An Adventure For Novices And Pros Alike: The 48 Hour Film Festival

Cannes Film Festival

48 Hour Film Festival

Few things test one’s skills like the unexpected.  Working in the production world one is surrounded by creative types with big ideas.  What the 48 Hour Film Festival does is challenge every innventive fiber at a production team’s disposal, examining their abilities to think on their feet, work really fast, and often move beyond their comfort zones.  When I heard the 48 Hour Film Festival was taking applications for LA teams, I reflected on my personal experiences with the fest.

It was early spring in Boston and I was looking for some improv work.  I responded to a request for an ensemble group needed for a weekend film festival project, an arrangement that fit my full time work schedule perfectly.  After a brief meeting with the director, I became part of the cast of his “48 Hour Film Project” cast along with five other actors.  It was explained to me that there’d be no rehearsals and no concept of what the characters might be.  We wouldn’t know what our genre was until the assignment was passed out, along with a required prop, a required character, and piece of dialogue that needed to be worked into the story, making it challenging to get a script completed in advance.  Our only recommended preparation was to gather and bring as many wardrobe choices as possible.  Mine ranged from pleather pants to my senior prom gown.

We gathered an hour before the assignments were announce – an exciting time filled with introduction, wardrobe comparisons and guesses as to how the weekend may transpire.  We’d be eating, sleeping, aurguing and working together for two days straight   Our director called in with the assignment: our genre was the musical, our prop the garden hose, our character was “the mysterious Luigi” and the line of dialogue was “Won’t you try my tasty donuts?”

While the director made his way back to the group, a rough script was drafted out, including some simple lyrics.  The first point of consensus was whether to record live vocals or pre-record and lip sync.  With little rehearsal time and knowing there would be multiple takes, the executive decision was to pre-record.  I recall someone saying “At least the sound levels will be great!”  The director, as it turned out, had friends who owned a professional recording studio. 

While we had our lyrics down well during the recording session, we didn’t foresee how challenging lip syncing would become while shooting.  After the first 24 hours and no sleep, cast members were having trouble keeping their lines straight while hitting their marks.  So much time was devoted to recording that we were losing shooting time, a matter compounded by additional technical problems:  the garden hose was frozen and water wouldn’t appear in the watering scene.  The building was older and our lighting set-up repeatedly tripped the circuit; an incident that not only halted production but angered the owner who, after the third outage demanded  we “get out now.”  He was placated eventually but our time was running out.  The script was hacked, leaving a pretty thin backbone that barely held our story together.  At hour 40 we knew we didn’t have a winner, but we’d put in so much dedication and effort we were determined to complete our project and pass it in on time. It was delivered with one minute to spare.

The next year I reunited with the core group : the same director, writer, editor, camera man, and one other actor, to give it another try.  We were no longer green and had learned from our mistakes. We were assigned a noir and  I got to play a knife-throwing, motorcycle-riding villain who engages in a fist fight with the film’s hero.  We had a stunt double ride the motorcycle however I had to quickly learn how to throw both a knife and a punch without hurting anyone.  The shoot went brilliantly – the actors had commend of their lines, the scenes were done with very few takes and editing was rolling along smoothly.  Disaster stuck once again, however:  during the 44th hour with just one sequence left to cut the FCP editing system froze.  A desperate attempt was made to save the files and transfer them to another computer but time ran ahead of us, and our film," Vigilance," was disqualified.

Production work is an addictive experience and every shoot has its problems.  The 48 Hour Film Festival intensifies all that madness into a tiny two-day window.  It also tests ones creative limits and provides a perfect platform for thinking on one’s feet.  Having versatile crew and actors who can bring everything to the table is the key to success in this competition.  I reflect on my two experiences fondly – I was able to do some things as an actor that I would never have had the chance to do otherwise.    In fact, I’m tempted to try out for this year’s festival, come to think of it!      

To register for the 48 Hour Film Festival, go to:

www.48hourfilm.com