48 Hour Film Project challenges local filmmakers

Pressure’s on: Turn in your film even 15 minutes late, and your entire weekend’s worth of work is disqualified. Photo by Erica Mueller, courtesy of John Herman and the team of last year’s “Yardbird.”

There’s drama in the 48-Hour Film Project. It’s not just within the short films themselves, completed by the teams who write, shoot, score and edit them in just two days. Plenty of real-life drama also unfolds as teams rush to make a film from scratch — each having to incorporate the same character, same line of dialogue and same prop, along with a surprise genre, all doled out at the start of the weekend.

Anne Slatton, veteran participant of 48HFP and leader of Team UNCA, describes the “crazy drama” these constraints create. For example, if a film is submitted even 15 minutes late, the team is disqualified. “A couple of years ago we had a girl who’d broken her ankle the week before the competition,” Slatton says. “We’re pulling up with two minutes to spare and she tumbles out of the still-moving van, on her crutches, to run the film in.”

Such exuberance explains how Slatton led her team to victory last year, scooping up a Best Film Award in Asheville that entered her team’s film “The First Apple” into the culminating event of the 48HFP Tour: Filmapalooza. Since 2001, winning teams from more than 96 countries have gathered to compete for awards ranging from Best Director to Best Use of Prop to the crowning achievement of Best Film. And 10 of the best films from the tour will be screened at the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner in 2013.

Slatton’s winning moment last year is also screen-worthy. “I was getting up to leave, thinking I would beat the traffic out [of the venue where the winners were being announced]. I was actually grabbing my purse when they announced it. It was a total shock,” she says. Though unexpected, Team UNCA earned its laurels through four summers of tough competition.

A professor of film at UNCA since 2005, Slatton relishes the opportunity to gather students and alums each year to put their academic work into practice. 48HFP has proved an ideal arena for her students to hash out the technical skills that will serve them in later years, and to produce a complete project.

“It’s a huge adrenaline rush,” she explains, and recounts several light bulb moments that had only switched on for her team in the intense charge generated by two days of nonstop, real-time practice.

But the project is more than just a catalyst for film students. The inclusive dynamic keeps her coming back every year. “Teams can be everyone from a grandmother and her grandson to professional production companies,” she says.

Bruce Sales, who’s produced the event for the past two years, shares Slatton’s enthusiasm for the variety of teams the project attracts. “There’s a lot of people who want to make a film,” he says. “And this gives them the chance to go out and dig in.” 

There’s a “methodical” team leader who, for the rest of year, is a part-time sheriff in Canton. There’s a young man who completed his film alone last year — and won the award for Best Cinematography as a first-time competitor. Both Slatton and Sales agree that the Project provides a unique opportunity for diverse talents to mingle in a community of filmmakers that is far-flung the rest of the year.

Sales knows firsthand about challenging time limits. Last year he took over the role of producer only a week before the Friday night kickoff. A sponsor since 2007, Sales attributes his success as producer to the trial-by-fire quality he’s seen inspire competitors. His advice for new and returning participants echoes his own experiences: “It’s more fun if you don’t know. Just wing it.”

There’s a lot of this sheer fun to be had. One year, having picked out a “Holiday Story” genre, Slatton’s team capitalized on a record wave of cicadas swarming Asheville to create a B-movie horror film that used the local plague to depict a Halloween gone awry. Slatton knows her students won’t soon forget slathering themselves with bloody stage makeup and battling the hordes of insects with gusto. She’s convinced of the value offered by the artistic heights brought out in a challenging situation. “It’s a great way to prove you can do it,” she says.

Sales expresses his pleasure and astonishment at the ever-increasing quality of the work — from screenwriting to scoring to editing — produced by local filmmakers during the weekend’s frenzy, saying, “It just keeps getting better and better.” Public screenings of the completed films run at the Asheville Brewing Company the week following the competition.

He considers opportunity itself to be the greatest boon the project offers to aspiring filmmakers. “Everyone wants to do great work,” Sales says. The 48-Hour Film Project gives Asheville’s amateur and professional filmmakers a whirlwind chance to do just that.

what: 48 Hour Film Project
where: Asheville Brewing Company (Competition: Coxe Avenue; Screening: Merrimon Avenue)
when: Competition: Friday, June 22 through Sunday, June 24 (Kickoff 5:30 p.m. Friday, June 22. Dropoff 7:30 p.m. Sunda, June 24. 48hourfilm.com/asheville)

Screenings: Tuesday, June 26, Wednesday June 27 (4 p.m, 7 p.m., 10 p.m. Price TBD. ashevillebrewing.com)

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