The production part of the international 48-Hour Film Project returned to Shanghai this past weekend, with more than twenty teams—and well over one hundred participants—taking part in the competition, each vying for a shot at the award for Best Film and a spot at the 2018 Filmapalooza in Paris.
For those unfamiliar with the 48HFP format, groups of filmmakers are given a set of required elements—a character, a prop, a line, and a genre—and have just two days to write, shoot, edit, and submit a short film. In the process, they need to gel as a team, work under pressure, and sacrifice a whole lot of sleep.
With the film screening and awards ceremony set to take place this Sunday, November 12th at Shanghai’s Central Studios (schedule and ticketing info below), we chat with some of the people involved to find out just what goes into putting a team together and getting a film made in less than forty-eight hours.
For actor-director Alejandro Scott and his team MYSPACEBARISBROKEN, entering the Shanghai 48HFP meant shooting a psychological horror about a woman trapped in a dream in which she strikes a costly deal.
Having acted in the Best Film award-winner in 2015, only to have the team he joined fall apart prior to the 2016 competition, Scott has seen first-hand both the highs and lows of the 48HFP. Nevertheless, he says his past experiences have only made him more determined to try again.
“I wanted to go through the challenge of coming up with everything a film production entails in a short period of time,” Scott says. “I believe the most important thing for me is to ‘have done something’ of my own—I’ve written shorts and acted in a few, but I hadn’t done my own production.”
Despite the overwhelming number of prospective participants, Scott admits it still took a while to get a team off the ground. And, after initially looking to join up with another group, he and a friend ultimately decided to strike out on their own.
“Unfortunately, there were too many of us, so we politely parted ways with them because we believed in a smaller, but more focused team,” Scott explains. “We later confirmed another friend, added an actress and a PA and we finally had the small, but reliable team we were looking for.”
We had run to the drop-off with the laptop in our hands to make it on time!
Ironically, Scott’s team ran into the problem of having a group of people who worked too well together. Moreover, given a short period of time to reflect, he hints that it might be possible to be too creative sometimes—especially when you’re working on a tight schedule.
“We ended up shooting a different ending as well as extra scenes that would’ve made our film better,” Scott laments. “Unfortunately, we had too much good footage and shortening it down to seven minutes was nearly impossible and we had to butcher it in the last couple of hours of editing. Finally, we had run to the drop-off with the laptop in our hands to make it on time!”
While MYSPACEBARISBROKEN was rushing to get their film in on time, THE VIEWTIFUL TEAM was hard at work shooting a greed-fueled Western-turned-thriller. For director Gert Kombate, however, the battle to make the contest deadline might as well have started long before anyone even said the word, ‘Go’.
“I didn’t sleep for at least two days before starting because I was in Beijing shooting a commercial,” Kombate recalls. “Like my mentor always said, ‘Jesus, Gert! You’ve gotta stop doing that!’”
What is more, that Beijing shoot actually caused Kombate to miss the Friday evening kick-off event and he only landed in Shanghai in time to join up with the rest of his team at 11AM Saturday morning—fully fourteen hours after the starting whistle had sounded.
“Before that the whole thing was pretty much on standby after we’d agreed on the script over WeChat,” he says. “But, when I got back to Shanghai we changed the script again. It was only at 1PM on Saturday that we started looking for locations and shooting didn’t even start until 4PM.”
For me, this time wasn’t about learning—it was about having pure fun!
Even with an extremely limited amount of time on their hands, Kombate’s team still found ways to get creative on set and he says the experience produced numerous highlights he will always remember.
“Lighting—we did some crazy cool lighting with really, really weird stuff!” he exclaims. “Also, working with some good actors like Barret Coates and Miroslav Karel was really nice.”
The experience also taught Kombate and his team a number of valuable lessons about shooting under pressure… well, then again, maybe not.
“If I did learn something… well, I’ve forgotten what it was,” he jokes. “For me, this time wasn’t about learning—it was about having pure fun!”
Unlike some of the other teams—many of which were assembled from groups of friends or regular collaborators—the LONELY CAMEL came together as strangers only after director Alexander Kaunas put out an open call for cast and crew to form a team.
“The biggest challenge was creating a team from people with different ideas and attitudes,” says Kaunas. “Most of them were meeting each other for the first time and we needed to involve them to work like an experienced crew.”
Tasked with making an anti-war film about a struggling writer who reaches a moral breaking point after accepting a mysterious job, Kaunas says he was very impressed with how well the group stepped up to get everything done.
“I think the best part was how the team brainstormed together to work on the story,” he recalls. “While the process was not straightforward, everyone was respectful of each other’s ideas and built on one another’s choices—this was key in maximizing the time we were given.”
I learned that humans can’t be awake and at the same time active for three days!
Beyond brainstorming, that limited amount of time included coming up with a shot list, shooting, editing, and completing sound design all before they were able to drop off their film just half-an-hour before it was due.
“From a team leader’s perspective, I learned how to make a workflow more efficient and how to work under pressure and with the resources that are available,” Kaunas states. “Also, I learned that humans can’t be awake and at the same time active for three days!”
With the production part of the 48HFP now done, participants hopefully have a bit of time to catch up on all that lost sleep. For Kaunas, this also means he has some time to start thinking ahead to the November 12th screening and awards ceremony at Central Studios in Shanghai.
“I’m looking forward to the reaction of the audience to the film as well as that of the cast and crew,” he says. “The majority of them still haven’t seen it yet.”
If you’re in Shanghai on Sunday, November 12th, come down to Central Studios and check out some of the best films from this year’s competition. All profits from the event will be donated to The Library Project (www.library-project.org).
Date: Sunday, November 12th, 2017
Screening Times: 13:00-16:00 & 18:00-21:00
Venue: Central Studios 1F, Building 1, 751 South Huangpi Road, Shanghai
Tickets: 80RMB/person (click this link or scan/extract the QR code from the poster below to purchase)