Campus MovieFest (CMF) filmmakers Goizueta Business School sophomore Matt Ryckman and College sophomore Matt Fennel won Best Picture with “When Even Death Forgot About Carl Swenson,” starring Steve Bralver, a fifth-year senior and film major. All three are on the varsity baseball team, and this was the team’s first CMF entry. Like every other group entering the festival, the boys were given a laptop, a camera, a cell phone, Final Cut Pro software and one week to create their cinematic masterpieces.
RyckFenn, as the team refers to itself, categorizes its movie as a dark comedy, graphically portraying the jobless and lonely Carl Swenson (Bralver) as he fails in multiple suicide attempts — on his birthday.
“We kinda wanted to do something that would jump out and be different,” Ryckman said. “We just started thinking of creative ways to kill yourself.”
When Carl first attempts the feat, wearing a cone-shaped birthday hat, he holds an open shoe box, which audiences assume holds a birthday present. It turns out the birthday surprise is a revolver, Carl’s weapon of choice for shooting himself in the head. After the shot, blood splatters onto the wall behind Carl, and his head oozes the dark red liquid. Just as the audience takes this for a serious movie on teen suicide, Carl heaves a deep breath, miraculously surviving.
To create the blood blast on the wall, RyckFenn utilized an insecticide sprayer. Hooked to a hose and pumped to maximum capacity, the insect-killer blasted the wall with a mixture of fake blood and maraschino cherries, added to give an element of chunkiness.
“We did that once in the morning before baseball practice, and I think once after,” Ryckman said.
Bralver’s sticky makeup took 45 minutes to apply each time they shot.
“Why direct film? We’re so good at putting on makeup. We should just go into that,” Fennel joked.
When a bullet through the temporal lobe doesn’t kill you, the next logical idea seems to be hanging. For a working man living in an apartment, the obvious noose is, of course, an Ethernet cord.
RyckFenn shot the hanging scene so that only Bralver’s feet are visible lingering above the floor. Fennel said the group had a difficult time developing this scene and almost scrapped it completely, but the shot was saved by a friend’s iron pull-up bar.
“That was really hard,” Bralver said of this workout. Baseball practice must not include pull-ups.
The camera slides flawlessly toward Bralver’s leather shoes during the scene, and he revealed the innovative behind-the-scenes secret to capturing the effect: mounting the camera on a pizza box.
“I looked over and saw like 10 pizza boxes on the floor, and I said, ‘Grab a pizza box,’” Bralver explained.
More creative suicide attempts demand some assembly, as evidenced by a homemade device made of a bunch of forks attached to a mallet.
“We need to make the crudest, baddest thing we can do to screw you up,” the directors told Bralver.
The film shows Carl standing, still fresh with blood from the gun wounds, in the kitchen with the fork-mallet. The audience waits in morbid anticipation for him to stab himself in the face and eyes, but — luckily for the faint of stomach — the telephone rings, halting the forking.
RyckFenn illustrates its impressive editing skills in a scene that shows Carl jumping in front of a moving car. This scene alone took five or six hours to edit, according to Ryckman. It was done using two shots — one of Bralver pretending to get hit and then one of the car racing by.
The movie ends with Carl opening his friend’s door to a group of people shouting “Surprise!” He then falls down and hits his head, leaving audiences unsure as to whether he has finally died or simply fainted.
Most of the movie was filmed at night, due in part to the busy schedules of the directors and because some of the equipment they used to make the movie was borrowed from the film department. The film was shot over the course of two days, but the editing process — which took place immediately after baseball formal — took much longer.
“I did the soundtrack at 5:30 in the morning before a finance test.” Ryckman said. “We were kinda desperate at that point.”
Most of the shots were filmed inside their Clairmont apartment.
“I had to go covered in blood from their room to mine ... with a bullet hole in my head,” Bralver said.
RyckFenn finished its film two hours before the deadline and turned it in at the last minute on Tuesday.
“As soon as this blows over and we actually have some time, Matt and I are going to be shooting a longer short film, an original screenplay,” Fennel said.
Word has it the baseball team thinks they are dominating the arts. (College sophomore and baseball player Scott Schwartz won the Emory Arts Competition last semester.) The team begins its season this weekend, and let’s hope this win doesn’t go to their head. But then again, Bralver survived a bullet to the head, so with this group, anything can happen — as long as there are forks and pizza.
— Contact Christina White