Monday, August 26, 2013

My Love-Hate with the 48 (hour film project)

On location - Photo taken by Jason Johnson.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I led our team to compete in the Madison 48 Hour Film Project 2013.

You know that feeling when you are slowly making your way to the top of the rollercoaster right before you make that first plunge?  You go from nerves, to fear, to raw excitement within a few seconds.   All at once, you are having a total blast but also wondering why the heck you stepped into this thing that is hurdling you down a very large hill and pulling you upside down and sideways at a very fast speed?...but after it's done, you instantly want to do it again?

Yeah, the 48 Hour Film Project is just. like. that.

I'm sure many of you are wondering what the heck is the 48 Hour Film Project?  Well, basically you have 48 hours to make a short film...but you can't come up with an idea before you start (well, you CAN, but that's cheating, and usually it doesn't turn out as well.)

Teams from all over the world compete within their city's festival.  We compete in Madison, WI.  This is our 6th year competing.

How does the 48HFP work?
On Friday night, all of the team leaders come together at 6pm for the official kick-off, where they will draw their team's genre from out of a hat (yes, literally.  In this case, it's a furry purple hat).  This year we picked Drama.

Every year, each team is assigned the same elements to include in their film.  These were the elements from this year:

Character: Sylvia or Sinclair Vandermint, a kleptomaniac.
Prop: a pillow
Line of Dialogue: "Forget everything I just said."

After these elements are assigned, they unleash the teams at 7pm on the dot, and we then have exactly 48 hours to film, edit, and return the film.  Even turning the film in 1 second late disqualifies you from the competition.

Each team has a different process.  Some teams are made up of amateurs, some have a professional film crew with professional equipment.  The point of the weekend is to have fun, actually finish a great film, and maybe make some friends along the way.  If your film wins the city festival, it moves on to the big festival, where all of the city winners from all over the world compete.  The top films from that will go on to Cannes Film Festival!

My love-hate relationship:
Every year at about the same time, I always ask myself, "Why do we get ourselves into this?!"  It's usually around the time when we are trying to finalize a script idea (usually in the early morning hours on Saturday).  We are tired, we have yet to start filming anything, and things just don't seem to be working.  The story either doesn't have all of the elements it needs to make it a good story, or we don't have the actors we need, the script isn't written yet, story boarding is just starting, and the very long to-do list keeps getting longer.

This year, we didn't have the final script done until late Saturday morning, and we didn't start filming until late-afternoon!

Running through the script with our actors - Photo taken by Jason Johnson.

To be more efficient with our time, Stephen will start blocking out the scenes with the actors on Saturday, they will start filming a scene, and bring me the card when it is done.  I am the editor, and once I get the card, I start editing that scene while they are working on the next one.

All the while, I work with our composers, make calls out to our caterers to make sure our team will eat, take calls in from the team, nurse my child, help get my kids down to bed (thankfully my mother lives in town, and she takes our children for most of the weekend!), help keep the schedule moving on time, and make sure Stephen gets all of the required angles for the scenes...along with fluids so he doesn't fall over.  I sometimes get to fit an hour of sleep in there somewhere.

After a rough-cut edit is done, Stephen takes over and does the color and sound edit.  Our goal is always to have an edit locked by 3pm on Sunday afternoon.  If not that, then we at least try to have an unfinished copy ready by 5pm to send up.

That didn't happen this year.

Call it ultra perfectionism, but I don't think we could send up a less then "semi-perfect" edit.  It would have hurt too much after all the work to send something that has one angle with a strange background noise when he could spend a few extra minutes of tweeking.

A crazy moment from this year was when we were almost completely done but running out of time, and a MASSIVE storm blew in.  A bolt of lighting hit reeeaally close and knocked our power out for a few seconds.  Luckily, it was only for a couple seconds, and luckily we have backup generators that temporarily keep our computers on until we can close our projects and shut down our computer.  It could have been bad.  We were cutting it close with the edit!

We finished the film and got it in the car to send up by 6:35pm.  It was due by 7:30pm.  We were 45 minutes away.  You do the math.  I was a TEENY bit nervous. (Along with the fact that we were rendering it and exporting the final copy on a laptop as we were driving)

We got to the drop off location at 7:15pm as it was burning to the DVD and turned the final copy in at 7:25pm.  Our backup was done by 7:28, but for the dramatic fun of it, our teammate, AARON Williams, waited until the last second of the countdown to turn it in.

We are happy with our final product.  Our actors did a great job, we had an amazing crew, and despite the lack of sleep, we had a lot of fun.  And that's the point, right?  Having fun, meeting new friends, and actually completing a great film in 48 hours!

10 tips to make the 48 hours go a lot smoother:
1. Make a Kickstarter to help fund the cost of entry fees, food, any rentals that are needed, etc.  You never know if there are friends and/or family that are interested in helping to support you! 
2. Don't be afraid to keep a random genre.  Our most successful film entries came from the off-beat genres, like Science Fiction or Vacation/Holiday film.
3. Our goal every year is to write a simple script with the least amount of characters and with as few locations as possible.  This will cut down on filming time, especially if you don't have a large crew to help out.  Sometimes the story allows this, sometimes not.  But to have that goal in mind will help as you develop the story. 
4. It's fun to come up with a story as one big group, but it's faster to do this with only a couple key people.  If you do have a large group that wants to write the story together, make sure you have 2 (or at most 3) people read over the script to make sure it makes sense, all of the story elements are there, and that it CAN be done in 48 hours and edited down to 7 minutes.
5. Our team needs to eat and have a continuous supply of caffeine!  But we don't have the funds to supply them for the whole weekend.  Stephen learned in film school that local restaurants may be open to donating food for craft services.  We have gotten free pizzas, sub sandwiches, donuts, and coffee from local establishments!  We've even had a catered meal from Texas Roadhouse!  We always ALWAYS make sure to thank them and put their business in the credits for free advertisement!  We also have people bring snacks, or we'll have friends or family that want to help out drop off cookies, snacks, meals, etc throughout the weekend.
6. We've made good connections with the local theater companies, so we have a great group of actors of all ages that are willing to put up with us for the weekend.  This allows us to have access to great actors along with having a large group of different actors to choose from.  What we always do is let them know the weekend in advance so they can put it in their calendar.   That way we can call them on Friday night and have them available when we need them. Oh, and one important thing to remember: Treat your actors like royalty!  Especially when it's 5am and they are still filming after 12 hours! And let them change the dialogue if they find something better-fits their character.
7. This comes from Stephen, the director. If you can, storyboard before you film!  When you've been up for more than 30 hours, and you are in the middle of filming, the storyboard will insure that you don't forget an important angle as you are struggling to stay on your feet!  Stephen found himself falling asleep through the last scenes and couldn't think straight.
8. Edit during the filming.  It just makes sense.
9. Have clear jobs assigned for people if possible, at least the important jobs. This will help keep the drama and time down to a minimum.  Have someone assigned to end credits!  Have someone assigned to getting paperwork together.  Have someone assigned to special affects.  These things can be done throughout the weekend, not at the very end.
10. Make sure the biggest things are done first before you try to perfect the film.  Think big to little.  Get the rough cut done.  Then add music. Then color correct, then do the sound edit.  We found after the first year that it's a very good idea to have a cut put on a DVD by 5pm.  That way, if the final cut isn't done, we can at least get a copy ready to send up to insure our team gets a spot in the competition. (Like I said...we didn't do that this year, and we almost didn't make it in time!)

Jeremy Heesen during a shot for the beginning sequence of the film - Photo taken by Jason Johnson.

Here is our film from Madison 48 Hour Film Project 2013.  Enjoy!!

If you'd like to hear more about our past experiences, please enjoy some crazy stories from past competitions, including our 15 min late entry and Stephen's unfortunate incident with a butcher knife, his hand, and a visit to the ER a few hours before the film was due...

1 comment:

  1. Greetings Cameron! My name is Heather and I was wondering if you would be able to answer my quick question about your blog! If you could email me at Lifesabanquet1(at)gmail(dot)com I would greatly appreciate it!


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