The big picture

It almost sounds like a film-school student’s nightmare: Create, from script to screen, an entire short film in 48 hours. That means everything—all the writing, the casting, the rehearsing, the acting, the filming, the editing, the post-production voice work and scoring—must be done at a hellish pace against ever-increasing fatigue.

Team Smokey, last year’s 48 Hour Film Project winner

Oh, and you’ll be judged on it, too.

But for many filmmakers across the country, this daunting marathon of movie magic known as the 48 Hour Film Project is the definition of a great weekend.

“Deadlines are a really wonderful inspiration,” says Denise Kiernan, who is producing this year’s 48 HFP in Asheville. “One of the best things about this competition is that is really forces you to make a complete original film. A lot of people have a movie that they’d like to make, but they never get around to it. In this contest, you really just have to make it happen.”

This is the project’s third year in Asheville, and some 41 teams from as far away as Bristol, Tenn., and Raleigh will be coming into the area to take part in the competition. (Originally, the number of teams was limited to 36 by the national 48 HFP office in D.C., but this restriction was recently lifted due to the overwhelming demand.) This level of interest is unusual for an area without much in the way of film or television infrastructure—particularly when you consider that a noted film city like Philadelphia is only fielding 44 teams this year.

No matter where you’re based, though, the process is almost intimidatingly elementary.

“They choose a genre out of a hat,” says Kiernan.

Teams will, she explains, be “partially judged on how they adhere to that genre. Then, moments before the clock starts ticking, all the teams are given the same character, prop and line of dialogue that have to be incorporated into their film.”

These seemingly random elements actually serve an important role in the contest, preventing teams from planning any significant elements of their short films—which must also be no shorter than 4 minutes and no longer than 7—before the contest starts. As a side effect, they also give an insight into the flexibility of the medium, with all filmmakers turning the same ingredients into vastly different cinematic recipes.

As Kiernan explains, “If your team pulls the horror genre of out the hat, and someone else’s team pulls romantic comedy, both teams will be still be using those same elements in their film.”

What do local Lucas-and-Spielberg wannabes get for all their trouble? Creative street cred, for a start. And then there are the prizes, which (although not entirely ironed-out as of this writing) will include trophies and items from local sponsors. Winners from the Asheville contest will have their films compete against the films of other cities in the national finals, for a $7500 grand prize.

But, according to Kiernan, none of that has much to do with why people compete. The real prize, she hints, is something much more primal to the cinemaphile’s soul. “You get your films screened on a big screen, and that’s not a small thing.”

Although she was specifically talking about the official screenings at Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company, which allow the filmmakers to see each other’s work and place their votes for the winning film, it turns out there’s an even better big-screen prize. One of this year’s sponsors is the Cinebarre—an upscale, first-run movie theater operated by an indie-film-loving crew—which recently announced plans to show the winning short films from the local 48HFP before all of their screenings.

“It’s great that there are places on the Internet where you can upload your movies for people to see,” says Kiernan. “But it’s a whole other ballgame to see your film in a major theater on a big screen.”

The Asheville 48 Hour Film Project begins on Friday, July 20, with a Kick-off Event at Asheville Pizza & Brewing at 7 p.m. The finished films will be screened at 4, 7 and 10 p.m. at Asheville Pizza & Brewing (675 Merrimon Ave.) Tuesday, July 24 through Thursday, July 26. The awards ceremony will be held at Cinebarre (located in the Biltmore Square Mall) on Monday, July 30. For more information, visit


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