48-Hour Film Challenge Guide
Having done several short 48 (or 24) hour film challenges over the years, I have picked up a few tips that you might find useful if you decide to participate in one or host one yourself.
48-hour film events can be easy to find just look on meetup.com, Facebook, or websites like 48hourfilm.com. There is also Keno which runs them occasionally. The fun in taking part is having the opportunity to make a film in a weekend. Also, you get to meet new like-minded people that you might work with again; you get to have some fun, and you have something to show for it.
Send out an invitation with the dates well in advance. This will allow people to plan in advance. Usually, the schedule involves an evening meeting where people will get broken into groups and the story for each group is hashed out. Then plan a Saturday to film and Sunday to edit. With a screening Sunday evening of everyone’s projects.
If you are a participant, please accept or decline the invite. And, if you accept follow through and show it. Planners will often find a space for the meeting based on the number of participants.
A sample schedule should look something like:
- Evening meeting during the week
- Film Saturday
- Edit Sunday
- Screening Sunday Night
During the evening meeting break the group up into teams. Usually, you will want to do this around who will do the editing. Often the director is the editor. But it doesn’t need to be. There are plenty of options for free editing software. Windows has one built-in. Apple has iMovie and Final Cut. DaVinci Resolve is free for the basic version.
Each team should have a camera person. This doesn’t need to be a fancy Blackmagic or Red. All DSLR and mirrorless cameras can record high-quality video nowadays. Also, the phone in your pocket can be used.
The core team should comprise:
- Sound (if possible)
It is rare to have someone at these meetings with sound equipment. Often the sound is recorded directly into the camera. So keep this in mind when planning locations as the camera will pick up a lot of background noise.
My experience with 48-hour film events is that actors are the most prominent participants, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding a cast for your film. Actors who want to take part might need to volunteer to assist behind the camera.
Script and Story
With the story, a good idea if people don’t have ideas is to have everyone write on three separate pieces of paper. On one they list an object, on another a line of dialog, and on the third a character. Then have everyone put these into three hats (or same hat three-times) and draw out one of each. Then each team has to integrate these items into the film. This helps with a starting point for the story.
Then after dividing the group into teams, spend the rest of the evening having each team hashing out the story. Depending on how the teams are organized this could take a while as sometimes everyone has an opinion, and other times no one has an opinion. Depending on how long is set between the evening meeting such as is it on a Tuesday or a Friday, the script can be written and provided to the actors. My recommendation is to outline the story and rely on the actors to improvise a bit as the short timeline might make it difficult to memorize lines.
When working on the story, be aware of shooting locations and time. The film will always take longer to make than you think it will. Also, if someone has an idea of shooting a scene in a specific type of location, make sure someone on the team has access to that location for the filming day, otherwise it is pointless to have that in a script. For example, if the script calls for an office, does someone have access to an office or a location that can look like one. Also, since the shoot will take longer than expected, try to keep the locations to a minimum. One is best, two should be the most. If shooting outdoors also know of the weather forecast for the weekend.
On the day of filming expect and plan hiccups such as someone not showing up. These groups are a fun opportunity for people to get involved in filmmaking if they have never done it before, but then the reality sets in and people realize that they have to do something and might not show up. Keep this in mind as an actor might not show up and someone else will need to step into that role. Other things that could happen is someone being late, a location not working out because of noise or other people getting in the shots, or weather. Someone might say they have access to a prop or costume item only to find out they don’t have access to it.
Give everything to the editor as soon as possible, especially if the editor is new at it. With films like this, the video provided can be all over the place making it harder to organize and edit. If you can gain access to a sound recorder during the filming process, be sure to use a slate and label the sound and video files for the editor.
Editors shouldn’t wait until the last minute to finish everything. And don’t expect the final edit to be perfect, especially if rushing to complete the film. Some challenges are strict about the time that the film must be turned in. And it is annoying if you are in one of the other groups who get your film done on time, then you have to wait for other groups to arrive at the screening because they weren’t done on time.
Set You Expectations
For the final film set your expectations appropriately. A film made in a weekend is not likely to win any awards at a quality film festival. Since the lighting can be ad hoc, the sound usually recorded into the camera directly, and the actors are mostly improvising their lines, a film like this is fun to show to people but any film festival worth anything will most likely not accept it.
Weekend 48-hour filmmaking challenges are not organized to produce a fine art that will win awards. They are organized to get a group of like-minded people together to have some fun and make a short that they will have to show at the end. If it is decent enough put it on Vimeo or YouTube, but most importantly it will help filmmakers develop a network that they can turn to when working on larger more involved projects.
Article by Milo Denison, who also blogs at www.milodenison.com