I think every filmmaker at some point gets sucked into the 48 Hour Film Project. If you’re unfamiliar, here’s the jist of it: filmmakers pay an entrance fee and gather a cast and crew together for a weekend shoot. On Friday evening, they are given a genre, a line of dialogue, a character and a prop which must appear in the film. Then they have 48 hours to return a completed 5-7 minute short film by Sunday at a certain appointed deadline.

I myself have been involved with 5 of these filmmaking stunts: twice in a captain role and three times as a cast or crew. I will tell you right now exactly what the 48 Hour Film Project is – a fun way to network with other people who are interesting in making films and an excuse to make a film that gets screened in a theater. That is all that it is.

It is not a place to “learn filmmaking” – it is not a place to “get discovered” – it is not a place to get “your great filmmaking skills validated” – and lastly it is certainly not a place to make “great films”

And yet, I still see a lot of young filmmakers pinning dreams and hopes on the 48. My two positions in the captain role both resulted in high off-set drama because some team members (and perhaps myself as well) did not understand what the 48 was NOT. Time pressures exacerbate everything – especially interpersonal relationship. But let’s focus on the last bit of my list above: The 48 is not the place to make great films. To explain why, I’m going to rely on a now fairly cliched graphic: The Good-Fast-Cheap triangle:

The saying goes: “Good, Fast, or Cheap – Pick Two“. In the case of the 48 hour film post, “Fast” has already been selected for you. Now you’re probably working with a volunteer cast and crew and a minimal budget so you’re also stuck with “Cheap”. What does that leave out?  Good. And that’s the problem with these timed competition stunts.

At the risk of sounding like an old fogey – Films used to be hard to make. You had to properly expose a negative and send it off to a lab to get your print back and hope something didn’t go wrong. I myself was born too late to experience that but I’ve had my own share of experiences with linear editing and tape. When film was hard to make, you would be more willing to watch one that was created because of the novelty. But now the act of actually making a film is easy. Facebook is full of people making short movies all done from a smart phone.

The novelty is gone. In this sea of content out there – how do you stand out? How do you become a better filmmaker – a better story teller?  Let’s start by trying to make a good film.

Back we go to our triangle – we want GOOD.  So if we want to get Good and fast, we can’t do it cheaply. Start hiring and delegating to the best people in the industry – drop a million or two and with the right talent even a first time filmmaker will look pretty good. But this is not really an option for most of you reading (but if is an option – give me a ring)

We want Good and Cheap – so, it’s not going to be fast. And what exactly is wrong with that? Take your time and make it the best that you can. Spend 48 hours just writing the script. Spend 48 hours on just one character’s monologue. Sleep on the idea, come back with fresh eyes – craft, recraft, and craft again. Shoot the film, spend 48 hours editing it – play with cuts a frame earlier or a frame later – sleep on an edit and come back with fresh eyes and ears….  repeat for every step.

This watch was hidden for 7 years in order to make a great story.

Take your time – do it right. That’s how you learn filmmaking and eventually after you’ve made enough films, you start making some that are actually good or even great. And isn’t that what you really want to do as a filmmaker?

Now I don’t want you think I’m discouraging anyone from participating in the 48 film competition. There was a point in my life where I appreciated that opportunity to make something – anything – film related. If you don’t know anyone in your area that is interested in filmmaking, this is a great way to network. Maybe you’ll find and actor or crew member that will help you make your great non-48 hour film.

Realize that filmmaking is not a short sprint race – like every art, this is a marathon and the only competitor is former self.

If you are still interested in doing a 48 hour film – check out my 7 Pro Tips to Surviving the 48 Hour Film Project which I wrote years ago but are still relevant.

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Chris Hackett

Ive done all from 12 to 48 and once just missed the deadline for a 72 hour. I probably come up with some of my best ideas for other films while doing these. Find locations I had no idea existed and were quiet enough to just shoot.

Ive seen maybe one film win that could be its own story and have been shot on a more relaxed planned schedule. But it was done mockumentary style, but the camera moves looked great and the editor had a real eye for the genre.

Joe Dzikiewicz
As a big fan of the 48 (I just finished my dozenth or so), I beg to differ. Sure, it’s not a place to get discovered. But getting discovered is hard – and there’s plenty of other bad places to get discovered that are nevertheless worthwhile endeavors. (Putting a short in film festivals, putting a video up on the web without a really good publicity plan, etc.) And sure, you’re not going to make Citizen Kane in a weekend. But then, most of us are never going to make Citizen Kane no matter how much time we have. It is demonstrably possible to make a good short in a weekend, because many of the films made for the 48 are good shorts. (Just look at the online showcases of the winning films of each year if you doubt me. Many of them are to the standard of things that get shown on broadcast TV, even of theatrical productions that cost millions to make.) Where I have to disagree most strongly is where you say that you can’t learn filmmaking at a 48. Sure, you can’t learn everything – but I’m a huge fan of learning by doing. Recall the Mark Duplass SXSW speech of a couple years back. His big advice was get out there and make things. Sure, most of what you make at first will be crap. But the more you make, the more you learn – and you may stumble onto things that aren’t crap that you can later use in more significant ways. I’m a big believer of that advice. And I think that the 48 provides a great framework for making things quick. That deadline is marvelous – you are going to make a movie in a weekend, it will be finished. And if you pay attention, you will learn things that you can carry over into more significant projects. (And one of the most important of those is how to finish something. I know a lot of people who start a project but never finish it. Do a couple of 48s and you’ll know how to finish things, and you’ll gain the confidence that comes from having finished a film.) And don’t downplay the importance of seeing your film on the big screen with a full audience. You learn things by seeing how the audience reacts, things that you’re not going to get by just showing it to a friend or two in a small room. I recall the 48 that I did where the audience was laughing through the first half of the movie, and then the laughter stopped. Huh, I shifted the tone halfway through the film and did not continuously escalate the things that were special about the film. I guess I shouldn’t do that. Yes, I could have learned that some other way, but learning it from the audience reaction made it stick. And it only took me a weekend’s effort to learn that lesson. (I’d have been quite sad… Read more »

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