There’s nothing like a tight deadline to sharpen your creative focus to laser precision. The 48hr Film Competition that provides just such a deadline. It is a world wide competition that runs in cites across the globe throughout the year. We recently competed here in Seattle with 60+ other teams. The kick off for these events is Friday night when teams select the genre for their film from a hat, as well as, find out what required line of dialogue, prop, and character name you have to use in your film.
Not all teams will make the cutoff on Sunday evening to submit their films. Some teams get taken out during production, others take too long in post. There are a myriad of obstacles that your team will face. Here are a few tips to help you navigate through the 48hours of fun, chaos, and creativity.
1. Figure Out Your Actors Before Hand
The rules for the 48hr Film Competition say you can’t start working on your film prior to the kickoff event. That doesn’t mean you can’t start figuring out who you’re going to work with or who is going to be in your film. Some 48hr Film Competitions hold general actor auditions where several actors come in to audition any team leaders can show up to watch. This can be great opportunity to find good talent but remember, you’re not going to be alone when reviewing these actors. Other teams will show up as well, and the best actors are going to want to work with directors they feel are going to create a good film for their acting talent to be seen in. I’d suggest bringing a video camera to record the actor’s performances or at least shoot some footage with your phone. Why? Because after the sixth actor gets up to do their monologue, you’re not going to remember the nuances of one from another. They will generally provide you with a headshot and a list of their most recent work and where they trained. Some good questions to ask are where are they located (if they’re not close to where you’re thinking about filming, chances are you’re going to have issues convincing them to drive all the way to you.) Another good question to ask is if they have any completed work online for you to see.
Keep notes on the ones you like and when you get home, watch any work they might have online. Be prepared to send them an email or make a call that night or early the next morning at the very least. You’d be surprised how quickly actors will get picked off and you might find yourself back to square one if you don’t move quickly. You can also post on local talent boards or inquire with acting schools. I’d highly suggest not looking on Craigslist if you want to find someone who is actually going to show up on the day of filming.
2. Find Your Crew and Test Them Out
You may not know what, where, or who your filming prior to the kickoff, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know who you’ll be working with. Again, find people ahead of time and meet with them to go over their roll in the crew. Friends are great to help out when filming, but people who are experienced are better. Whether your crew is just a few people all doing double duty, or a large crew with dedicated positions, you need to have things worked out as to who is going to be responsible for what and how everyone’s going to communicate with one another. Prior to our shoot, we did a full crew rehearsal with DP, AC, Gaffer, and Sound. We worked out the camera set ups, sound sync, and lighting issues. A few hours preparing the weekend before can make all the difference when you’re scrambling to get your production sorted out during the competition.
3. Checkout Possible Locations and Props
You will be able to see all of the genres on the 48hr Film Competition website prior to the event. Review these to get an idea of what types of stories you might need to come up with and then try to work out some possible locations you might have access to where you can film. Getting permission ahead of time is far easier than begging the night before. We had three possible locations where we knew we could film on the Saturday. When we learned what our genre was on the Friday night, we immediately eliminated two of them. We had photos of each location and this allowed the entire group to work collectively to come up with a story and script that would work in that location. It also helped the DP to figure out how to shoot the story in that location. Professional productions will always scout their locations, why shouldn’t you? Ideally you’ll want to minimize the amount of locations you shoot in because you just won’t have the time to do too many set ups. Consider having access to power for your gear and bathrooms for your cast and crew. Also take not of what props you might have access to. Cars, bikes, uniforms, special equipment, etc. These are all things to have a list of when you’re coming up with your script on Friday night. (Unless you like staying up until 3AM figuring things out.)
4. Keep Production Lighting Simple
One of the biggest things that will make your film stand out is good lighting during production. A lot of 48hr films fall down in the lighting and sound departments due to either inexperience, or just not having time to properly set things up during production. The Director’s that get their lighting figured out are the ones that have films that stand out. Three point lighting is a luxury that few can afford for these types of time compressed productions. A great solution that we implemented for our film was the use of the ICE light. This is a handheld LED light that is daylight balanced. It can produce an incredible amount of light and can be dimmed. The fact that it produces little heat is a huge bonus as well. Add to that it can be powered for a few hours off of an internal battery or tethered to a power plug if necessary.
We were able to use this one light for 95% of our production and it didn’t slow us down once. The downside of the ICE light is that it can be very difficult to direct light like you would using barn doors, but it’s shape and ease of use allows for a huge amount of creative uses that far outweigh this limitation.
5. Have Someone Dedicated To Titles and Paperwork
Many of the teams that don’t make it to the deadline on Sunday night fall behind because they don’t have all of their paperwork filled out or signed. It is easy to focus on the filming and editing part, but unless you have your i’s dotted and your t’s crossed, they won’t be accepting your film. There is also information that has to be filled out online in order to get the code needed to submit your project. This is all going to take more time than you think it will and nothing’s worse than being pulled away from putting on the finishing touches to your edit or foley than having to go get someone’s signature for a location release. Another important element that needs to have a dedicated brain is the credits. One of the worst things you can due is not give someone credit for the hard work they just put into the film or slightly worse, miss spell their name for all the world to see. It takes just one person to make sure all the names are there with their position or character, but again, this isn’t something you want to be dealing with on Sunday afternoon when you should have your eyeballs glued to your NLE.
One of the great things about the 48hr Film Competition is that there will be a film viewing of all the completed films. This takes place generally the week after the competition and often in a local film theater. It can be both exciting and nerve racking to sit in an audience and have your film screened. You will hope they don’t see the little issues that are glaring to you, and you will pray that your film holds up against the rest. The only way to know is to go and watch with everyone else.
Chances are if this is your first 48hr Film Competition you’re going to be somewhere in the bottom to middle of the pack in regards to the production quality. That’s just fine. The best way to get better is to do it and see how you stack up. The tip is is this though, watch the audience to see what registers with them. Most of the films in our viewing were heavy on comedy, whether they meant to be or not. Often times if you can get the audience to laugh, you’ll start to win them over. This might not always be possible depending on the genre you ended up with, but I’ve found that most of the people who attend the 48hr Film competition viewings are looking for something that charms them or makes them feel good. Hopefully you had fun making your film, and it doesn’t hurt to share that feeling with an audience who took the time to come out and watch what you and your crew could come up with in just 48hrs.
Here’s our entry for this years 48 Hour Film Project – Seattle 2014