I have once more—along with Brenda Lily and newcomer Christopher Manheim—survived another year of judging the results of the 48 Hour Film Project. I don’t want to give the impression that this is a terrible bit of drudgery. It’s a walk in the park—or at least a comfy sit in the screening room—compared to actually getting out there and making a movie from top to bottom in 48 hours. It is, nonetheless, a bit daunting to sit through the entire set of contenders in one day. In some ways, it was even more so this year, because there wasn’t such an obvious, clear-cut overall winner.
At first I was of the opinion that this year’s crop was a little less grand than last year’s simply because we kept running movies and nothing was leaping out at me. Then I realized that this was the result of the general level of quality being that much higher. Face facts: You expect a certain number of less-than-glorious entries in any film competition. When you’re looking at a timed competition with some pretty strict rules, that prospect increases dramatically. But this year that wasn’t the case.
I’m not saying that every film was great. What I am saying is that there weren’t any entries that had everyone turning to each other at the end and asking, “What the hell was that?” When that factor goes out the window, the matter of choosing the best of the lot becomes much more complicated. It also allowed for a broader range of winners this year.
We were asked to pick the best overall film, as well as winners in the categories of direction, writing, acting, editing, cinematography, sound design, use of character, use of prop, use of line, and—if they applied—best graphics, special effects, musical score, choreography and costumes. Those final categories are wholly dependent on whether or not any of the films entered made particularly notable use of those aspects of filmmaking. Put simply, if there aren’t any dance numbers or fight sequences, there’s nothing to give a choreography award to.
To brush up a bit on some of the awards and requirements, it should be noted that the films can be no more than seven minutes long, plus up to one minute of credits (that actually became an issue this year). They also have to be turned in on time. They need to have adhered to their assigned genres, and the filmmakers have to incorporate a specific character, line of dialogue and prop that is given to them at the start of the competition.
Far and away the funniest film this year was Forfeit from Strawboss Labs. Unfortunately, they’d drawn the genre of “historical fiction,” which is probably the worst possible thing that could happen to anyone working on no budget. But it turned out to be both the best and worst thing that could have happened to these filmmakers. It was best in that they used the fact that they thought their genre sucked as the basic underpinning of the film they produced. It was worst because—despite the filmmakers tentatively sticking their toes in several very funny halfhearted attempts at historical fiction—it was impossible to make a serious claim that they’d adhered to their assigned genre. The upshot? We invented the category (which is permissible) of Best Subversion of Genre. They won hands down.
The remarkably stylish Tear of the Beest from Broken Burrito Productions was little short of amazing. There was no question that it was the best directed of the entries, which award it took, along with the award for best use of the line of dialogue (“Is that all you’ve got to say?”). What made the line business especially noteworthy was that the film took issue with its use of English! Unfortunately, the filmmakers went long on their credits. While the film fit snugly—almost exactly, in fact—into the seven-minute slot, the credits ran 40 seconds too long, effectively disqualifying it from the top prize.
The work that did take Best Overall Film was Blue Ridge Community College’s Serial Love, a rather bloodthirsty black comedy that was done with a good deal of style itself. Few films done this quickly make especially good use of sound. This one not only did, but it also used the combination of sound and image for one of its best gags. The film also garnered the Best Credits nod for its very clever end credits (OK, so they were probably inspired by the ones on Don Mancini’s Seed of Chucky, but they did take the concept to a new level.)
The runner-up film, Chelsea Raynal and the Secret of the Poison Crop Caper, came from last year’s big winners (for Cosmo of 1932), We Make Pictures Move. Once again, they came up with a clever and well-made production that just barely missed the big prize—from my perspective at least—by being a little too enamored of green-screen work. Still, that same work is what nabbed them the special-effects prize. And they also took Best Use of Prop (an ashtray). Not too shabby, that’s for sure. If there’d been a prize for most unwieldy title, they’d have walked off with that, too.
Other winners were Mobius Loop for Best Costumes and Writing; Gangsta Daydreams for Best Song (a pretty big year for songs); Hallow’s Eve: Night of the Cicadas for Best Sound Design; Divided Highway for Best Editing; and Quantum Type for Best Cinematography. Zach Blew (Smoke Break) and Kaley McCormack (Chelsea Raynal and the Secret of the Poison Crop Caper) took Best Actor and Best Actress respectively.
All in all, it was a great year for the competition and I look forward to next year—whether I’m a judge again or not.