Chicago-based post house The Colonie recently teamed up with 71 Degrees North to provide editorial, finishing and design services for Happy Hour, a short film written, directed and co-produced by Martin Rodahl. The film, which premiered at the Little Rock Film Festival, is the most recent of a diverse mix of commercials, documentaries and films that editor Brian Sepanik has collaborated on with Rodahl and his production company over the years.
Adapted from a short story written by Jim Thompson, Happy Hour opens with an advertising executive tasked with firing several people from his company. As the protagonist recounts the day’s events with a buddy over drinks it triggers a painful memory from his childhood that profoundly impacts how he relates to the employees and their loss. The 15-minute short spans 30-years, weaving together present day scenes with flashbacks to the seminal childhood incident.
“Martin shot the film over eight days, and we immediately began processing and prepping the footage so I could start cutting as soon as possible,” said Sepanik. “Martin, Jim and myself spent a considerable amount of time discussing the themes and how to best convey the message that we were trying to get across. Once I completed the first cut we met again and they really finessed the narration.”
“The biggest challenge of this project was keeping the length down to 15-mintues, which required honing the film’s story down to the essential elements and cutting some great footage,” explained Sepanik, who edited the short on Media Composer 8.0. “The first cut came in at 24 minutes. We then cut it to 22-minutes, then 20-minutes and finally 15-minutes. It’s always a surprise to everyone how paring down a story – and cutting out some of the bits we love – ultimately heightens the impact of a film and makes it more compelling.”
The seeds for Happy Hour were sown in 2012 when Rodahl, Thompson and Sepanik collaborated on on the feature length documentary and TV mini-series, Our Longest Drive. During that time Martin read some of Jim’s short stories and thought it would make a great film, and Sepanik jumped at the chance to edit the project.
“Over the years I’ve worked with Martin on everything from feature films, documentaries and shorts to commercials, branded content and emerging media – and each time it’s always been a great experience,” said Sepanik. “Jim and Martin’s original concepts and scripts are compelling and beautifully crafted, and their experience developing and producing film projects brings a unique perspective to their commercial work. As an editor I always bring my ‘A’ game to every project, but collaborating with them really pushes me creatively and forces me to think about different ways to tell a story.”
The film also gave The Colonie an opportunity to work with the entire team from Our Longest Drive, which included DP Jason Chiu, Company 3 colorist Tyler Roth, NoiseFloor’s supervising sound editor Cory Coken and Audiocastle‘s composers Adam Robl and Shawn Sutta.
“It was wonderful to have that shorthand between all of us,” said Sepanik. “It really allowed everyone to do their finest work and deliver a final product we’re all proud of.”
Happy Hour‘s score echoes the pensive inner tension of the story. Rodahl, a pianist and composer himself, sent Robl and Sutta a piano piece that he had composed, and they took their cues from it. Written for orchestral instruments, it mirrors the aesthetic tone of the cinematography with a minimalistic approach, immersing the viewer in the film’s contemplative journey.
“This project really demanded an editor who’s able to sculpt the best possible sequence from a large, non-linear narrative,” said Rodahl. “The truth is, Jim Thompson’s writing is so rich that there were probably three or four different directions that could’ve worked, but Brian expertly cut to the chase and made us focus on what ultimately became the most compelling part of the story.”
Following its premiere at Little Rock Film Festival, additional screenings for Happy Hour include the Breckenridge Film Festival, the LA Shorts Fest, the Montreal World Film Festival, the Bali International Film Festival, the Raindance Film Festival in the UK, the Midwest Independent Film Festival, and the Austin Film Festival.