Taken aback by that crazy-looking dude wielding a big knife in your neighbor’s backyard last weekend? Don’t be: It was probably just one of the 56 area teams that took part in 48 Hour Film Project, a celebration of creative smarts and Red Bull that rewards those who survive its weekend of filmmaking mayhem.
The grassroots project is the antithesis to bloated, big-budget commercial fare like Michael Bay’s Transformers: The Revenge of the Fallen. While Bay and his ilk often spend mountains of money and shoot miles of film on sequences that might not even make the final cut of a movie, 48’s filmmakers have to take advantage of every minute and creative resource at their disposal.
“The best part about it is that it proves that you really can accomplish making a movie in an extremely minimal amount of time and on a ridiculously low-to-nonexistent budget,” says Aileen McGrath, whose first 48 film, a lesbian western called Whiskey Pistolera, was a part of the 2008 project.
McGrath’s Dead Trend Productions, which also includes her co-director/co-writer Aaron Tyree and a host of dedicated actors and crewmembers, wrapped up its 2009 effort last weekend. McGrath describes the film, titled A Wake, as “four siblings who come together to bury their father and in the process confront secrets left behind, meet unexpected mourners and try to come to terms with the danger of cutlery.”
“Something about having such an insanely short deadline makes you more productive than you ever think you can be,” McGrath says. “It proves to you that you really could be doing shit like this a lot throughout the regular year if you just got off your ass and actually did it.”
That’s exactly the empowering attitude 48’s creators hoped to generate when they founded the project in 2001. The brainchild of a pair of independent film producers in Washington, D.C., the project has now spread to 82 cities (54 of which are in the U.S.) on four continents.
The premise is simple: Filmmaking teams have 48 hours (7 p.m. Friday to 7 p.m. Sunday) to make a short film four to seven minutes in length. In addition, each team must include the use of the same prop, character name and line of dialogue.
In most cities the finished films — which range from sub-par to sublime in every way imaginable — are then shown to an audience within a week of their creation.
Ah, the beauty of DIY filmmaking: no marketing meetings, test screenings, budgetary issues, delayed openings or meddling executives — just 48 hours of sweat and creativity. And the experience is only heightened by the fact that none of the participating teams know the exact requirements until minutes before they can start the filmmaking process.
“We ended up with family film as our genre, which propelled the initial worry that it would need to be all family friendly and Disney-esque, which I’m fairly confident I have no interest in ever doing,” McGrath says. “As it turned out, it just had to involve a family, so no problemo. That being said, we felt that we needed to tell a real story with distinct character attributes, albeit in a dry and demented, comical way.”
As if the satisfaction of having your freshly minted film screen in front of an eager audience isn’t enough, 48 also offers up various prizes, culminating with the crowning of “Best Picture.” Each local winner then screens at the national 48 Hour Film Project gathering a few months later, with the possibility that it could eventually make its way to the Cannes Film Festival. Yes, the fancy one in France.
In fact, the last two years have seen a Cincinnati film make its way to the most prestigious festival in the world: Mirepoix Pictures’ Held in Sway screened in 2008, and Pizza Infinity’s Robot Love from Another Planet screened this year.
Kendall Bruns, co-director/co-writer of Robot Love with Josh Flowers, accompanied his film to Cannes, which was both surreal and empowering.
“It was an experience that reinforced my belief that anything is possible if you don’t limit your ambitions, and at the same time it reminded me that it’s always a struggle no matter what level you’re operating at,” Bruns says.
Bruns, who set aside his filmmaker’s hat this year to act in Dead Trend’s A Wake, isn’t surprised that the Cincinnati project has yielded such strong films — even if they never get a whiff of Cannes.
“Amateurs and professionals alike are eager to contribute their time and energy purely for the sake of creating something to be proud of,” he says. “The quality of films here is very high and seems to improve every year as the bar gets set higher. We’re inspiring each other to be more ambitious. I think organizations like SOFA (Southern Ohio Filmmakers Association) and Underneath Cincinnati have helped local filmmakers network and given them a platform to share their accomplishments, which is invaluable.”
Christian Appleby, organizer of this year’s Cincinnati project and program director at Media Bridges, agrees that the area is a hotbed of creative talent.
“I think we just have a ton of talented people in this town — talented behind and in front of the camera,” Appleby says. “There are more production professionals working in this community than most people realize. They work on national shows, Proctor & Gamble ads and more. There are also a number of excellent schools such as UC, NKU or even Media Bridges, where I work.”
Amid a commercial movie climate that’s becoming more generic by the minute, the 48 Hour Film Project is a richly rewarding creative outlet. Add in the fact that production costs have gone down due to the availability of digital cameras, computer editing and other logistically conducive developments (like lightweight equipment, which allows greater flexibility to shoot on location), and DIY filmmaking is easier and more efficient than ever.
“It’s equal parts exciting and intimidating,” McGrath says of the 48 Hour experience. “It’s awesome to see something that you literally just created in the meager and ridiculously hectic, Red Bull-fueled weekend prior up on the screen in front of a bunch of competitors and friends a week later. However, then you start wondering if people are going to notice all the flaws, enjoy the story and/or understand the humor in the parts that you think are hilarious.”
Entries in this year's 48 HOUR FILM PROJECT will be screened from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday at The Carnegie in Covington. Find details here.
Check out Emily Maxwell's multimedia show on last weekend's shoots.