A 48-Hour Film Project team can be as small as one person who sets up a camera, then goes around front to act for it. The theoretical upper limit is unlimited. According to the 48HFP Web site, the largest team ever put together was in Albuquerque: 116 people and a team of horses.
The two Daniel Elkayam/Overcast Productions teams I’ve been a part of are probably fairly average: about 12-15 people working in front of and behind the camera (moving equipment, handling sound, scouting and preparing locations, fetching food, etc.), and another half dozen toiling elsewhere on the music and keeping in cell-phone touch with Dan as the story and film evolve.
Another invaluable resource for Dan’s team the past two years has been Jim and Mary Valerio, who put their farm to the west of Portland at our disposal, with a wide array of terrains (everything from pastureland to deep forest, pond and creek to carpeted home), and two little girls – Mary Ann and Juno – as featured supporting actresses.
On Friday night, many of us gather at Dan’s house for the brainstorming, which takes place from 7:30 to 10:30 or 11. The process goes like this: each person in the room gets a tablet and pen or pencil, and spends 15-20 minutes free associating ideas about potential plot situations and arcs, the character, the prop, and potential uses for the line of dialogue. Then each person shares his or her ideas with the rest of the room, which sparks further ideas from the others. Dan writes down the most interesting and appealing ideas as we talk. Then he reads them back to us, indicating which three to five appeal to him the most as we hash them around some more.
Then he sends us home to bed while he hunkers down to write the screenplay, which he does between 11 p.m. Friday night and Saturday morning at 6 or 8 a.m. We gather at 9 or 10, shoot steadily throughout the day until 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., get some sleep, shoot whatever remains to be done on Sunday morning, and Dan edits the film in the afternoon and turns it in to the contest organizers in the evening.
In 2009, our assigned character was Brian (or Breanne) Merryweather, researcher; the prop was a picture frame; and the necessary line of dialogue “For crying out loud.” During the brainstorming session, I suggested the line could be split between two characters, which is what eventually happened: “What did you do that for?” “Crying out loud! It’s good to hear my own voice!”
Our assigned genre was Fantasy. Naturally we started talking about wizards, elves, dragons, aliens, Tolkien parodies, and other things that would have been problematic to put on screen in terms of scenery and costumes. For a while we discussed a “billy goats (or other folks) on a bridge with a troll down below” scenario, because somebody had or could manufacture a troll costume/mask. We also considered a story about a tour getting lost in the woods and having some sort of fantasy encounter/adventure.
In the end, Dan said thought he would write about someone deciding to pursue his childhood daydream of digging a hole to China. I think this was one of Dan’s own ideas from the start, and it puzzled most of the rest of us. We couldn’t picture what to do with that, plot-wise, or how it could be shot.
But Dan pointed at me and said he wanted me to act in it, and we went to bed while he wrote the screenplay. By 8 in the morning, the script was in my e-mail box, and by 10 a.m. Saturday, we had gathered to shoot.
This is probably the time for you to look at what we ended up doing, if you haven’t seen it yet. Although the version submitted to the 48HFP must be 7 minutes or less, there are two places on the Web to see the 11-minute “director’s cut,” which includes nearly all of the original script and which Dan edited later. The best version is on his personal Web site:
Click on “Short Films” and you’ll see “A Hole Story” on the right. If your computer doesn’t handle streaming video very well (this version gets hung up and jerky on my laptop with wireless Internet access), a second option is the simpler digital copy on YouTube, which should play more smoothly: