It was back in 2014 when I heard about the Millburn Film Festival. I was an amateur filmmaker (and still consider myself one in all honesty), so I set my goals on getting into this film fest if it was the last thing I do. I like to consider myself a creative guy (god, I hope that doesn’t come off as egotistical), but trying to find that perfect idea for this festival just eluded me. A permanent writer’s block if you will. Later on, I settled on the idea of doing a documentary about a fantasy football league here at school called Pigskin Glory. I think part of the reason I made it was because it was such an easy and obvious topic to do a film on I could escape the fact that I could not come up with an original idea of my own. I tried to deny that for the longest time, but that’s just the simple truth. Pigskin Glory was an absolute nightmare to make. Don’t get me wrong, I liked making the movie, but trying to schedule interviews with about 10 different guys and the countless hours of editing, it took a toll on me. Not trying to complain but man, that was a tough project. When it was finally finished, I was so proud of what I made. I put so much effort into it and it was finally done and ready to be submitted into that film festival. I’ll save you the trouble and just tell you right now it didn’t get in. At the time, I was devastated. Now, as I look back, there were A LOT of things wrong with that film. So many shots were out of focus, the audio was garbage after being put through Adobe Audition (why I didn’t spring for an external mic or find a quieter place to film interviews, I’ll never know) and just a plethora of other things that were downright horrible. It didn’t deserve to get in as I look back, but man, was I sad at the time. The reason I bring up this backstory is because it is vital to learn from your mistakes. There is no success without trials and tribulations. This is isn’t me trying to give some sappy inspirational advice, that is just a fact of life.
I never felt more motivated in my life after being rejected. It fueled me to do better, push myself harder as a filmmaker. After doing the documentary with Pigskin Glory, I knew I wanted to switch it up with an original story. I always seemed to best express myself through humor, so a comedy it would be. The perfect place to set a comedy had to be right here at Millburn High School; it was my perfect playground to tell jokes. I knew this place all too well and it was ripe for comedy. Ideas kept rattling around in my head, but nothing seemed to stick. I needed that perfect idea, the one where you couldn’t put down that laptop until the script was done. The one that kept you up at night as you picture how this movie would go in your head. For me, that perfect idea would be 2:32.
As much as I would like to take full credit for this idea, I can’t. This all started as I watching my favorite show of all time: Community (easily the most underrated comedy show of all time). The show, shockingly enough, was about a community college and without getting fully into the plot of this particular episode, they needed to disprove that a dog had graduated at the college. After finding the dog’s records, he had completed all his courses, but the reason why he did not graduate? He never payed the library fines. Something about this one single joke stuck with me. The idea that you had done everything you needed to in order to graduate, but can’t because of one small mistake you probably forgot about seemed pretty funny to me. All that hard work only to come up so short. I loved this concept and needed to expand on it. I knew this could be explored even more. From that, a story was born: two seniors took out a book their freshman year and if they don’t return it by the end of the day (at 2:32 PM, see what did there??), they won’t be allowed to graduate. I was never more excited of a movie than I was for this one. The plot just lends itself to so many comedic possibilities. It was an epic journey, a race against the clock, and a perfect way to use MHS as the setting. It was foolproof and I have Community to thank for it.
I started the script in March of 2015. It was a whole lot different than how the finished script came out. The jokes were a lot more out there and to be honest, it wasn’t all that funny. The issue was I tried too hard. The plot was there, but the comedy needed to be tighter. It had to flow better with the dialogue, just organically come out and not stick out like a standup comedian that keeps bombing with every joke. I disappointed myself with not making a better script with such an awesome story. So, I dropped the project. This would just be the one that got away and it haunted me that I would not see this through. For about 6 months, I just forgot about the movie. I didn’t even know who I would get to act in it, how could I ever make it? 2:32 seemed like a pipe dream.
We now fast forward to November of 2015: Junior Year. The idea to start up 2:32 again came in English class with Mrs. Bardes. I had known Luke Wroblewski before Junior Year, but it was really in this English Class where we became good friends. Every single day we just bounced off each other with an endless supply of jokes. In a comedic sense, we were on the same wavelength. One day, I showed him this other film I had just made called The Shot. The next day, Luke said “if you ever make another film like that, can I be in it?”. And there it was: a lightbulb went off in my head. After he said that, it was clear; I needed to make 2:32 with Luke. It had to be a sign that this movie had to be made. After getting Luke on board, I NEEDED to get Nick Ryan on this film too. Nick and I had two classes during Sophomore year and that is how we became friends. Just like with Luke, Nick and I also just bounced off each other making comedy gold. These were the two guys that make me laugh the hardest in this entire world. There were also a bunch of other reasons I knew Nick and Luke would be perfect for this film. First, the two did theater, they know how to act. With a film, you could just get your friends to act, but to get guys who love to act and have experience, it’s a world of difference. I wanted top notch acting and I got it. Second, Nick and Luke were already great friends. The chemistry between the two leads was absolutely crucial for this film to work. A lot of the comedy is just these two and their interactions, talking back and forth and playing off each other. With the finished product, Nick and Luke had dynamite chemistry. Their friendship just felt so natural and the dialogue truly felt like two guys just talking to one another. I’ve had people ask me how much of the film is improvised and the answer, for the most part, is none. Thinking that it was improvised is a byproduct of the genuine chemistry between Nick and Luke. If I couldn’t get these two for the film, the film wouldn’t happen. It was either them or nothing. Luckily, they said yes (thank god).
I got back to work on tweaking the script (tweaking might be an understatement, it was more like a total overhaul). This time around, the dialogue just worked. It wasn’t even hard to write it this time, it was a stream of consciousness: the jokes just came so easily. Where before I thought so hard of what joke to put, now everything just clicked. I can’t fully explain it, but I like to think some time away from the story and just growing as a person gave me a new perspective on this concept and how to write it. With writing the script, I knew two things would make or break this film: what the book was and where it would be. Nothing else matters if those two elements aren’t perfect. With the book (spoiler alert: it’s The Outsiders), that idea came in the aforementioned stream of consciousness. I wrote the line, “we’re golden” thinking it would sound cool (and trust me, it does). Since my brain is an endless barrage of pop culture references, after writing the line, my mind immediately went to the The Outsiders and the classic line “stay golden, Ponyboy”. It had to be The Outsiders now. I mean, everybody remembers that book, even though we read it a lifetime ago (a.k.a 6th grade). I loved that book and it needed to be in this film now. With where the book would be, that was easy. I asked myself this: where is the one place in this godforsaken school where I would never look? My locker. Nobody in this place uses their locker. I walk down these hallways every damn day and never see anyone use their locker. And thus, these two vital elements were taken care of and a brand new script was complete. I brought justice to a deserving story (or at least I think I did, I might be too biased).
The part I am most proud of with this script is the opening conversation between Nick and Luke in Miron’s office. This one interaction before Miron even walks in tells you so much. Nick quotes The Outsiders giving you the clue of what the book is and mentions his surprise that Luke still uses his locker, giving you a clue to where the book is. These two nuggets are mentioned before you are given what the plot is and that a book is missing, You were given the answer to a question you didn’t know yet, which only makes for a more satisfying payoff when it comes.
We’ve gone through the inspiration and the script, so now shooting finally begins… and we got off on the wrong foot… twice. Issue #1: it was the first day of shooting and the plan was to crank out the scene with The Collector and to have Luke do his flashback scene as he sings along to “Party in The USA” by Miley Cyrus”. Nick is here on time after school, but Luke is a no show. He told me before he had something, but would still come, but never did. I never really got angry, because I know Luke is a busy man with other commitments. It’s not fair to make this his first priority. Nick and I wait around in a classroom and we just decide to have Nick now do the flashback scene so we can at least get one scene done for the day. The scene is filmed, even though I tell Nick to miss the paper basketball shot in the trash can, only for him to make it on the first try even when he wasn’t trying to. I look back on the footage only to see this footage was in time lapse mode. I never changed the frame rate from the last guy who took out this camera. Basically, a whole day of shooting is wasted. Ugh, bad way to start.
Issue #2: it’s now the second day of shooting. Time to film The Collector scene. It’s important to note that we needed to get into the school on a Sunday afternoon. We somehow got in as one door out of five was unlocked. Lurking through hallways with no lights like something out of a horror movie, we spent a good 20 minutes looking for an unlocked door into a classroom. Our prayers were answered as a classroom on the third floor was unlocked for some reason. We didn’t question it, we just took this miracle at face value. A good majority of filming for this scene was done before a janitor came. He threatened to call the police if we didn’t scram, so we left. I was just grateful that we even got into the school and filmed something. The amount of luck it took to find an unlocked door to get into the school and one for a classroom on a Sunday was pretty amazing considering not a single soul is ever in that school on a Sunday afternoon. Two days in and we wasted a day of shooting and got kicked out by a janitor, but like I said, there’s no success without trials and tribulations.
Besides the whole janitor debacle, another incredible thing happened on that day. Still in need of some more books as props for the collector, we took some from a book drive in the lobby. I wish I was joking when I say a book we found in that drive was called The Collectors by David Baldacci. You just can’t plan for something like this. It was an omen, or just an unbelievably weird coincidence. Whichever one, it felt like another sign to continue with this movie. And in the film, I will always love that small easter egg where The Collector is reading a book called The Collectors.
I guess now would be a good time to bring up Dr. Miron. Let me start by saying that I will always have the upmost respect for the man. So many principals at other schools just feel so uptight, but Miron is down to earth and able to take a joke. I feel grateful to have him as the principal and I truly mean that. All it took was a simple email for him to be in the film. I could’ve gotten some teacher to play the role of the principal, but I wanted the real deal. Miron has this unmatched charm that I needed. So, we went into his office ready to film the opening scene with him. After telling him the plot, he immediately asked “how can two people take out one book from the library?”. So many other people brought this up and I’ll tell you the same thing I told Miron: SUSPEND YOUR DISBELIEF. Anyway, we film the scene and everything goes great. Miron was disappointed that he couldn’t ad lib his part, but I told him to stick to the script, something he expresses his disappointment in to this day. I decide to check the footage when I get home to make sure everything is ok only to see that thee was no audio (I tired using an external mic for this scene, but I guess things went awry). I had a pretty good freak out before I came to the terms with the fact that we had to refilm the scene. Ugh, issue #3. Thankfully, Miron let us come back the next day to film. When we got to the office, he wasn’t there, but that wasn’t going to stop us from filming Nick and Luke’s dialogue. We did their scene as Miron was a no show. After Nick and Luke left, Miron appeared. I ambushed him reminding him we needed to refilm his lines. He gave me a look of first annoyance that slowly turned into sad acceptance. He agreed to do it again. Issue #3 solved. My goal was to be done with this as soon as possible because I did not want to take up more of the man’s time. At the time of recording, his performance seemed fine, but it wasn’t until after I looked at the footage while editing that it was blatantly obvious that he was reading off a script. Making him do the lines again was not an option, I just rolled with it. Besides, there is something endearing with Miron clearly reading off the script. Anyone else and it feels lazy, but with him, it was another layer of comedy (or at least that’s the excuse I give people).
After that, the rest of shooting went swimmingly (in the loosest terms). It was a challenge to schedule this whole thing with constant back and forth Facebook messaging and last minute cancellations, but it was a necessary evil. The one thing that I asked of Nick and Luke is to wear the same clothes for the shoot. Continuity was key, so it needed to be done. And so, for the next couple days of shooting, it was Luke in his Pittsburgh Steelers shirt and Nick in his red sweater (and they both seemed to wear the same pair of jeans for some reason). Highlights included filming outside in February weather, but the film takes place in June, making Nick and Luke run over and over and over until they were wheezing for air, and arguing with the librarian because we needed to film something, but the library was closed (what else is new). Shooting was grueling at times, but Nick and Luke always stayed positive throughout. These guys were committed and words will never describe how grateful I am that these two were so dedicated with helping me with my crazy vision. There’s no way to repay that.
One of my favorite memories of shooting had to be when we shot outside on the bleachers. Not only did it make for the best bloopers ever by Nick, it probably includes the best inside joke of the movie. After Nick and Luke walk off screen for the credits to roll, Nick asked if he could throw his soda can into the shot for fun, I said why not. I laugh way too hard at something so mundane as a thrown soda can, but it seemed like a fantastic final visual gag to end the film during the credits (If you can see it).The best part is no one probably notices it, but I do and that’s all that counts.
From the best day of shooting to the most stressful: the last day of filming. In 2 hours, we needed to film in the library, the scene where they figure out where the book is, various shots for the montage, and I had to do some pickup shots by myself. That day was emotionally draining. Since this was the Thursday before February break and Luke left right after school on Friday and the film fest deadline was the Monday we get back, we had to get it done today or it’s over. We were against the clock here, much like the characters in the movie (life paralleling art if you will). It began with a bang as Nick forgot his red sweater at home. We waited as he forced his brother to pick up his sweater and drive it back to school. As we got to the library, they were about to close (shocker). After pleading with the librarian, she finally caved in and let us film. The worst part was trying to fling the book into the return bin multiple times. While some shots were successful, others missed, hitting the wood and making the loudest noise possible. I’m sure the librarian loved that. Moving on, a shot that everybody always seems to laugh it is the book POV shot, as it spins its way into the bin. That shot came to me right on the spot because I thought it would look cool and cheesy at the same time (I think it got the desired effect). It was as simple as just spinning your body like the book would with the camera.
After the library, the rest of filming wasn’t difficult, it just stressed the hell out of me that this was the last day to shoot with a time limit. We filmed nonstop for two hours that day, which is just a testament to how great Nick and Luke are. Even on a excruciating day like this, they stayed patient and still brought their acting chops. I was a little emotional when we filmed our final shot, not going to lie. I was going to miss working with Nick and Luke because it was such a great experience. They knew what was expected of them for their performances and were always open to notes. I can’t begin to tell you how flawless their comedic timing and chemistry is. They are the ones that truly brought this script to life. I couldn’t ask for a better duo. So, filming was done and we are now one step closer in this journey to completion. We move on to the final stage: editing.
Fortunately for me, I had a whole week of February break to edit and perfect this bad boy. As the maker of the film, I will always be the most critical of it. I notice the small, minute details that make me tick and the rest of the world will probably never see besides me. That entire week was a whirlwind of emotions. There were days I was pretty confident that this film would get in and other times I was positive it would never make it. While everyone else was skiing or was in Miami (i.e. my twin sister), my break consisted of Adobe Audition (LOTS of Adobe Audition), color correcting, and listening to “Take on Me” a good 100 times (and I would listen to it another hundred more, I absolutely love that song). All in all, it was a good February Break. Stressful, but fun. It was great to finally put all the pieces together and truly see how the movie came out. I would say overall, I spent perhaps 10 full hours editing 2:32. Exported and ready to go, it was finally time to submit it into the Millburn Film Festival.
It is now February 22nd: deadline day. Almost a year since the idea conceptualized and three months since I decided to restart the project. I double checked, triple checked, quadruple checked to make sure I had all my papers and the flash drive with the film. The film was now out of my hands and into that of the judges. We now play the waiting game.
I thought a lot about the film during that time and when the winners would be announced. What I liked, what I didn’t like, but mostly that first part. One of my favorite aspects of the film has to be the music. Not a lot stayed the same from the first draft of the script to the final version, except for the musical choices. Luke was always going to sing “Party in The USA”, the race back to the library with the book was always going to be set to “Joker and The Thief” by Wolfmother (I thank The Hangover for that song), and the end credits was always going to be to “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire. Before I even decide crucial plot points or the dialogue, I need to choose the music. When it came to the montage of Nick and Luke looking through the school, I didn’t want the low hanging fruit like “Eye of The Tiger” or The Rocky Theme. It seemed way too obvious. I wanted a song that matched the film: outside the box and weird. Enter “Take on Me”. It was such a wired choice, but it worked so well. To be honest, I just wanted to shove my favorite song of all time into the film and it was just luck that clicked so well with the montage scene. It was also great to make Luke purposefully sing off key the chorus of the song since he is a member of the a cappella group, Soulfege. It’s not easy to tell a trained singer to sing horribly, but he did it.
Another thing that remained from that original script was the collector (played by yours truly). The addition of the collector was to add another level of absurdity to the story. I enjoyed the idea of this weird underground system at MHS and this mysterious guy in charge of it.
I’m also proud of some of the callbacks to other films in the movie. It’s always fun to do a little homage to a film you love. The best one in my opinion is Nick staring at the Pythagorean Theory on the whiteboard. The way that was filmed was supposed to be like that of Cameron Frye staring at the painting in the Chicago Art Museum in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. As a lover of John Hughes, it was great to sneak in any callback to Ferris Bueller.
We now go to March 9th. On this particular night, I’m in bed at 9:30. It was a long day and I was beat. I’m able to get about 30 minutes of sleep before going to the bathroom. I decide to check my phone to see a text from a friend. He asks if my film got into the film fest. What does he know that I don’t?? Were the winners finally announced? I check my email, take a deep breath, and see that 2:32 made the Millburn Film Festival. A minute ago, I was deflated and ready to go back to sleep, now, I have all the energy in the world. Sleep is now a thing of the past. I can tell you there is no greater feeling than seeing all your work pay off.
The next couple of weeks was pure anticipation for the film fest. I think surreal would be the best word to describe the whole experience. The best part was seeing a shot from the movie in the Millburn Item article.
I was honestly mortified at the thought of showing the film in a room filled with people and they don’t laugh. My fear was that none of the jokes hit at all or that people wouldn’t like it. Come film fest night, I think it was clear that the whole place was roaring with laughter (even Nick and Luke since they never actually saw a final cut of the movie). It was so jarring to think that you are the reason that an entire auditorium of people was laughing. All my fears were alleviated and the rest of the evening was this state of euphoric happiness. After the night was done, I got some Haagen Dazs in honor of the final line of the film (I obviously got cookies and cream). The only goal I had with this movie was to make people laugh and I like to think I accomplished that goal (but I’ll let you be the judge).
This whole adventure had its highs and lows, but far more emphasis on the highs. The destination was amazing, but the journey was also pretty damn good too. I had so many people come up to me telling me how much they love 2:32 and it’s a crazy feeling. I even have friends tell me they watched the film in one of their classes. Words escape me when it comes to how much positive feedback I got for the film. I didn’t do all of this this for the attention, I did it because I love film. My best advice to just to see always see things through and never give up at the first sign of trouble. And to all the filmmakers out there, just go pick up a damn camera and keep bringing passion to the screen. I’ll end this story the only way I know how: stay golden.
P.S. Thanks to Mr. Rhodes for letting me take out the Black Magic camera for a good two months