He was a hometown hero, fueled by raw egg-ravioli-beef jerky shakes and the goal to defeat world champion “Spider.” And his dreams were dashed by an inconveniently placed campaign sign.
That, in brief, was the story of “Until the Bell Rings,” a short film that took won the judge’s choice prize of $500 at the fourth annual . Directed by Peter Huoppi, the movie starred Lee Elci as “The Mayor,” the character the mockumentary followed as he apparently trained for a boxing bout.
It is only in the final moments of the film that we see what the face-off is really about (spoilers): competitive prank doorbell ringing. And though he does well in the opening rounds, Elci is ultimately defeated when he trips over a Pero for Mayor lawn sign and is caught by a little girl.
“Until the Bell Rings” was one of seven short films screened for the competition on Friday evening at the , where it couldn’t quite win the audience pick of Viewers Choice Award. That went to a debut effort by a group of fifth graders entitled “Super 3,” following a trio of adventurers on a musical as they seek a hidden cache of mayoral documents.
Each team of filmmakers had to abide by a specific set of rules. Two characters needed to be named Ruby and Morris Turner, a reference to New London’s who died earlier this year. There had to be at least 30 seconds of footage of New London locations or landmarks. A political sign, real or manufactured, had to make an appearance. And someone had to say, “Where is the mayor’s secret office?”
The participating teams also got a genre they had to follow. “The Mayor,” a period piece, followed some shady dealings around a mayoral campaign in the 1970s. “Buried in the Past” took a birthday/anniversary theme as a mayor is confronted by his murdered wife. “SLAC” went the comedy route with a person trying to deal with both a threat on his life and a loquacious girlfriend. “Blood Ballot” was a classic Western, though the lead character was concerned more with revenging her favorite horse than her dead husband. And “Whale Tale” involved a mayor discovering a secret office inside the Parade Plaza sculpture in the midst of an alien attack.
Bill Hamell, vice president and co-founder of SECT Film, said the contest tends to take a current event into account when the set pieces are being assembled. He said it is loosely based on a 48-hour movie contest held annually in New Haven.
“We’re actually very generous in New London because we give them four days,” said Hamell.
One team was no stranger to the New Haven contest, but still pulled some late nights putting together their film. Michael Trzaska, a freelance post-production artist with MeHowDesign.com, directed “The Mayor.” He said putting together a 1970s period piece on a shoestring with 96 hours to work with involved actors taking a certain attitude and wardrobe, plus never showing any cars. The film includes a misogynistic old guard mayor played by Leo Petry—“No chick is gonna be mayor in my town,” he snarls—who is ultimately thrown out of office by Ruby Turner.
“It certainly is a fictional story, but it’s a feel-good movie about the mayor herself,” said Trzaska.
Brian Ellsworth, who has acted on and off for 18 years and worked on “Blood Ballot,” said the principal shooting was done over the course of two days, with the remaining two days dedicated to post-production. He said team members often have to juggle responsibilities due to differing availabilities.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge,” he said. “It gives you a very good insight for how the filmmaking process works.”