The 48 Hour Film Project is a popular filmmaking event that asks teams of filmmakers to write, produce, shoot and edit a short film in the span of 48 hours. As someone that has participated in three events (the last time after I vowed never to do another one again) and shoots on tight schedules for a living, I’ve put together seven pro tips to help you survive this grueling filmmaking stunt.
The advice I will dispense is based on my experiences which haven’t all been stellar. Listen to me and hopefully you can avoid some of the pitfalls of this weekend of insanity. If you don’t, who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky… or you might end up putting your fist through a wall.
But trust me at least on the first one.
Tip 1: Know your workflow
Workflow is a fancy smancy term post production guys like to use for describing how they turn raw footage into a finished product. If you’ve never made a film STOP READING RIGHT NOW! Go make a short film this minute.
Okay, now that you’ve actually made a short film from start to finish, you should know how to take footage from a camera, put it into a computer, edit it and burn a DVD or make a digital render for submission. It’s good that you learned this stuff before trying to skim the help files during the 48 hour project while watching the deadline tick closer and closer.
Similarly be careful of testing out new process/techniques with this project. Your friend just got a new DSLR and your used to shooting tape? TEST IT OUT FIRST before diving into a timed contest.
Tip 2: Separate out Preproduction, Production and Postproduction duties
As a team captain you really don’t have much choice but to be involved in every step of the production of your film. However you will see much better results if you delegate various stages of film to different people. Why? – Because each person will be required to put in less but more highly concentrated time into their part of the project.
Here’s a hypothetical. Let’s say you are the director/team captain. You have one writer (or a couple of writers). Once you pick your genre on Friday, you discuss the story with the writers and let them go off and bang away at a keyboard until they are satisfied with the script. They may take all Friday night to write and revise. Saturday morning rolls around, the writers go to bed and sleep while your Production team (who are fresh and ready to go) shoot the script. After a long shoot day, the production team hands off the footage to the Postproduction team (who are also fresh and ready to go). It’s late Saturday night, but the editor (who hasn’t been on set or writing) is able to work late into the night because he/she is hasn’t been toiling on set.
In this way the team members are contributing less time but you can overlap their efforts to get the most out of your 48 hours.
You’re job as a director/team captain is to coordinate the teams so they work and communicate with each other efficiently. And this means having CLEAN AND EFFECTIVE NOTES especially between Production and Post-production.
Tip 3: Get some Sleep
On Friday night, you get your genre and you’re pumped and ready to go. “How can I possibly sleep right now” you ask yourself… well you’ll find out real soon on Saturday night when your body gives out and you collapse into a deep slumber. I’ve seen it happen to teammates on two separate occasions.
Nothing good comes from a lack of sleep. You just become less creative, slower, and more irritable – all very bad things to happen on a 48 hour project.
Do whatever it takes to sleep on Friday night. You’ll need the energy if you want to make it through production. If you must, you can pull an all nighter once production is over but try to put in a few hours of shut eye. Everything about the project will be better for it.
To maximize the amount of rest, go back and see Tip 2.
Tip 4: Write with a Quick Production in Mind
This is a tip that can be a bit hard to understand for the inexperienced writer. There are a lot of shortcuts to telling a story that may require less production in other ways.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Use as few locations as possible: nothing slows down a production more than a company move – this is where you movie you cast and crew to a new location. Avoid these at all costs and tell a story that happens in one or two locations
Avoid special effects shots whenever possible: One or two scenes with a special effect can add some excitement to your film, otherwise avoid them unless absolutely needed.
Voice Overs save time: Yeah, it’s considered a story telling crutch, but what do you think you’re making here? Voice overs can help you establish story and exposition without a lot of on-set effort.
Avoid excessively long scenes and long monologues: Your actors will thank you.
A lot of times, less is more: I’ll leave it at that.
Try to tell “smaller stories”: Its okay if you pull the superhero genre and you have to have a bad guy bent on blowing up the world – but bring it down to a personal level. Maybe he wants to blow up the world because he didn’t get any presents on his birthday. Keep the stories smaller and they’ll translate better on screen.
Don’t sweat the line and prop: it’s generally pretty easy to slip it into whatever you’re making. If you can make your film all about the line/prop – go ahead, otherwise just make sure it’s in there so you can prove that you made it during the 48 hours.
Tip 5: Don’t be afraid of a little Comedy
Even if you pull Drama, a little bit of comedy will help the medicine go down.
Of course that’s my directorial style coming through…
But let me set up the screening scenario for you: There are usually about 10 films being shown. Depending on where you live, between 50% -90% of those films are going to blow chunks. I mean really bad. A couple of them may be utterly unwatchable.
And since everybody in the audience is a “filmmaker” – they’ll all be judging you on every level while being fantastically insecure about their own film.
So in short, there’s a lot of pent up tension in the room. And when there’s that kind of tension, the natural reaction often is to laugh often at the slightest provocation. The really bad films will get quite a few unwanted laughs.
If you can harness that nervous energy with some light hearted humorous moments in your film, you’ll disarm the audience and “trick” them into following your story instead of trying to determine exactly what brand of camera you shot with.
Besides, everyone is there to have a bit of fun. Watching dreary film one after the other gets on your nerves and a little light hearted fun can be welcomed.
Tip 6: Manage your Set
How you handle your set depends on a variety of factors including what type of script you’re shooting and what kind of equipment you have – experience will guide how you run a set. Here a few things to think about:
The first shot will take the longest: Actors need to get into makeup and costume, the camera needs to be set up, the lighting needs to be put together, people need to get used to working with each other. Whatever you decide to make your first shot, keep this in mind and don’t set up unrealistic expectations.
Let people know what’s happening now and what’s happening next.
Keep you cast and crew together as much as possible. Even though an actor is not needed in this particular scene, having her nearby means we won’t have to waste time finding out where she went when we’re ready to shoot her scene.
Shoot Multicamera if you can: The last project I did, we shot two Canon 5ds. This saved a great deal of time and provided the editor with a lot more creative choices in the cut. Whether you shoot opposing angles or same angle with different compositions (medium and close up for example) – you will save a great deal of time shooting with more than one camera.
Keep a finger on the mood of crew: Do they need a break? Are they getting grumpy? With such a tight time crunch, on set tempers can become an issue. Strive to keep everybody in a good relaxed mood and never ever lose your cool.
NEVER SKIP A MEAL BREAK – seriously don’t ever. These people aren’t getting paid, at least let them eat.
NEVER SERVE PIZZA AT A MEAL. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a slice of pepperoni. But pizza is both high in fat and carbs – which means your cast and crew will be groggy and slow after the meal. Save pizza for the wrap party. Instead, serve light protein and carbs – sandwiches, salads, pastas, kabobs… This will keep people peppier after the meal.
Have a lot of sugary sodas and alternative drinks on set: I never inhaled a Coke like I do when running around on set. I know it’s bad for me, but it can be the only thing keeping me on my feet. Not everybody is like that (or needs to fly a camera stabilizer for 10 minutes at a time) so have other options available.
Production is a social event: The work is being done between “action” and “cut”. Outside of that, people are there to have fun and mingle. The best time for group bonding is when everyone sits down and breaks bread. Coming out of this party mode and back into work mode can be a challenge once you get back into it, it will be a tighter and stronger team. You don’t want to schedule an extremely hard scene right after a meal, but you can use your meal time to build intra-team relationships that may be required to pull off a big tough scene.
Tip 7: Have Fun
This sounds like one of those B.S. tips that an author tags on to fill out the list – but I assure you this one is the most important one.
First of all, no one gets discovered or famous from their 48 hour film project (don’t believe me? Name one… I’ll wait as you Google it). So immediately get those dreams of fame and fortune out of your head. Remove the thoughts of winning awards too… you don’t need those anyway and they don’t mean jack.
And get rid of the idea of making something “great” – I’ve seen a lot of 48 hour films and they all have to be qualified as being “created in 48 hours” so that you ignore their shortcomings. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good films being made, but they don’t hold a candle to the short films where the writer spent months crafting a script and the director studied it closely and crafted it perfectly.
You are doing the 48 hour project because… wait… why are you doing this again?
To make a film… in 48 hours… to just say you did it and have fun doing it. That’s got to be your only reason.
The root of all 48 hour disasters is taking this thing far too seriously. If you want to make a great short film, go and make it but spend more than 48 hours on it.
The 48 hour film project is just an excuse to make a film and be done with it in one weekend. If you or someone on your team starts getting frustrated over something – defuse it immediately. Laugh it off. Nothing in the film is so important to get upset over.
In other words, don’t be a dick.
So seriously, just have fun. Make a movie, and then post it in our forum for all to see!