Although Sleepless in Lake Placid (SiLP), part of the Lake Placid Film Forum, has its fair share of chaos — the late night scripting, midnight location scouting, and frantic editing are obligatory — this 24-hour student competition is also a unique platform for young filmmakers and actors of the region to test their chops and interact with industry professionals in an intimate setting.
SiLP was the brainchild of Barry Snyder and Kathleen Carroll back in 2007, seven years after the first, blow-out Lake Placid Film Forum in 2000, which screened more than 60 films and attracted splashy names such as Martin Scorsese and Steve Buscemi. The Forum’s scaled-back reboot in 2007 included the first SiLP, which organizers hoped would provide an interactive learning experience for students.
I spoke to Barry Snyder, co-founder of the competition, about its creation. He explained, “I had been bringing students from Burlington College to the Forum for many years, because a part of their philosophy was putting young filmmakers into contact with established filmmakers. When we were recreating the Forum, Kathleen Carroll and I started chatting about some way to include students.”
The result was a sort of movie-making boot camp for northeastern colleges. Unlike other short film competitions, whose public nature garners submissions with very different levels of experience and funding, SiLP invites regional University teams to travel to Lake Placid, live together for three days, and make films on the same playing field.
This year’s teams received their elements Wednesday night, cast from a pool of seasoned actors and filmed on Thursday, and turned in their final cuts on Friday morning. Friday night was the main event: a screening of the 10-minutes-or-under films in front of the judges and a live audience. The judges are usually filmmakers who are at the Forum to present their own work.
The competition gained popularity quickly, said Snyder. He said, “It became a mainstay of subsequent Forums – the film showcase is huge for the students, but we also include the audience. They know the film criteria, so they can gauge for themselves how each of the films dealt with the given elements. We also always involved Lake Placid or the Adirondacks in each competition.”
This year’s competition was back from a year-long hiatus and held last weekend from June 4-7. The event kept to the local theme. The obligatory filming elements were a quotation by Herb Brooks, a shot of Main Street, and the inclusion of a Lake Placid post card. The central role of the town might contribute to the warm welcome past teams enjoyed and that this year’s teams universally raved about.
For John Chamis, the assistant director of Burlington’s College team, it was his first time competing. He said, “People were walking up to us the street and asking if we needed extras. The community was incredibly easy-going.”
Many of the actors who volunteer to act in the films have been doing so for years and travel to Lake Placid on their own dime.
Elissa Klie, winner of this year’s Best Actress Award, is an actor who lives in New York City. The 2015 competition marks her third time at SiLP. Klie said, “The community of the whole thing is what has me coming back. I brought two friends from Manhattan and we drove four hours to do this – I think that says it all.”
Mat L. Cantore, a self-professed hobby actor, has come from Albany for years to participate. Cantore said, “This was my first foray into film, having always been in theater. From an actor’s standpoint, it’s amazing to see the jump from what you film to what you see at the screening. You see the movie-making process from top to bottom. It’s like a crash course on how to make a film.” Cantore also had his fair share of memorable filming moments. “I’ve walked around Main Street with a stuffed skunk pretending that it’s real; I’ve walked around in a foil hat and a camouflage jumpsuit on; I’ve even jumped into Mirror Lake in the middle of the night,” he said.
Local businesses get in on the action and allow teams to film in their establishments at the drop of the hat. Some even provide food. The welcome dinner, hosted Wednesday night for the students and Forum organizers, was hosted by Smoke Signals. Saranac Sourdough donated much-needed coffee.
Matt Wohl, this year’s organizer, explained, “We [the organizers] are there, but it’s also the community pulling together to create this web for the students. It is fundamentally a Lake Placid-centered event.”
Just after his arrival on Wednesday, he got a taste of the local enthusiasm. Wohkl said, “A car had circled around the parking lot a few times, so I went over, and it turned out they were looking for the farmer’s market. A woman in the car asked me who I thought they were, and I said ‘One of my groups for the film competition.’ She got really excited and said she always went to the screenings.”
Not surprisingly, the Lake Placid community was the primary audience at Friday Night’s screening of the three final films, produced by Marist College, Burlington College, and the Hobart and William Smith Colleges. The films were followed by live Q&A’s, and then voted on by the judges and the audience. The judges awarded the main prize to Marist College’s “Only Temporary”, and the audience chose Burlington College’s “Foiled” as their favorite.
The final products the teams managed to pull together so quickly was truly impressive and very fun to watch. “Foiled,” the fan favorite, included surprise special effects. Marist set their entire film in an elevator and explained how they had to take turns laying in and just outside the elevator to keep the doors from closing.
Wohl, chair of the Film and Media studies at Burlington College, said he took on the job of organizing SiLP because he sees it as a real opportunity. He said, “The way I describe film is as a massive highway and students need to find their on-ramp to join the discussion…Sleepless in Lake Placid is their on-ramp.”