Actually, I have never tried to make a movie in 48 hours, though I was on the very periphery of the Mountain Xpress’ efforts to make one the first year there was a 48 Hour Film Project in Asheville. That may also be the only year when I wasn’t a judge. I have, however, dabbled off and on in filmmaking since I was about about 9 years old, and while I did once shoot (very different from completing) a single-location 16mm short in one day, the idea of taking a film from concept to final product in 48 hours scares the living DeMille out of me.
I’m assuming that by now everyone more or less knows the concept but, briefly, it starts from the most level playing field possible with participants being given a line of dialogue, a character name and a prop that all have to be used. That part is the same for everyone. What differs — and really evens things out — is that each team is assigned a genre to work in, so if you’ve spent all year dreaming up a horror picture and you draw “musical/Western,” you’re in trouble. (Of course, there’s nothing that says you can’t make a musical/Western that isn’t also a horror picture.)
This year the genres we reviewed covered time travel/doppelganger, comedy, thriller/suspense, silent film, buddy film, heist, romance, mockumentary, dark comedy, fantasy, film de femme, film noir, sci-fi, musical/Western, drama and road movie. I thought “silent film” was a terrific idea and I don’t think it had been done before. I’d like to see more of that because, trust me, the less you let amateur actors speak, the better off you’re likely to be. On the other hand, I think “mockumentary” should be stricken from the list for all time.
Generally speaking, I was amazed by the overall quality of the entries. It was hard coming up with a clear winner, and it usually is. For me, it was a very near thing as concerned Touched by Angels (which I’m glad to see got the Audience Award in its block), Viva Vasquez and, in some ways, Get Down. That last, in particular, was a solid little film with a brave ending (and I applaud the filmmakers for it), but it didn’t quite hold together as well for the judges as the others I named. This isn’t to say that the lack of an award means a film is bad. It means it didn’t strike three judges — Marcianne Miller, James Cassara and myself — as being as good as some other entries.
Some teams were fighting an uphill battle because of genre. Some filmmakers and some genres don’t mix. One of the cleverest films one year was one that focused on people who had drawn a genre that simply defeated them and dealt with their failed attempts to make such a film. Unfortunately, clever as that was, it didn’t exactly stick to the rules. Another year, the film that would have won couldn’t because it exceeded the seven-minute running time.
I’ll be glad to discuss any of the films individually, if anyone would like to pose a question in the comments section for this article online at mountainx.com. First, however, let me offer a few generalized observations about what seems to hobble a lot of entries. One of the biggest problems are with movies that start strong and then kind of lose traction. Map your film out so that you have a clear idea where you’re going and make sure that the destination lives up to the trip. In an altogether separate area, I’d suggest to filmmakers that they don’t tackle anything too weighty. The running time is too short to support most heavy material, especially if it requires characterization. Remember that the characters have to be sketched in quickly. Also, play to your strengths. Know your team and everyone’s particular abilities in order to maximize your potential.
Regardless of whether you won anything or not, keep on filming. Keep working at it. If you enjoy it, just do it. The joy of it should be in the doing. And who knows, next year I might even join your ranks. My comrade in criticism, Justin Souther, has been badgering me with the idea that we should make a film. Right now — looking at it from a year away — that doesn’t sound like such a bad notion. Hopefully, I’ll regain my senses in that time, but maybe not.