COLUMBIA, SC — The almost timeless past of the South Carolina State Fair – which first opened in 1869 – met the 21st century Sunday as 10 teams of youthful filmmakers wrapped up creating video stories on iMacs and other gadgets the fair’s originators could never have imagined.
“The fair’s roots are in agriculture, and we’re always looking for new ways to make that come alive,” said fair assistant general manager Nancy Smith.
To that end, fair officials asked Indie Grits, a 6-year-old Columbia group that sponsors a variety of creative endeavors – from theater to music to film – to have a State Fair film festival.
It was also a contest: 10 teams of filmmakers started at 5 p.m., Friday and had 48 hours to produce a video story no more than six minutes long.
The rules were simple: Each film story had to contain recognizable fair features: a ride, a concession item, an animal and a farm food product. Filmmakers also had to abide by a genre, such as romantic, thriller, a horror, comedy, reality TV, a musical – even a sci-fi and a “Buddy Cop” film. Films had characters, a plot and original music created by the filmmaking team.
Before beginning, each team drew from a bag the elements their film would contain. Aside from that, each team could make up whatever story it wanted.
Filmmaker Garrett James, 13, of Columbia, a home-schooled student, had “horror” as the backdrop for his six-minute short film, distilled from about an hour of footage shot with a Canon camera around the fair.
“It’s about a kid that disappears,” he said, “and his dad is looking for him, and then there’s a creepy guy who everyone suspects is the killer.”
James smiled. “I’m not giving anything else away.”
But he did say the computer-assisted music his film contained was “a kind of creepy tune” and the most challenging moment came when the plot called for his team to film rabbits at night. “But when we came back at night, the rabbits were all closed up. We had to come back.”
James, who wants to make movies when he grows up, stressed his film was very much a team effort involving a lot of work, including family who drove down from Greenville.
As the clock neared the Sunday 5 p.m., deadline for the films to be edited and finished, Cecil Decker, team leader of a group of current and former University of South Carolina media arts students, sat hunched over a table in a back room of a fair exhibit hall.
In some ways, Decker’s team had one of the hardest tasks – its story genre was comedy but the team digitally inserted three animated, cartoon characters who appear in most of the real-life scenes of the three-minute film. There is a guinea pig, a candy bar and a triangular slice of sweet potato pie.
“Boy meets girl, candy bar steals girl, and then they chase each other,” said Decker, who declined to reveal the ending other than to say, “It’s very special.”
“It’s kind of like video game music,” said Decker, who produced it on an eight-bit synthesizer and mixed that music with fair sounds, such as people walking.
Their film features a night ride on the Spin Out amusement. The technical demands of inserting animated characters in real scenes are time-consuming and complex.
To produce the three minutes, Decker and his team used five laptops – three for animation, one for editing the video and one to produce the music.
His team included animator-illustrator Michelle Skipper, cinematographer Josh Rose, animator Aidan Zanders, principal editor James Owens and animator Matt Breeden.
Decker said the experience of working under pressure – and bringing six sometimes conflicting viewpoints in harmony – was invaluable.
“We had some vigorous discussions. But it ended well. No one blew up and got mad at each other,” he said. “It was whatever was best for the film that we could do within the constraints we had.”
If they had to do it over, they would only have one main animated character – each character adds a huge amount of work, he said. “We only got about two hours worth of sleep each,” he said.
Indie Grits organizer Seth Gadsden is looking forward to showing the films online and at the fair over the upcoming week.
The rules requiring all the teams to contain certain fair elements should make the film stories more interesting, Gadsden said.
“If you just go out in the world, sometimes you end up being all over the place,” Gadsden said.
Fair official Smith said that besides celebrating fair traditions like the concessions, animals and farm produce, the videos are a modern extension of another fair tradition – its well-known arts show celebrating paintings and drawings in media like watercolor, oil and charcoal.
“As time progresses and things change, you have to go with it,” she said.
Prizes in three categories worth a total of $1,250 in cash will be awarded Sunday night, the fair’s last day.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.
At the fair
The South Carolina State Fair continues through Sunday at Rosewood Drive and George Rogers Boulevard in Columbia. Here are some important things to know about this year’s fair.
Admission: $10 ages 6-54; $7 ages 55 and older; free for children 5 and younger. No admission after 10 p.m. daily.
Parking: Free in the Fairgrounds parking lot
Daily gate promotion: Free admission for active and retired military and their dependents (with proper identification).
Youth entrance policy: Fair visitors 15 years old and younger must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian 21 years old or older to be admitted to the fair after 5 p.m. each day.
Hours: Gates open at 10 a.m.; Midway opens at 11 a.m.
Rides: Pay-one-price ride day
Grandstand entertainment: No show tonight
Lunch at the fair
From noon to 2 p.m. weekdays, fair patrons can exchange $5 for a ticket at the entrance and grab lunch at the fair, then return their token for a $5 refund as long as they exit the gates by 2 p.m. Among new fair foods to check out this year – Radical Dogs, with four varieties of corndogs; Redneck Burger, consisting of cheese, bacon, fried bologna, baked beans, potato sticks and all the fixins’ on a bun; and a Mac & Cheese Burger, with cheese, bacon, mac and cheese and all the fixins’.
Compiled by Bertram Rantin; follow him during the fair: @bertramrantin on Twitter