A hit man gives his final notice to a mob boss who refuses to let him go

This film was made in less than 48 hours for The 48 Hour Film Project San Diego 2013

Leslie Hackett and James Gregg prepare for their final scene at 3:00 a.m. after sixteen hours of shooting. (Photo: Dan Zelikman)

THE JANITOR was my first film project that wasn't made in Hawaii. I had cut my teeth on Hawaii Previous and learned that filming next to a shooting range was bad for audio. Who knew? After a crash course on indie filmmaking where I learned what a real set looked like while filming Kahea, I realized it was time to step up my game. Or so I thought.

This time I was joining David Brooks on his production and coming on as a writer/producer to help him compete in The 48 Hour Film Project 2013. It was a film festival that was held over two days where more than 50 teams in San Diego tried to complete a short film in less than two days. Everyone was given a genre, a character, a line of dialogue, and a prop. 

James Gregg, the star of The Janitor, looks into the mirror while his tightly wrapped finger continues to bleed into the sink. (Photo: David Brooks)

As soon as we pulled the genre I began to write. David coordinated his team and finalized our locations. Having just moved to San Diego from Hawaii with my girlfriend Kim, I was the new guy. While I was writing, David told me that we would be heading over to meet James Gregg, our lead actor and producer on the project. 

David dropped me off while he went looking for parking and said, "Just knock on the door, he's in there." I was excited, this was the guy I was writing the role for—our Janitor in the flesh. I rang the doorbell and a grizzly looking dude opens the door in a white tank-top and jeans. 

"You Dan?" 

"Yeah man, it's good to meet you. Thanks for having me on the team."

"Sure, good to have you. Are you hot? Sorry my place is a scorcher."

He then went over to the window and tried to open it, but I could see he was having some trouble. I've known this guy for about forty-five seconds at this point when I hear a loud smash, and an impressive amount of cursing. James had somehow put his hand through his own window, and it was now covered in blood.

Our lead actor's accident completely set the tone for the opening of our film

There was blood and glass was everywhere. I had no idea what to do. I was asking where his towels were while also trying to keep his cats from jumping out the broken window. Finally David showed up with a camera, and as we're both looking at him bleeding in the bathroom, I couldn't help but say, "So James, I think we should take you to the hospital, and I hope you don't get pissed at me for saying this but—can we film this?" 

"Fuck yeah" he replied.

I found my type of filmmakers.

After we filmed what ended up being the opening shot to our film, we took James to the emergency room where he got his finger taken care of. We were there for hours but we didn't waste time. We were writing and rewriting to make sure we could distribute the script to the rest of the team before morning. It was a hell of a way to start the production, but after seeing our opening shot that had real blood in it—I knew we were gangster.

Dan Zelikman plays "The Boss's Son" in The Janitor. (Photo: David Brooks)

The rest of the production was mellow (anything compared to an emergency room visit at midnight pretty much is).

David locked up one of San Diego's most famous music bars, The Casbah, for our location—and one of San Diego's most loved DJ's in Chris Cantore as a supporting lead. He also rounded up some extras, and even a live performance from a fantastic saxophone player, Jason Whitmore. His performance ended up being our film's score. The one thing we were missing was The Janitor's villain. And so—I became an actor.

I'm not saying I was any good, in fact I think I was terrible. But I'd be lying if I said it wasn't fun. Still, after The Janitor, I think I'll stick to cameos from here on in. 

Dan Zelikman and David Brooks attend the premier of The Janitor with their friends and family in San Diego, California. 

We shot inside the bar most of the day, and then one final shot that we did at 3:00 a.m. in a creepy alley around the block. It was a grueling pace, but I loved seeing characters come to life so quickly after writing them. James literally turned into The Janitor when he cut his hand, and we only wrote his character's outline about an hour prior to meeting him.

It's not for everyone, but I do like how these timed film competitions force you to do the best you can with limited resources. 

David is a perfectionist, so unfortunately our film was handed in late and wasn't eligible for the jury's consideration—but we did get to attend the screening and watch our film on the big screen with hundreds of others. I was really excited to be a part of this production, and I really hoped we'd get another chance to do another one soon. I didn't know at the time, but I wasn't going to have to wait very long.

Three months later we agreed to bring the team back together, this time to go against the rest of the world in a 72 hour film competition where we would write and produce one of our fan-favorites—The Big Calzone.

Director David Brooks with his stars Leslie Hackett and James Gregg, and writer/producer Dan Zelikman.