Get Uncomfortable: A 48-Hour Film Project Report

I got an email from my friend, Mike Fleisch, a couple weeks ago inviting a group of friends to do a 48-hour film. Or something like that. Between work and a baby at home, I don’t have a lot of attention span left. It sounded cool, but I wasn’t sure I could square much time for it.

But it turns out that the 48-Hour Film Project is a real thing. Last weekend, 28 teams in Cincinnati made a film in 48 hours. That is, they got assignments on Friday evening (genre, a character, a prop, and a line of dialogue you must use). They had until Sunday evening to write, shoot, edit, and output everything related to their 4-7 minute film. Want some music in your film? You’ll have to record that sometime over the weekend.

It’s a crazy project. I’ll try to show up for crazy. I got over to the meet-up around 8 p.m. and spent the next 7 hours spinning story ideas that met the requirements (drama, a magician named Tom Rococo, a fan, and “What have you done for me lately?”). We also talked about what we’d been up to. One of our crew gave a poetry reading the week before, and we’ve done a Poem Depot type thing at Northside’s Second Saturdays a couple times (watch the video). Mike knew a magician. That was our start.

“The magician and the poet” suddenly became completely understandable as our main characters. We talked about who they were, pitched backstories, looked for conflict and decision points, what happens. Then we split off for 15 minutes and individually wrote up a story outline with these two characters. They had things in common and divergences. It got late, and several people had to head home. The three of us still there at 2 a.m. quartered some sheets from a legal pad and described the main scenes. Our story had a plan.

Seven hours later we were filming the first scene. As we shot, and crew members came and went, the story changed. We’d forget to shoot a connecting scene before an actor left, or we’d realize while filming that we wouldn’t have time to use much-if-any of that scene. When one plot point changed, it changed others too. As the story developed, we could see the story’s climax better and steer toward the strongest version of it we could find.

The critical final scenes were shot Saturday night, but I wasn’t there. I was home with the dude while my dear wife went out with some friends. I’d volunteered to try to create some music and planned to do that while the dude was sleeping. I’d heard Eliza Rickman at Chase Public (the crew’s space) recently. She played solo but accompanied herself with a loop pedal. I thought I’d try to do something similar in Garageband.

It turns out I only had an hour to work. Dude’s been teething, so he woke up upset and couldn’t get settled enough again to be put down. I was able to record one repeated bass-like vocal line, doubled (two recordings of the same notes). For percussion I tapped on a glass jar with a wooden spoon and added a shush from rubbing two of the dude’s wooden puzzle pieces together. It was about 40 seconds long.

In the morning I edited down the takes, picking parts that kept the beat the best. I looped them out so that the total “song” was about 1:30. I also saved versions with just the glass jar, and just the glass jar and puzzle pieces. Between all the parts, hopefully there were usable bits. Here’s the “music” I made:

I send the files to Mike, and my work on the project was done. Other stuff happened, Mike did an enormous amount of editing, and the film got turned in under the deadline. (Cue exhausted sigh.) I’m not a “film guy,” and I’m not close to turning to a life of film. That’s why it was a great project to join. On the next blog post, thoughts on short-order creative projects.