How to make a movie in two days
by Chris Agos, September 2013
I don't know about you, but the thought of coming up with an idea for a film, scripting it, shooting, editing and finishing it gets my heart racing. It sounds awesome. But doing it all in two days? That just sounds crazy. And yet that's exactly what I did on a recent weekend when I joined a team of filmmakers who were competing in the 48 Hour Film Project, a highly organized film race that takes place in over 125 cities around the globe.
I first heard of the 48HFP a few years ago, when Mitch Apley, a director I had worked with in the past, asked me to join his team. In film races, some teams consist of a few friends who like to make movies with handycams in their spare time. Mitch doesn't do it that way. He assembles a team that means business. Over a dozen film professionals had signed on to shoot, edit and do post. These were people who made their living producing award-winning media for very well known brands.
The concept of the festival is deceptively simple: make a movie in two days. Mitch explained that all the teams would assemble at the festival's launch event at 7:00 PM on a Friday where they would be given a list of required elements for their film. They then had until 7:00 PM the following Sunday to turn in a completed movie that incorporates all of those elements. The plot could be about anything, so long as it used the required line of dialogue, prop, character name and occupation. Teams randomly pulled genres: romantic comedy, horror, buddy film, or any number of other more obscure (and frightening) genres like silent film, western or operetta.
As a Chicago-based actor, my work usually centers around commercials and corporate videos with a little episodic TV sprinkled in for good measure. So the idea of working on a movie appealed to me, but that year I was booked on the weekend in question. In 2012 Mitch approached me again, and I joined the team as an actor. We pulled mystery/thriller, our prop was a stapler and our line of dialogue was, "That's one way of doing it." The team brainstormed ideas on Friday night, started shooting at 9:00 on Saturday morning, and by midnight we had a rough cut. Sunday was devoted to post, and the film was turned in at 6:30 that night, a full half hour before the deadline.
Our film, Module 47, won Best Film in the Chicago competition that year. As a city winner we were invited to the international competition in Los Angeles, where our movie was screened and judged against the other winners.
The film held up pretty well, but we ultimately didn't place in the top ten. The team from Paris took home the Best Film award with Jacques Serres, winning a cash prize and a screening at Cannes, and deservedly so. What they did in 48 hours was, simply put, amazingly perfect.
But that was last year.
This year, we planned on upping our game with the intention of winning not just the Chicago competition, but doing better internationally. Our strategy involved enlisting the help of a Chicago-based visual effects house, and assembling a pool of 20 SAG actors from which to cast. We brought back key team members from 2012, and added some new faces. On Friday night, we were ready. The team's department heads gathered at the offices of a large Chicago ad agency, and we anxiously awaited our required elements.
We sent two people to the launch event, and they kept in touch with us via FaceTime as the announcements came. One by one, we discovered what we'd be required to work with: a remote control, a chemist named Michael or Michelle Madigan, and the line of dialogue, "Why didn't I think of that?" Finally, it was time to pull our genre. Fantasy.
Fantasy? What exactly is fantasy? Someone said "Do we know anyone with a unicorn?" A few references were tossed around. Harry Potter, Lord Of The Rings. Finally we turned to Wikipedia: Fantasy films are those with fantastical themes, often involving magic, supernatural events, make-believe creatures or exotic worlds. Right away, the visual effects guys knew they'd be working on Sunday. A lot.
We broke into small groups and took thirty minutes to brainstorm, after which each group presented their best ideas to the whole team. After listening to all the pitches, we took a vote. Two concepts came forward as favorites. One was a sweet little human interest story that appealed to the group because of its potential to tug at heartstrings. Another was a fun, action packed race to the finish. Ultimately the group chose to go with the story that would be more entertaining to watch and lent itself in a stronger way to the fantasy genre.
We began fleshing out the details of the story and eventually had a rough outline for a script. Our writer left the room to begin scripting in earnest and our location manager made calls to secure the places we'd need and release those we didn't. This year I was casting the film in addition to acting in it. I pulled out all the headshots and started thinking about who would work best in what role. Flexibility is a must on a shoot like this, and some of the actors had scheduling conflicts for certain times on Saturday, so we automatically eliminated anyone who wasn't available to shoot all day. We pulled from the remaining actors and ran the cast by Mitch, who was working on a tentative shot list. With the cast approved, actors were contacted with location information and call times. Around midnight, everyone went home to get some sleep, except our writer. He spent most of the night refining the script.
NEXT: PART II
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