Last weekend, August 6-8, I participated as an actor in my second straight 48-Hour Film Project competition. Wednesday night I saw the results on the big screen: thanks to the film crew I rejoined from last year, especially its writer-director Daniel Elkayam, who calls his outfit Overcast Productions, I can say the product was good.
Briefly, a team of filmmakers (writer, director, photographer(s), actors, film editor, and other helpful types) gets 48 hours to write, shoot, edit, score, and turn in a movie of no more than 7 minutes in length.
Here’s how it works. At 7 p.m. on Friday evening, representatives of each film team (there were about 56 in this, Portland’s seventh year of the competition) receive a character’s name and profession, a line of dialogue, and a prop that must all appear in the film. Those items are the same for every team; what varies is the assigned genre, which could be anything from Western to Musical, Horror to Silent, Noir or Fantasy to Mockumentary.
The reps then turn the assignment over to the rest of the team to brainstorm a plot or at least a situation; a script is written; the film is shot – mostly on the Saturday, but often with some final shooting on Sunday morning – and edited; a score added (often something original with the help of musician friends, but sometimes just Creative Commons material from the Web); and the finished product gets turned in to the organizers of the 48HFP on a CD or thumb drive by 7 p.m. Sunday night. (The contest allows a half-hour grace period to 7:30 p.m. before a film is considered late and automatically disqualified, which adds travel time for delivery of the entry and gives the teams a full 48 hours to work on their film, in theory.)
Just three and four days later, all the submissions – including the late entries – are screened for the public (which mostly means, the film crews in the competition and their friends), and a week or two after that, a dozen finalists are screened again before the judges choose the Best Film and honorees in other categories such as Best Writing, Best Directing, Best Acting, Best Use of Genre, Best Effects, and so on.
The concept started in Washington, D.C. in 2001 and in 9 years has spread to more than 50 U.S. cities and more than 35 cities overseas, including Newcastle, Mumbai, Melbourne, and Casablanca.
A year ago, I had just lost my nearly five-year-old day job and was starting a deeper plunge into acting. For nearly the same length of time, I had been doing two to four stage productions a year, dramatic readings, live old-time-radio style performances with other actors and sound effects, and that sort of thing. But in the late summer of 2009 I began to explore film and video work.
I did some pro bono film extra work for Dan’s crew on a coffee company ad they were shooting on spec just two weeks after I lost my job, and two weeks after that, on August 14, 2009, I went to his house for the brainstorming session for the 48-hour film.