Lights! Camera! Stopwatch!

Filmmakers throughout the region will soon have their chance to get their Spielberg on. (After Crystal Skull, however, perhaps an alternate model might be advisable.) The 48 Hour Film Project returns for its fourth consecutive year in Asheville (the competition itself is 8 years old), taking place during one action-packed weekend. Starting at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 20, participants have a mere two days to complete a short film by the 7:30 p.m. deadline on Sunday.

Furious creation: The 48 Hour Film Project throws down the gauntlet for local filmmakers, a surprising number of which rise to the challenge. Above, camera operator Corey Utke and director Aaron Putnam get a dramatic shot of actor Steve Gill. Photo Denise Kiernan

I asked the event’s producer, Denise Kiernan, to explain the basic ideas behind the Project.

“The 48 Hour Film Project is an international timed film competition in which filmmaking teams have 48 hours to write, shoot and edit a film,” she explains. “The twist is that these teams, on Friday night before they head out the door, draw their genre out of a hat. They’re also assigned a character, a line of dialogue and a prop that they must incorporate into their film. No matter what you draw out of the hat—whether it’s historical fiction or road movie or thriller or whatever—everybody from Asheville has the same character, line of dialogue and prop that they have to incorporate into their film.”

Last year, the character was an environmentalist named Vic (or Vickie) Putterman, the prop was an umbrella, and the line of dialogue was, “That’s not the way I heard it.” The level of creativity in these matters was often astonishing, especially as concerned the prop. Umbrellas were used as everything from an evocation of Mary Poppins to a gun to an antenna for aliens. The humble bumbershoot will never look quite the same. This year’s specialized requirements are as yet unknown, of course.

Readers who have never been bitten by the backyard-DeMille bug might find the whole appeal of a 48-hour deadline and these other requirements a little perplexing. Setting aside the fact that all filmmakers are at least a little crazy, the approach is actually both a great motivator and a little splash of the reality of professional filmmaking’s time restraints and studio stipulations. In short, it imposes a discipline on the filmmakers. It’s also challenging, quirky and fun.

The approach also forces the filmmakers to think outside the genres that might inherently appeal to them. Kiernan explains, “A big part of how these are judged is how well they adhere to their genre—otherwise you could just go out and make whatever film you want in 48 hours.”

That’s the reason that filmmakers are advised not to approach the project with too many preconceived notions. “You can tell when filmmakers have already decided what film they want to shoot before they’ve gotten their genre and character, and they’re trying to force these elements onto a story they’ve become very attached to,” Kiernan notes. “The teams need to remember that part of the challenge is to stick to their genre and to incorporate the dialogue, the character and the prop in as close and creative a manner as possible. Ideally, these elements have something to do with the film. That’s why we have those specific awards—Best Use of Prop, Best Use of Character, Best Use of Line of Dialogue.”

It’s all about creativity and using that creativity to make the film you want, while still doing right by the dictates of your genre and these other specific requirements. Old Hollywood-studio directors worked in much the same way—and that worked out pretty well for guys with names like Howard Hawks and John Ford (does anyone really think Ford chose to make the Shirley Temple vehicle Wee Willie Winkie?).

Worth noting, too, is the fact that the 48 Hour Film Project is the original timed filmmaking competition, which got its start in Washington, D.C., in 2001. Success has, of course, bred imitators, but this one is the real deal—and the biggest.

“It’s all over the world—it’s in Dubai, it’s in Tokyo, it’s in Rome, it’s in Paris, it’s all over the United States,” Kiernan remarks with a trace of pride.

The Project is certainly big here. Just before I spoke with Kiernan, she’d counted 29 teams that have already signed up. “I think we would go to 36 if we needed to. Last year, I signed someone up right after the teams had gone out the door. Even if we hit the maximum, we try to accommodate the teams wanting to sign up,” she says.

Any measure of the event’s success must take into account the number of people involved who keep coming back—the repeat offenders—and the 48 Hour Film Project scores here, too.

“There are teams who’ve done it every year,” Kiernan says. “There’s more than one team that’s done it every consecutive year. There’s a mix of people who are doing it for the first time and people who are seasoned veterans.” Last year’s big winners—for the delightful Cosmo of 1932—Aaron Putnam and his team, We Make Pictures Move, are back again.

One of the great things about the Project is that it affords the filmmakers the opportunity to actually see their films on the big screen—at Asheville Pizza and Brewing (which qualifies as the “home” of the 48 Hour Film Project). Anyone who’s ever dabbled in filmmaking knows what a rare treat that is. “All the films that are completed will get screened,” Kiernan points out. “Films that make it on time are the ones that are eligible for the judges’ prizes. All films are eligible for the audience award. So even if your film is late, we always encourage the teams to finish it and get it in because it will be screened.”

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and make a movie! Show the world that you’re the next Peter Jackson—or, if you’re less ambitious and more pugnacious, the next Uwe Boll. It doesn’t matter. The joy is in the doing and in being part of the area’s burgeoning world of filmmakers.

who: 48 Hour Film Project
what: Cinematic genius on an impossible deadline
where: Asheville Pizza and Brewing
when: Teams will film from Friday, June 20, through Sunday, June 22. Screenings will take place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, June 24, 25 and 26. Visit www.48hourfilm.com/asheville for more information.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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