"The 48 Hour Film Project is one of the most unique and crazy film competitions ever conceived."
What can be said about the 48 Hour Film Project?
It's just about 6:30 PM on a Friday night and you're waiting your turn. You're waiting your turn to make an ultimate choice from the random destiny of a black top hat. You're surrounded by hundreds of nervous filmmakers as you ponder what your outcome might be. Will it be comedy, drama, mockumentary, or even the dreaded musical or western? You simply don't know, and you won't know for sure until you place your hand into the fated genre receptacle hat.
What's going on you may ask? It's simple. You've decided to compete in your city's 48 Hour Film Project and you're anxiously attending the official kickoff. It's here that all the competing teams find out what three elements they must include in their films, and what film genres they'll ultimately be required to use for their films.
48 Hour Film Project Founder Mark Ruppert addresses an excited group of "48" filmmakers
But I'm getting way ahead of myself. Just what IS the 48 Hour Film Project? It's simply one of the most ingenious and fascinating film competitions ever conceived. You see, sometime around 2000 or so, Mark Ruppert, the founder of the 48 Hour Film Project along with his good friend and fellow filmmaker, Liz Langston, was attending the 24 Hour Play competition in New York City. Being a consummate filmmaker himself he thought, "wouldn't it be great to do this with video filmmaking?" Well, that's exactly what happened. In 2001, the 48 Hour Film Project was born, and it's been thriving ever since.
The concept is simple and ingenious. Multiple teams compete to produce a complete short film over the weekend. From Friday night at 7:00PM to Sunday night at 7:30PM (30 minutes are added for travel time), as many as a hundred or more teams of filmmakers will strive to meet this exciting challenge. To keep things interesting, there are three required elements each team must include in their films - a prop, a character, and a line of dialogue. Each of these elements is determined by choosing them randomly from a black top hat during the official kickoff. One of the great things about this is the reaction to the chosen elements by the prospective filmmakers. The elements almost always are created with an air of "comedy" that rings through simply by reading them to the crowd. It's obvious that the folks Mark and Liz ask to create these elements have a wonderful sense of style and humor and it comes through every year.
48 Hour Film Project Co-Founder Liz Langston
By 7:00PM the pageantry is complete, the "48" (as it's sometimes referred to) has officially begun and you're now off to brainstorm story ideas with your writing team. As much as I adore the entire 48 process (brainstorming, writing, shooting, composing and editing) I must admit I find this first phase the most exciting.
48 Hour Film Project Strategy
This element, the overall plan of attack or strategy, is simply fascinating to me. The question begs, how does a team take on such a formidable and exciting challenge and guarantee handing over the film on time. It's a heavy question because there are usually a solid handful of teams (or more) who fail to "get to the church on time" with their finished movies.
I'm fortunate to have some wonderful friends who share in my "48" obsession. My good friend Doug, whose name I don't wish to reveal, (but his initials are DOUG KOZTOSKI, FILMMAKER EXTRAORDINAIRE) is also an expert "48 strategist". We've rambled on for hours pontificating the possibilities of executing the "perfect 48", as elusive as that may be.
In an effort to motivate aspiring filmmakers to get off their hineys and "just do it" (the actual goal of the 48 Hour Film Project itself according to its founders Mark Ruppert and Liz Langston) I'd like to share some of the wisdom Doug and I have gleaned over the years. (yes I know...I'll never refuse the chance to use that awesome verb)
Tip #1 - Set Time Limits
As much as this might hurt from a creative standpoint, it's an absolute must in the topsy turvy world of the 48. Never forget - one of the PRIMARY challenges you're facing is TIME, so disciplined time management is the only way to make it to the finish line with DVD or DV Tape in hand. Simply explain to your writing/brainstorming team up front that the initial discussion will be 100% democratic and "carte blanche" up until a pre-determined time, when the FINAL story idea must be chosen. I like a good old fashioned vote (anonymous or otherwise) but you as team leader are certainly free to exercise veto authority at this point and simply choose the best idea. Sometimes in filmmaking, mini-dictatorships get the best result. I hate to admit this, because I ADORE freedom, but sometimes "too many chefs spoil the broth" as they say, and this is certainly true with filmmaking at times. Either way, it's always best to make these procedures crystal clear at the outset so all your super creative team members know what to expect.
Tip #2 - Email is your Friend
I'm always AMAZED at how many folks get this wrong. I've actually had team leaders DISCOURAGE using email prior to the big weekend because their "genius" film leader friends are already too busy during the work week. Now this may be the case, and it probably is, but C'MON. Are you competing in a movie making contest or just playing around? One of the GREATEST advantages you have with the 48 is that you're permitted to put your cast and crew together before the project's weekend. Using email to communicate procedure and strategy can make a huge difference in your overall success. If you yourself are not great at organization and/or good email communication, I highly recommend identifying one of your producers/friends who IS great at this (there's always someone) and handing them the reigns. In any case, make great use of pre-weekend email communication and clarify everything you can ahead of time. You won't regret it.
Tip #3 - Editors, Editors, Editors
If you've never produced a digital film before PLEASE simply take my word on this. Editing will KICK YOUR BUTT! (I hope I've been clear enough, my filmmaking friends...) What does this mean for you trying to manage a 48 team? This is Key! Get as many editors as you can find, equip and fit into a room, or rooms. Now I'm sure the "too many chefs" parable is crossing your mind, and rightly so, but still get multiple editors if you can. The trick is appoint a Lead Editor whose abilities you have the most faith in. Your lead editor will perform the primary cut of your film. But there are lots of time consuming editing tasks that can be accomplished by 2nd tier editors, saving your lead editor lots of time. Tasks such as basic digitization, organizing clips and identifying best takes are some of the tasks to ask of your 2nd tier editing folks. It's important enough that I must repeat it, editing ANY film is extremely time consuming, so please do not underestimate the importance of doing everything you can to streamline this important process.
Tip #4 - Appoint a Tape Runner/Digitizer
While related to the editing department, this can easily be thought of as a separate position on your team. Because time is so of the essence, and because editing is so time intensive, please get your editing process started as soon as humanly possible. This could even be as early as 7:01PM when brainstorming hasn't even quite started yet. It's called credits, and you'd really be smart to build a quick and dirty (but accurate!) end credit sequence "just in case". If your primary edit were to come right down to the wire time-wise, a backup credit sequence could really save the day. I'd have one if I were you. Again, having a capable 2nd tier editor working on this would be wise so you don't burn out your lead editor too quickly. Ask your lead editor to sleep as much as possible up until the primary edit session (most likely late Saturday, or early Sunday) in order to be as fresh as possible for the all important edit.
A tape runner/digitizer would obviously grab tapes as soon as any scene breaks, getting the tape digitized as soon as possible to make the footage ready for the edit. During shooting time this person could also do a rough "take judgment" to place the best takes in one convenient and well labeled folder. Again, teamwork and great organization are your friends when competing in the 48 Hour Film Project.
I could go on and on here but I'll stop for now. I'm thinking maybe this should be the topic of a future e-book, who knows? I'm planning on creating several film related e-books for Fun Film Talk guests, so maybe this should be one of them.
Below I've included a contact submission form. If there's anything related to the 48 Hour Film Project you'd like to share with us, Please DO. We'd all love to hear what you have to share.
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