More than two dozen crew members and extras gathered on a recent Saturday morning to prepare for the day's shooting of "Branches" at Crystal Spring Tree Farm in Lehighton. After some basic instructions, they started by rehearsing the film's opening scene.
The extras soon realized that being in a film wasn't as simple as smiling for the camera. Each scene that included walking could be filmed just once, thanks to the fact that they needed "freshly fallen" snow on the ground. Walking through the snow would ruin the shot, which meant there could be no retakes.
To prepare for the opening scene, they first practiced moving as a group on an open road. Extras then moved to a "practice hill," where they waded through knee-deep snow as the director took a test shot.
"That's really great," said Chris Messineo, the film's director, as he reviewed the footage. "Let's do it again." Back up the hill they went. Between individual close-ups and group shots, each extra would climb that hill at least four times in one morning before they filmed the actual opening scene.
The four main characters in the film also had their fair share of practice shots and retakes. When Jody Ebert, who plays "Wade" in the film, was asked to make a snow angel for one scene, he practiced falling backward and shifting through the snow several times. His teeth chattered as he lay on the frozen ground, but he smiled and agreed to do the scene one more time.
Ebert had his revenge during an on-camera snowball fight. He hit his fellow actors with big, messy snowballs a half-dozen times before the director was satisfied with the scene. Each time, they brushed the snow off their hair and jackets, preparing themselves for yet another cold hit of snow.
The film crew would spend three days on the farm shooting action scenes and background material. But when the film comes off the editing board, it will be just six minutes long.
The creators of "Branches" urge people to refrain from judging the movie based on its length. This short film has a mighty message packaged into those six minutes. Hansberry compared a short film to the perfect joke a great joke has a setup and a punch line, without muddying the joke with lengthy explanations.
"You ruin the joke by telling too many details. Just convey the message," he said. "The same can be said for short films."
Between shots, cast and crew gathered in a heated garage to thaw out their fingers and toes.
"Everyone's spirits are good. I haven't heard any complaints," said Messineo. "Looking around the room, everyone is smiling and ready for the last afternoon of shooting."
The owners of the tree farm, Francis, Margaret and Chris Botek, were all excited to take part in the filming experience. They served as extras and also spent the weekend with the crew to offer help and advice.
"It was a wonderful weekend. What an experience," said Margaret. "We were like a family."
There was a sense of camaraderie in the room by the end of the weekend a sense of coming together to complete a project bigger than any one person.
While the Botek family welcomes hundreds of guests to its farm each Christmas for choose-and-cut tree sales, they've never before hosted an event of this scale.
"It's just a good feeling to associate with these people," said Francis Botek. "They have a dream, and hopefully they will succeed with that dream."