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Freedom and Frustration

Freedom and Frustration

Articles - Festival Beat

48-Hour Film Project

How long does it take to complete the making
of a certain film? The answer, of course, differs from director
to director. For some,
crafting a script, assembling a cast and crew, shooting, editing
and exhibiting can take just a few months. For others, the process
takes several years. But for participants in Mark Ruppert’s 48
Hour Film Project, the name says it all: the film must be completed
in just two days!

Entering into its third year, the 48 Hour Film
Project has invaded more than a dozen cities worldwide-beginning in our nation’s capital
and traveling as far overseas as Auckland, New Zealand and London,
England. Now, with the National Film Challenge, you can be a moviemaker
anywhere and participate. Here, Ruppert discusses the Project’s
genesis and why such a short time span is freeing and frustrating
all at once.

Jennifer Wood (MM): As evidenced
by the number of like-minded events that have popped up over
the last few years, the type
of film event you’ve created seems like a logical next step in
the progression of the “film festival” model.  Moviemakers are
given just a couple of ideas to create, shoot, edit and screen
a movie. How did this idea first strike you?

Mark Ruppert (MR): It was after I had read about the 24-hour
play in New York. I just really loved that concept and thought
it would lend itself to film and video. But I knew that we would
need more time, so we doubled it to 48 hours and got working.

MM: What made you think that such an idea could and
would catch on with moviemakers?

MR: It appealed to me as a filmmaker and the very
first time that we did this, I put my own team together. I got
a couple of fellow filmmakers to agree to put teams together and
the next thing we knew there was a total of 10 of us who were willing
to do it and it was a phenomenal success. When I thought about
it, I had no idea whether the films would even be watchable, being
made in that short a timeframe. And the amazing thing was that
every single film that first time out was good!

MM: When and where was the first event?

MR: The first one was in D.C. in May of 2001.

MM: What made you decide to branch out and not keep
it just a local, D.C. event?

MR: We got such a phenomenal response
in D.C-we went from
10 teams to 15 teams to 36 teams-and we knew that we really had
something that resonated with filmmakers. So the next logical step
was to take it to some other cities.

MM: In most cases, are the participating moviemakers
in each city local, or are they traveling from all over to take

MR: It’s primarily people who are located
in our host city, but we do have travelers. We had a team from
Miami go to New York,
we had a team from New York go to Boston.

MM: Can you explain the process of how these teams are
put together? Is it just one moviemaker who signs up and assembles
his or her own team?

MR: Exactly. Ever team leader or filmmaker
is responsible for putting together his or her own team and getting
all the equipment;
they’re basically responsible for every facet of production. We
then provide the rules, the screenings and the prizes.

We come in at the kickoff event on Friday night
and it’s here
where you can really feel the excitement and anticipation in the
room. It’s here that each team draws its genre for its film out
of a hat. Then we draw a prop, a character and a line of dialogue
that must appear in each of the films from that city.

48 Hour Film Project Award Winners
The "Boondogglers of Atlanta" happily
accept the 48 Hour Film Project’s grand prize for their film, White Bitch Down.

MM: And then they just go from there?

MR: At 7:00 p.m., they’re out the door
and we see them two days later.

MM: Do they have any other information before then,
like location, or should they be scouting that ahead of time?

MR: Right, they take care of all that stuff. Locations
are totally up to them. Some of the stuff they can do ahead of
time are scout locations or even get permits if they think they
want to shoot in one place; they can certainly recruit their cast
and crew and get a lot of their equipment together.

MM: Then how do you go about choosing participants.
Is it just if you want to take part you can, or is there an application

MR: Well, because we guarantee a screening
to each of the teams, we do have to limit the number of total
participating teams
in each city. We’ve done as many as 48 teams in a city, but typically
we’ll do between 24 and 48 teams.

The way that it works is that teams send in their entry form and
we have a limited number of spots that re available on a first
come, first served basis.

MM: Are most of the participants beginners, or more
experienced moviemakers?

MR: We tend to have more people who
are in the profession than complete novices, but we do have both.
We have students participate,
too, but not that many. A lot of people assume that it’s mostly
students when really it’s mostly people who work in the profession.

MM: What do you think it is that appeals to professionals
about the opportunity, who are already doing this in some aspect
for a living?

MR: What’s appealing about it is its shortness. They know
that they don’t have to spend six months working on a project.
Oftentimes we’ll find people who’ve recruited their team from among
friends and people they work with and they don’t have any trouble
finding teammates because they’re only asking for a maximum two-day

Also the time limit, even though it’s a significant hindrance,
is actually very freeing because filmmakers don’t have enough time
to worry about the perfect line or whether they got the shot just
perfectly or whether that actor is available this weekend. As soon
as 7 o’clock rolls around they just have to start creating and
make something happen!

MM: What sort of technology are you-and your participants-using
to make this happen in such a short period of time?

MR: Certainly this whole thing would not have been possible
even five years ago without a non-linear editing system; computer
editing has basically made this do-able. Combine that with the
digital cameras that are now available, and available at a reasonable
price, and quite a few people have their own equipment and can
do their own thing.

MM: Speaking of editing, do participants make all of
their own post-production arrangements ahead of time as well,
or do you have editing suites, etc. available to them?

MR: No, that is something they take care of as well.

MM: How is the winning team selected?

MR: We do a couple of things. The first
thing is we have audience award winners; we have our audience
vote at each of the
screenings. Then we have a panel of local judges select the best
film from that city. We’re excited because this year we’re taking
those best 11 films, and they’re all going to screen at South by
Southwest in March. And there we will announce the national
judges’ decision and the best 48 Hour Film of 2003.

MM: What are the prizes? Do they differ at each event?

MR: The prizes vary from city to city
as we continue to look for the appropriate sponsor for the entire
project, which
we currently don’t have. Every city winner receives a trophy and
the screening at South by Southwest, which is basically the prize.

MM: Film festivals are typically an audience-oriented
event, whereas this seems to be much more moviemaker-oriented.
But you do screen the films, so how do you market that aspect?

MR: Most of the people attending are somehow related to
the filmmakers.

MM: So it is more moviemaker-oriented than audience?

MR: Yes. At least the initial event
in each city. Then we’ve also been able to partner with some of the local film festivals.
After we did the Philadelphia Project, we brought the “Best of
Philadelphia” to the Philadelphia Film Festival and there we had
an audience of 1,300 people. In Atlanta we were part of the Atlanta
Film Festival. In Auckland, New Zealand, for their “Best Of” screening
they had 2,100 people. So it does spread beyond the filmmakers
once we do our “Best Of” screenings.

MM: After your last Washington, D.C.
event, we received a number of letters from people who had
participated, or attended,
requesting to either write about the experience or telling us
that we should make a story out of it. It really shows that what
you’re doing is working, and getting people excited.

MR: One of the side benefits has been
that, in many of the cities, the film community gets energized.
You see a lot of
filmmakers discovering people whom they’ve never worked with but
now want to work with and it gets so many people making films,
which is what it’s all about.

MM: You have recently also developed the National Film
Challenge, which seems a logical outgrowth of the 48 Hour Film
Project. Can you talk a little bit about exactly what this is
and why you felt that now was the time to take on yet another

MR: The issue that we’ve faced is that we can only accommodate
a certain amount of filmmakers in each city and we can only go
to a certain number of cities. We heard from filmmakers all across
the country who couldn’t participate, so we decided to create the
National Film Challenge, which is a one-weekend competition where
any filmmaker anywhere can compete. They’ll actually have
longer than 48 hours-they’ll have until Monday to send us their
film. So it’s not a true 48 Hour Film Project, but it is
a weekend film competition and we’re excited to see what that brings.

It will start off with an e-mail on Friday
night and it’s basically
the same rules: participants will receive a genre, a character,
a prop and a line of dialogue and go from there. So far we have
85 teams signed up for the first year and we’re very excited about

MM: So they’ll just Fed Ex or mail
the films to you and then what happens from there? Where do
you screen those films
and how long is the judging process?

MR: Well, the big challenge, of course,
is getting so many films judged and it’s something that many film festivals face when
they get hundreds of entries-they must be judged. So we have our
panels of judges that will be screening each and every one of the
films and will be judging the best. From there, we’re going to
put the 10 best out on a DVD and the one grand prize winner will
also be screened at South by Southwest

MM: So what other new developments can we expect to
see from the 48 Hour Film Project in the next year?

MR: We have signed an agreement with
a Danish company that is going to produce the 48 Hour Film Project
in Copenhagen, Berlin
and Dublin in 2004. We’d like to add some more U.S. cities; we
don’t have specific targets beyond the 10 U.S. cities we did this
year, but we’re looking.

For more information on the 48 Film Project, visit

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