students entering our schools. The experiential learning opportunity represented by a film festival and a competition of this sort is a nice complement to the curriculum of such programs.

TFG: Each year you have certain guidelines for the competition. Can you tell us a little bit about this year’s?

BS: We announce the actual elements to the participating teams on the evening before the shooting begins, to give them some time to incorporate them into a script. In the past, the elements have reflected the focus on Lake Placid suggested by the title. They have included lines of dialogue supplied by festival co-founder Russell Banks, familiar Lake Placid locations (like the Olympic Center), and references to famous Adirondack figures (like John Brown) and icons (like taxidermy). The creative challenge for the students is to incorporate these otherwise alien elements into their scripts. How well they do this is one of the things the competition judges take into consideration in their choice of best film. Watching for how each team utilized the elements is also one of the things that makes the showcase so entertaining for audiences. For Lake Placid and the Adirondack region, the resulting films are a showcase for the area’s rich historical, geographical, and cultural heritage.

TFG: Being that it’s a team effort, how are the roles delegated? Who decides who writes, directs, operates the camera, gets the coffee, etc?

BS: Even a production of a 5 to 10-minute film is an incredibly difficult undertaking, and a competition of this sort put a premium on aspects of filmmaking not always evident in classroom instruction. Filmmaking is a team effort involving high levels of organization, and there is generally a high degree of correlation between teams that are able to designate roles and work together as a team and the quality of the results. So much emphasis is often placed on technical wizardry that the subtler aspects of what it takes to make an excellent film, like team work, are often overlooked. In the past, different teams have worked out the different roles for team members in different ways. But 24-hours is a very short time to put together a film, so without this kind of forethought and planning, it’s very easy for a production to get off track.

TFG: Have the students often been surprised by the end result of their project? Do any have doubts going into it that they can actually complete a film in 24 hours?

BS: Students are remarkably confident of their abilities. They love making movies, working with equipment, staying up all night, and to this point every team has been able to complete and showcase a film. Audiences and judges are always blown away by the results. That is not to say, of course, that the films they make are flawless, or work out exactly as planned. In an industry in which time is literally money, a timed competition of this sort is only a more intensified version of the conditions of any of the kinds of production the students will be involved with in their future endeavors. Even the most well-heeled Hollywood mega-production faces constraints, and happenstance and compromise of one sort or another is a constant in filmmaking. Learning how to deal with unexpected situations and problem solve on the fly, and having the technical competence to do so, is an essential skill set for the successful filmmaker. For the young filmmakers involved in Sleepless, one of the most meaningful parts of their experience is having the opportunity to talk with other students about what went well and what didn’t, and learning the kind of lessons about filmmaking you can’t find in a book. This year, we’re going to engage this reflection more directly, in a meeting with the students, advisors, and judges on the day following the competition showcase.

TFG: What have been some of the most memorable films to come out of the competition?

BS: I’m unable to choose one above the others. There have been murder mysteries, comedies, pseudo-documentaries, non-narrative films. They have featured Captain America playing miniature golf, animated water spirits living in Mirror Lake, aerial shots of the Adirondacks, guest appearances by local resident Nathan Farb dressed in his skivvies. Most of the films can be found on YouTube and at the Lake Placid Film Forum website. I have no doubt we’ll be adding five more excellent films to the record of what’s been created in the previous four years of sleepless June nights in Lake Placid.

–Monica Sirignano and Dave Bower are Co-Publishers of The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.


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