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48 Hours or Bust - Filmmakers Vie in Extreme Contest


The 48-Hour Film Project contest gives local filmmakers a chance to showcase their creativity and talent by producing a short film in only two days. Since its start in 2001, the contest has grown from just a few teams participating in Washington, D.C., to locations across the country and now the world. VOA's Brent Hurd reports on what has been called "one of the most intense film schools on the planet."

Imagine if you only had two days to write, film and produce a short film from scratch.

That is exactly what more than 1,000 film teams will be facing this year in 58 cities across five continents.

Mark Ruppert is the creator of the 48-Hour Film Project. "Back in the late 90s, I read an article about two of the women who started the 24-hour play competition, and I thought this would be fantastic for video,” he explains. “I knew, however, that we needed more time, so the idea of 48 hours came to me."

In May 2001, he enlisted local filmmakers in Washington to try out the experiment. In a matter of years, the 48-hour film concept has spread around the world.

Ruppert says one of the reasons for its popularity is the recent filmmaking boom. With technology less expensive and readily available, more people are breaking into filmmaking then ever before.

The contest is simple – teams attend a launch ceremony where they draw a film genre from a hat. Until then, they have no idea the kind of film they will produce. Before the contest begins, the only elements that filmmakers can plan are film locations and teams.

Kelley Slagle is a computer programmer by day and a burgeoning actress by night. She has also directed several 48-hour films. In the last contest, her team initially chose what she considered the worst-case scenario genre.

"We actually pulled western musical as our first genre and decided that we did not want to do that,” she says. “So we went for the wildcard genre, which increased the mystery even further for the kick-off meeting. And they assigned us historical fiction. At that point we were left with very few choices since our only location was an office space and a recreational vehicle."

Since much of her team belongs to an acting troupe, she quickly checked if they had costumes to create historical characters for the film. Once costumes were established, the writing began.

For many, including Slagle, writing the script is the most challenging aspect of the contest, as filming must begin the following day for teams to make the deadline. Slagle's script tells the story of famous historical characters meeting each other in a reality television show parody. In one scene, the Roman Emperor Nero beseeches Betsy Ross, famous for sewing the first American flag, to create a new flag for the Roman Empire.

Her team finished their film on time – as did about two-thirds of the 100 teams that participated last year in Washington.

Despite a lack of sleep, most people in the contest loved the experience.

"I think it's kind of like skydiving,” Slagle says. “It's an adrenalin rush except it takes a couple of days instead of just a few minutes. A lot of times people attempt to make independent films, but cannot keep the crew interested or the cast on board or the equipment available. And doing it in one weekend with a deadline makes you get it done. And that is the best part for me, because I know I will have a finished product at the end that I can show people."

"The greatest satisfaction is hearing the filmmakers after the weekend about what a great time they have had, how excited they are to see their film,” 48-hour film creator Ruppert says. “I still get excited about the films. And quite a few people come to us and say, ‘This is the best weekend we have ever had.’ There is nothing better than that."

Shortly after Kelly Slagle and others finished the 48 hours of filmmaking, the films from each city were screened at local theaters. Past winners have gone on to make feature films and direct television shows.