Film maker Jason Boyce, San Francisco, actor ajoseph Holay, Manteca and cameraman Chris Eldridge, Santa Clara work on a shot near the totem pole in
Film maker Jason Boyce, San Francisco, actor ajoseph Holay, Manteca and cameraman Chris Eldridge, Santa Clara work on a shot near the totem pole in Livermore. (Jay Solmonson/Tri-Valley Herald)
LIVERMORE — You don't always hear phrases such as "We're rolling" and "Action!" while passing the totem pole in Centennial Park, but that seemed to be the norm on Thursday.

Armed with video cameras, tripods and a list of instructions, budding filmmakers set out through the streets of Livermore for the Chamber of Commerce's Iron Filmmaker Contest as part of this week's California Independent Film Festival.

The 15 participating groups met at the Chamber office at 10 a.m. to kick off the 24-hour competition by learning the "secret ingredients" they had to include in their three-minute films.

This year all contestants were given the same premise, based on the true story of the city's totem pole curse.

Actor Joseph Holay, Manteca, carries the lost head of a totem pole during filming for a filmmaker contest in Livermore.(Jay Solmonson/Tri-Valley Herald)
Actor Joseph Holay, Manteca, carries the lost head of a totem pole during filming for a filmmaker contest in Livermore. (Jay Solmonson/Tri-Valley Herald)

Filmmakers were allowed to choose their own curse, but had to include a shot of the pole in the film, along with a shot of a historic Livermore building. One final detail required each film to include one

line — not an obscene one — from the movie "Borat."

"The premise this year is very unusual," said Dale Kaye, director of the Livermore Chamber of Commerce Film Commission. "It really stems from Livermore's history."

Kaye said creating a film about a curse should give the competitors "a lot of drama to work with."

"This is all about creativity and imagination," she said.

After receiving instructions, the groups went to work brainstorming. Dublin resident Ann Gentile gathered her brother, Nick Gentile, and his fiancee, Lisa Davis, to hash out a storyline.

The trio wrestled with various ideas for the first few hours of the competition, tossing some topics out and combining others to create a script.

Ann Gentile said she has taped friends' weddings before but never done her own short film. When she heard about the Iron Filmmaker Contest through a presentation at work, she thought it was a good chance to gain some experience.

"We feel when bizarre opportunities come your way, you just have to take them," she said.

During shooting mid-afternoon at Charles R. Vineyards in Livermore's wine country, Gentile said she was still "terrified" by the task, but trusted in her partners' script, which was typed out and given to the cast.

The group's curse involved turning an American into a Frenchman who says he wants to do away with the family winery in Livermore. The story continues when the man visits a gypsy who can lift the curse.

Nick Gentile, also a Dublin resident, said creating a coherent script can be a challenge when so many people have ideas to contribute.

"The writing process took a little longer than we thought," he said.

And even with a four-page script, he acknowledged that some of the dialogue may have to be left on the cutting-room floor during editing. The team also learned that part of making an independent film requires modifying the script based on availability of sets and props.

"We believe that adaptability is the hallmark of this art," Nick Gentile said.

Another group comprised of people from all over the Greater Bay Area got to work shooting at the required totem pole site early in the afternoon.

Former San Francisco State University film students Jason Boyce of San Francisco and Dan Gitlin of Oakland teamed up for their third Iron Filmmaker Contest, for which they took second place last year. Fellow film graduate Chris Eldridge of Santa Clara joined them for the first time.

Boyce said this year's premise made them break out their creativity.

"It challenged us to come up with something a lot more extreme," he said.

The group's actors, Joseph Halay of Manteca and Kathleen Dyer of Livermore, portrayed the characters who got trapped in Livermore by the curse. Halay, who does both stage and film acting, said he was enjoying the contest.

"I get to be a part of the whole process," he said.

The filmmakers said brainstorming a script was half the fun, especially when the film will be finished the next day.

"You literally get to see your ideas manifest into reality," Gitlin said.

"It's almost like instant gratification," Halay added.

The filmmakers agreed they would love to take the first place prize of $250, but said having fun was the ultimate reason for participating. 

"We're here doing what we love to do," Boyce said.

The contest has been judged by the audience in the past and also by a panel of industry judges, and this year the two will be combined. The winners will be selected based on weighting audience and judge votes 50/50.

Films will be screened at 10 a.m. today at Wente Vineyards, 5050 Arroyo Road, Livermore. For more information, visit http://www.caindiefest.com or call (925) 558-2797.

Staff writer Lea Blevins can be reached at lblevins@angnewspapers.com or (925) 416-4819.