What is the 48HFP
The 48hfp is a filmmaking competition where participating teams have just 48hrs to write, film, edit and submit a short (4 to 7 minute) film. The films must be original, and to ensure that, each year the filmmaking teams are assigned a character, a prop, and a line of dialog that aren’t revealed before the kickoff event. What’s more, each team will be given a genre their film must adhere to, which they likewise are unaware of prior to the kickoff. At the kickoff event, team leaders will gather at a predetermined location where the organizers will have each team draw their genres from a hat, and will announce the required elements at the official start time. Usually 7pm local time. The character, prop and dialog are the same for all teams, while the genres vary.
A few key things I think are important to consider before participating the 48HFP:
It’s a lot of work, I think people (myself included) can underestimate how draining it is. Tensions will likely run high at least at some points over the course of the weekend, you’ll probably be physically and mentally exhausted, AND so will everyone else on your team, so everyone needs to understand what they’re getting themselves into, and be ready to accept the workload.
Your film will not likely be a masterpiece. You’ll probably get some decent footage for your reel. And make something fun that you and your friends can enjoy and feel proud of. But with all the time constraints and the fact that you have to jam random props, characters and dialog lines into it, combined with the fact that you might be making a film in a genre that doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t count on creating your Magnum Opus. In short, keep your expectations low when it comes to the final product.
It’s not free. And not only do you have to consider the entry fee. Consider eating takeout for an entire weekend (unless you expect to have time to cook!). Remember you’ll likely be purchasing batteries, thumb drives, extension chords, props, and whatever else is required as far as filmmaking supplies. Your teammates will likely want to attend the premiere, which means buying tickets. Etc etc. Suffice to say, there’s some coin involved!
If after reading the above you’ve decided you’d still like to proceed, congratulations! You’re one of the crazy thousands of us around the globe who do this year after year. Now read the rest of the blog for advice on how to make the most of it, and learn from my own successes and mistakes!
Registering for the 48HFP
Find out the dates of the filmmaking weekend for your city, and keep an eye out for the registration deadlines. Look out for the early-bird deadline to save some money! Most cities offer a lower price for teams who register in advance. Decide if your team is going to split the fee, in my case I considered myself the producer and paid it outright, but in the future if I have people on board ahead of time I’ll probably suggest we split it.
Assemble a team
There are 3 types of teammates:
I’ve put together teams consisting entirely of people I found, one where it was entirely people I knew and their friends, and I’ve done a mix. It all comes down to how hard people are willing to work. I can’t say one is better than the other, but there’s a clear advantage to understanding the personality of someone you’re planning to spend a very exhausting weekend with. So if you are working with people who are strangers to you at the start of the project, be sure to at least have a conversation with (and preferably meet) them in advance!
A few things you’ll need to be sure to plan/recruit for:
First and foremost, figure out what your role as the team leader will be. Most often it’s director, producer or both. Roughly speaking in the context of the 48HFP the producer is the person who recruits the team, makes sure all the paperwork is assembled and completed, keeps the team on schedule, etc etc. Whereas the director is on set making sure the cinematographer/camera people and actors are getting what’s needed to make the film, and in the editing room working through the footage with the editor to ensure the film comes to life. If you're going to have someone else take on one or both of these roles, I highly recommend it be someone you've collaborated with before and trust!
An editor (and an editing setup that comes with them if you don’t have one to provide them with)
You need someone who knows they’re way around video editing software, such as Adobe Premiere. And even better if they have their own software and setup to use throughout the weekend. You’ll need to secure this equipment one way or another. You can film on an iPhone, but editing on one would be a nightmare. So if you don’t have the necessary equipment yourself, explicitly state that you’re looking for someone who does while recruiting your editor.
In an ideal world everyone wears just one hat, but usually with the 48HFP we don’t have that luxury. I will say a pro-tip is for the director and editor to be the same person if at all possible, because having the editor innately know what goes where will save a boatload of time. If that isn’t feasible, I would at least ensure the editor is very familiar with the story, maybe even insist that they sit in on the writers’ room. No matter what, ensure they have everything they need to understand the story and piece the film together. The director should also check in with the editor every time they’re dropping off footage to be certain the editor knows what they’re looking for and how to use it.
The people who make up the writers’ room vary project to project. It’s common for an entire team to sit together in one room and brainstorm a story idea. The benefit of this is that everyone gets a say, so no idea “stone” is left unturned. Another very valuable benefit to this approach is that the entire team understands the story inside and out, so you don’t have to spend any time bringing people up-to-speed while the project is in full swing. Usually with this setup spending the time to writeup a screenplay isn’t totally necessary, an outline and storyboard will suffice.
Another setup is to have one or several dedicated writers, usually people with some sort of background and skills in this type of thing. The team leader provides them with the required elements and genre, then they get to work! If this is your setup, I recommend asking them to actually write the film as a screenplay which you can email to the entire team *especially* the director, editor and actors before first call the next morning.
Lastly, but perhaps most common, is for the team leader and one or two of their friends to write the film and then tell the crew what they’ve written the next day. As I mentioned, 48HFP participants tend to wear a lot of hats! So this ends up making the most sense a lot of the time. In one instance, me and my director went to the kickoff, and came up with the idea for the film during our drive back to home base. Then we spend the night turning it into a storyboard and getting our teammates acquainted with the story.
Like editors with their software and setups, you’ll need to find a cinematographer with a camera. Having multiple cameras (even a recent model iPhone) can be a blessing and cut the time it takes to film, as you can film multiple angles simultaneously instead of changing your setup for every needed shot. If you can find multiple camera operators that’s great, however I’ve gotten by with just one camera person (usually me) on every 48HFP I’ve done and having just one camera person was never a problem for our projects.
Sound and Lighting
Good audio is immensely important. You should 100% use external mics, so if you don’t already have some ask your crew and other people in your network if they could lend them to you. And if that fail, just buy some! If filmmaking is going to be an ongoing hobby, you’ll need them again and again, so they’re a modest yet crucial investment. A nice set of lavaliers for dialog-heavy scenes and a shotgun mic that goes onto the shoe mount of your camera should suffice. But if you can add a boom and boom operator to your team that’s even better!
BONUS: Hair, makeup, costume design
I think most teams usually just tell their actors to show up looking a certain way, and that’s how we’ve done it for most of my films. However one one of our projects we had an amazing hair, makeup, wardrobe and prop person who really elevated the production value of the film. Highly recommended if you have someone who knows what they’re doing when it comes to this stuff!
I recommend having a pre-project meeting if at all possible. This could be the night before kickoff, or even day-of. The pre-meeting is a good opportunity for your team members to get to know each other, and for you to give an orientation for everybody on what to expect from the weekend. The project is a TON of work, so it’ll make things much more manageable if your teammates know what their role is, and understand the stress everyone will be under, and how to best help the team succeed. This is also a good opportunity to take care of the releases and numerous other pieces of paperwork the 48HFP asks you to fill out. Make it fun, have some food and drinks and play some get to know you games. It’ll be good for the team to get to know each other in a low-pressure setting before the heat is on!
The launch is usually a shit show. No shade to the organizers, it’s a big job! But don’t expect it to be organized, timely, or to go smoothly. 2 people should go to the launch: team leader and whichever team member they like hanging out with most, they might be there a while! It’s nice if you can have the writers gather together at homebase in the meantime. That way as soon as the teammates at the launch get the genre and required elements, they can text the writers’ room and have people get to work on crafting the story!
Here’s the first big hurdle - writing your story! The best advice I’ve ever read when it comes to writing stories is: it must feature someone who wants something. THAT’S IT! It sounds so simple, but so important. So my advice would be this: start with your genre. What character and thing that character wants would make sense for that? A film featuring a soldier who wants revenge on the man who killed his best friend might not make a good romance. But a story about a soldier trying to save his best friend could make a good action film indeed! So your genre will help determine who you decide the main character to be and what they’ll be after in the film. Keep in mind you only have 4-7 minutes, so the story needs to be pretty straightforward, and something that could be communicated in just a few scenes.
There is a character you’ll be assigned as one of the required elements, it’s up to you if you want this character to be the main one, but they must appear in the film somehow! All you’re given is this character’s name and occupation, so they could likely be molded to fit virtually any story, just give it some thought!
The other elements, prop and line of dialog, can be incorporated however you want. I’d caution however that one mark of an amateurish team is one that makes a hammy joke out of these. After you’ve seen 12 of the tongue-in-cheek teams using the required banana as a telephone, you’ll get tired of the gags. Try to take your film somewhat seriously. You’re putting a lot of work into this, it can be fun and can have jokes, but it shouldn’t itself be a joke.
The logistics and timing of filming are something your writers should be keeping in mind. Don't write a classroom scene unless you have access to a classroom, don't write a child into the script unless you have a child actor on the team, etc etc. Fairly obvious but very important to remember!
Shooting should start as soon as possible. If you can squeeze a scene in Friday night, great! Otherwise, plan to start filming early Saturday morning. You should have your locations secured and equipment organized well in advance. Have the crew set up while giving the actors time to go over their lines, then once everyone’s ready, lights, camera, action! Pro-tip: have not only extra batteries for the camera(s) you’re using, but extra chargers as well! I’ve been held up quite a few times by dead batteries, because we couldn’t charge them as fast as we were using them. So a lot of time got wasted just waiting for batteries to charge. Don’t make that mistake!
I recommend shooting your first scene, then immediately bringing that footage to the editor. That way they can get scene 1 edited while you’re shooting scene 2, scene 2 while you’re doing scene 3, and so on. Also, scenes don’t need to be filmed chronologically. I recommend shooting them in order of their crucialness to the story. Also bear in mind if something needs to happen while it’s light out, you’ll need to get it filmed before sunset, and other similar environmental considerations. A huge portion of filmmaking is planning and organization, so make sure to spend plenty of time considering the logistics!
This is the real danger zone, the editing is what brings it all together. Make sure you have someone who knows what they’re doing. It’s hard because you largely have to go with whoever has the needed equipment. If your editor drops the ball you’re screwed, more so than any other crew member. Therefore, it’s crucial your editor has everything they need to succeed. Importantly, this includes a thorough understanding of the story. You don’t want to have to sit down with the editor and explain to them where every bit of footage is supposed to go. They should be ready and able to run with whatever shots you dump on their lap. A good way to achieve this is to have them sit in on the writers room, but if that’s not possible, be sure to get them a screenplay or at least an outline and storyboard. Additionally, each time you drop off footage, spend a few minutes explaining what scene(s) it is you’re giving them. Additionally, if you know for sure which take you want them to use, indicate that somehow!
This is the finish line. The moment of truth. The deadline to drop off your film. It must by on a *physical* storage device, either a DVD or a USB drive. So you have to drop it off in-person, and on-time! Twice I’ve exported my film on a laptop while waiting in line at dropoff, very stressful! Recommend avoiding that drama at all costs if at all possible. In order to do that, I recommend the following:
So, to recap, my recommended timeline for a successful 48HFP weekend is:
BONUS - Poster
One thing a lot of the 48HFPs do is tell you design a poster for your film and submit it before the screenings to be considered for a prize. In my experience they don’t really tell you this until the Saturday (2nd day) of the filmmaking weekend. So if you think this is something you’d like to participate in, maybe recruit an artist/designer while you’re recruiting the rest of your team. I definitely recommend it as it’s something cool to share with the team and you can use it when posting about your film on social media. And if you win a prize, even better!
This is where your film has its big-screen debut. Decide how you’re gonna make this special. Maybe your entire team can meet up for dinner or drinks afterwards. During the screening itself they’ll show all the films that were submitted. Or in bigger cities all the films from your screening group. After the films have screened they’ll collect ballots for the audience choice award. You’ll have to vote for several films to keep it fair, so don’t be shy about voting for your own! As team leader one curve-ball they throw you is: after all the screenings are done, they’ll bring all the directors to the front of the theater to answer questions. I’ve done this 4 times in 4 different cities, they all do this yet not once have they ever given any advance notice, so consider yourself warned! The questions are always: what was the best part? And what was the worst part? So if you get stage fright, just have a generic and brief answer ready, and keep it moving!
Figure out what you’re gonna do with your film after it’s done. Hopefully it’s something you’re proud to share! Usually teams simply upload it to youtube/vimeo and share via social media. But some teams create accounts specifically for their films to help promote them even further. Whatever you do, it’s something you and an entire team put a lot of work into, it deserves to see the light!
So, there you have it, my (not so) complete guide to a successful-as-possible 48HFP weekend. To be honest making these films has always been an extremely rewarding experience, without exception! So despite (or perhaps because of) all the challenges, I do recommend you give it a shot. I imagine I might think of more things to add to this post as time goes on, so check back periodically for updates. In the meantime, please share comments and questions in the discussion below.