Six years ago filmmaker Mark Ruppert decided to try an experiment. In the spring of 2001, Ruppert and his partner, Liz Langston, gathered a group of friends in the filmmaking industry in Washington D.C. and proposed a revolutionary idea: Working in small teams each group would produce a short film in a genre assigned at random under a strict time limit. In just 48 hours they would conceptualize and complete their movie – scripting, filming and editing included.
The idea of a 48-hour film project first occurred to Ruppert well before he invited other filmmakers to join him in Washington D.C. After reading an article about two women launching a 24-hour play competition, something in his mind just clicked.
“I had the idea we could do it in video, but we would need a little more time,” said Ruppert, who at the time owned a small production company specializing in corporate movies. For a high-speed film competition, he reasoned, 48 hours would be sufficient to produce a worthwhile short film (between four and seven minutes long) while still subjecting participants to the rigors of working under a tight deadline.
“For us it’s the magic number,” Ruppert explained. “If you go much longer than 48 hours you run into the problem of having enough time to second guess yourself. On a practical level 48 hours works because it’s the weekend.”
So, on a weekend in 2001, 10 teams of filmmakers arrived in Washington D.C. to test Ruppert’s theory.
“We had no idea whether we could make a film in 48 hours or whether a film made in 48 hours would be at all entertaining,” he recalled. The movie he worked on during those first 48 hours movie was a film noir starring a detective who was visited by a double-crossing femme fatale.
When the films wrapped everyone agreed, the experiment had been a resounding success.
“The filmmakers just loved it, and we in fact did it just six months later again in Washington D.C,” Ruppert said.
By 2002 the 48 Hour Film Project, as it came to be called, had spread to six cities. Ruppert and Langston traveled to New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Austin, Washington D.C. and Atlanta, promoting their film festival and encouraging professionals and amateurs alike to try their hand at one-weekend filmmaking.
Now in its seventh year, the 48 Hour Film Project has exploded into an international phenomenon. This year 63 cities around the world are hosting competitions and will produce an estimated 1,800 different films. Locations are as far away as Tel Aviv, Israel, as unexpected as Novi Sad, Serbia and as close as Miami, Fla.
“I think the biggest thing it gives to filmmakers is the impetus to go out there and make film,” said Ruppert. “The 48 Hour Film Project throws all those excuses out the window. You’ve got 48 hours, just go!”
The competition begins at 7 p.m. on Friday and ends at 7 p.m. on Sunday, when the finished films are turned in for judging. In between every single minute counts and organization is paramount.
“Friday is spent brainstorming and writing. Saturday is spent shooting, and Sunday is spent editing,” explained Ruppert.
All films that are turned in under deadline are considered for the “Best of City” prize, the winner of which goes up against other “Best of Cities” for the title of “Best Film of 2007.”
For this year’s Miami crop of filmmakers, the madness began this on Friday, July 27th. In every city the competition starts with a kick off event during which team representatives pick their genres out of a hat and receive this year’s required elements: a mandatory character, prop and line of dialogue that must appear in every film made in that city.
“Last year the character was a circus performer,” said Miami 48 Hour Film Project producer Martin García. “For 99% of filmmakers with 48 hours that ends up being a clown.”
When García watched the finished films at end of last year’s competition he saw the downside of assigning every team a common character. Altogether, García said, he watched about 48 different clown movies. This year 56 teams are battling for the “Best of Miami” award as well as a slew of other recognitions like “best use of character” or the “audience award,” which spectators will determine during four public screenings at the Colony Theatre on South Beach on August 1st and 2nd.
For Naples’ based team The Hell? Productions participating in the Miami 48 Hour Film Project is a chance to try out a new genre and tap into their creative reservoir to tackle an amusing challenge like putting a mime in a Western film or producing a period piece in a single weekend.
“Our mainstay is comedy, but we’re really hoping to pull horror,” said The Hell? Productions’ filmmaker Tony Timpone. “We’re hoping to get something that’s going to pull us out of the box.”
The competition will be the team’s first attempt at 48-hour filmmaking and will serve as a trial by fire for the ambitious young team, which has thus far only completed short skits, all less than two minutes long. For the competition they will have to produce a short film between four and seven minutes long.
“It’s kind of our first jump into real filmmaking,” said team captain Jerry Quintard. “We’ve been shooting little sketches here and there, but this puts us in a competition. With the 48-hour thing we have a definite deadline and it’s a harsh one. I’m looking forward to it because it’s going to force our team to really come together and band together to get through it.”
Still, Quintard was optimistic about his team’s chances of making a great film.
“It’s definitely not an impossible task,” he said. “It’s incredibly possible.”
And in the weeks leading up to the competition, Quintard, Timpone, their partner, Beau Harrison, and the 10 or so other friends and family members rounding out The Hell? Productions team have been feverishly preparing. Before picking a genre on Friday, they had already secured South Beach’s landmark Clay Hotel as a shooting location (the pilot episode of Miami Vice was filmed here) and had begun collecting possible costumes and props for their film.
Ultimately, however, a 48-hour film’s success comes down to creativity, determination and very quick thinking.
“It all boils down to two things which are the story, how creative it is, and the production value,” Ruppert said. But added that in the end the winners are a matter of the local judges’ taste. “Usually my favorites aren’t even selected by the judges to win their city.”
For those filmmakers who do manage to win the coveted “Best of City” title, the 48 Hour Film Project can serve as an important career launch. Films made for the competition have shown at festivals around the country, and in 2006 Ruppert was invited to screen a handful of the year’s top movies at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. For 2008 Ruppert is setting a lofty goal for Langston, himself and the rest of the festival’s administrators: to work with one of the project’s top filmmakers to produce a full-length feature film.
After seven years of ultra quick filmmaking it’s time, he said, to take it to the next level.
LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
Check out the public screenings of this year's Miami produced 48 Hour Films on August 1st and 2nd at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Colony Theatre on Lincoln Road in South Beach.