Project Name: HoLT
Genre: Narrative Short
Run Time: 14:17
Written and Directed By: Matt Sylvester
Capture Format: Sony HDR-FX1HDV
YouTube: HOLT


HOLT is a tired, unshaven, insomnia addled man in his mid thirties. He woke up three nights ago and couldn't get back to sleep. Later, he finds himself in bed next to a girl he doesn't recognize, and develops an instant message relationship with someone identified only as debug_78wx1. Debug_78wx1 asks odd questions like if he has slept or eaten yet, and what he thinks about the girl. Holt's interaction with debug_78wx1 ends with the query "WHAT DO YOUR PARENTS LOOK LIKE?" Holt cannot see or comprehend what his parents look like; his consciousness short circuits.

Throughout the story, we see MRS. WILSON looking down on us, holding our hand as DOCTOR lurks behind her. Doctor's only motive is getting a transplant release signed so he can sell Holt's liver. After Mrs. Wilson signs the transplant release forms and exits, Doctor injects us with a needle from his pocket, bragging to us that our liver just covered his next car payment.

Holt sits up in bed again but relaxes and slides next to the girl, his eyes closing as he acknowledges that today was a good day.

Smash to Programmer typing into a keyboard and tinkering with computer parts. He asks a question, and Holt's distorted voice replies; the sound results in more tinkering and then suddenly, a sharper picture. Programmer's wife nags him to get ready. Programmer hits a button as he leaves and we hear a question from Holt fade out: "How come I can't feel my body?"

The Story of HoLT

HoLT began with a $50 bill.

My brother Andy and I helped our parents move furniture to their loft in August of 2010, including heavy wall units, a heavy dresser, heavy chairs, and an entire (heavy) bedroom set. As we were finishing the last of the beers in their refrigerator, our Mom opened her purse and retrieved a $50 bill.

"We want you to have this, and do something nice, something fun" she said. And that's how HoLT got funded.

Our production company, Blue Ibis LLC, was formed as the corporate structure for CYDONIA 6, a feature length dark-drama. Since late 2009, we have been pitching CYDONIA 6 to private investors, corporations, charities, agents, distribution companies, celebrities, professional athletes, and business owners, just to name a few, to raise the film's $1.6M production budget. After 10 months of pitches and picking up drink tabs, and still no funding, it was time to change tactics.

How do we prove to the film financing community that our company can make a quality, feature length dark-drama on a $1.6M budget? Make a quality, short dark-drama on a $50 budget, enter it in the film festival circuit, and network with distributors and sales agents at the festivals.

The concept started as free writing. Broad strokes of plot, dark tones, death bed hallucinations, and unique camera perspective were the primary ingredients. Holt's foundation was modeled after Andy's chronic insomnia, so right away we knew who would be playing the main character. We broke down my first draft of the screenplay, particularly the twist at the end, to settle the direction of the story arc. I knew the story was going to lead to a discovery moment, but I wasn't sold on the options I had in mind. What or who was Holt? Was he a dream, a symbol? Was he just a man whose mind became twisted after weeks of not sleeping? Of all of the ideas on how to tie up the end, Andy's suggestion of making Holt an artificial intelligence worked the best. Holt had suddenly transformed from a character name to an acronym: HoLT (Holographic Life-form Technology).

I went back to writing and a few hours later, the first complete draft was finished.

Logistically, we needed a location, equipment, actors and actresses, food and drinks, and some props. Limited by a $50 budget, we would have to get creative and call in some favors. The first stop was Danny Davidson's house, the cinematographer our company partnered with on the first Blue Ibis short, a comedy entitled HAUNTED! Danny's background as a photographer, and the fact that he owns a Sony HDR-FX1HDV camera, made him an ideal team member. He agreed to let us use his house for the shoot, and accepted the role of PROGRAMMER after hearing our confidence-building pitch, something along the lines of "we need someone that will do it for free." Luckily, Danny's wife Lucy was on board with us using their house for an entire weekend, and agreed to act in the short. Without spending a cent we now had the camera, location, and four roles filled.

Daniel Prevo, a roommate of Danny Davidson, agreed to let us use his bedroom as Holt's bedroom. With an extensive background in computers and music, Daniel created the short's instant message windows and coordinated the audio capture on his Marantz PMD660 Flash recorder and Shure SM58 microphone. Skeleton crew assembled and primary capture equipment in place, we dug through Danny's photography kit and came up with two lights and a few colored gels. The remaining items (media, props, food) would have to be purchased.

Our budget was cut in half after buying three HDV cassettes, and then fully depleted subsequent to a spending spree that yielded a couple gallons of Arizona raspberry iced tea, water, and a six pack of soda. The sixty two cents that fell in my palm was all that was left from the $50 bill; nothing more would be spent on the production. All efforts were then focused on completing our cast, rehearsals, and finalizing the shot list and shooting schedule.

Over drinks at a local bar, and while her husband was in the bathroom, Andy asked long-time friend Kelly Edington if she was interested in playing the role of GIRL. He assured her that no nudity was involved, but script changes could be made if she would rather do her scenes without clothes. Andy was, after all, going to be in bed next to her, so he wanted her to be comfortable. She ended up signing the release and doing the short anyway.

A phone call to Gerry Sylvester and Pat Sylvester, our parents, filled the roles of MOTHER and FATHER after a quick negotiation: "Do I have to say the F word?" our Mom asked, revolted by the idea of cursing (on camera). "You stand there, that's it" I replied sharply. "What do I say?" our Dad questioned, seemingly unimpressed with the roles I had just outlined. "You stand there too." He breathed out over the speakerphone and grudgingly replied "All right."

With that ringing endorsement, our cast was completed.

Production began at 6PM on Friday, August 20, 2010 with the bedroom scenes. Low, blue lighting, bleak set dressing, and audio problems defined the first night of shooting. Danny Davidson was less than 24 hours removed from an emergency room visit for kidney stones, and high as a kite on pain killers. Kelly's scenes could not be re-shot as she was leaving town later that night on travel. Once the audio problems were "fixed" and the first take was in place everyone started to relax and ease into the process. The shot list and time we spent preparing for the shoot kept production cranking, and by 10 PM - two hours earlier than scheduled - the first night was a wrap.

Day two was kicked off at 10 AM, with camera set ups scheduled by sub-location (bar, media room, common room). Dolly shots in the media room took practice and patience, as indents in the thick carpet wreaked havoc in each take. Andy/Holt's accelerated drinking part, where he consumes and entire 1.75 liter of bourbon (ice tea) in one sitting, ended with him throwing up. As heard in the end credits, Andy calls for the cut around 7:20 in the sequence to "go barf."

After the dinner break on day two, NFL analyst and Blue Ibis associate Joe Theismann dropped by the shoot. Joe lives close to the location, and is working with us as an Executive Producer regarding the development of CYDONIA 6. We finished up the last of the scheduled takes for the day at 8 PM, and reviewed the remaining items for capture.

Day three started at 11 AM with re-arranging Daniel Prevo's bedroom to Programmer's lab, a.k.a. a table with all sorts of computer junk, wires and tools heaped on it. These shots gave me and Andy a chance to work the camera directly, and put Danny in front of the camera instead of behind it. Fifty takes later, just kidding, all of the primary video elements were in place. We closed out the location with smash cuts and cat-in-the-window shots, cleaned up, and then moved equipment to our parent's house.

We set up in the loft bedroom among the same furniture we had moved upstairs weeks earlier, and began blocking. My Dad told my brother and I he had an idea that instead of standing there, we should try a take with him sitting on the bed and my Mom next to him. She said she would put her hand on his shoulder, as if consoling him. Irritated from a long weekend and barely any sleep, I insisted on doing the original shot of them both standing first and then we try a couple of takes at the end as they suggested. We ended up using the one they suggested.

In post production, we edited on a Dell XPS 900 using Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 software. DJ and musician Jason Greenwalt provided approximately half of the music and sound-beds used in HoLT, with multi-project colleague Morbius writing and recording the balance of the soundtrack.