Thoughts On 48 Hour Challenges

Forty-eight hour film challenges are competitive movie making competitions where you’re given just forty-eight hours to write, shoot, and edit a short film.  It’s exhausting but fun.  And, to add even more craziness to the process, but really to make sure you didn’t cheat by filming before the competition, you’re also given a list of necessary elements you have to incorporate into your movie.  Elements like a specific line of dialogue (“I have a bad feeling about this”), a prop (a vase of flowers), and sometimes a character you have to incorporate (a farmer).

Almost Famous Film Challenge -

Most of these challenges even give you a random genre.  Sure, it’s a wonderful challenge if you get a genre outside of your comfort zone, blah blah blah.  But what I find instead is that you end up with a collection of imbalanced, surly and mutated films where very few people were particularly pleased with their inherited fate.

I’ve always liked the Almost Famous Film Challenges best because they don’t do that.  Instead they have a “theme” that all the movies have to use, like “Heroism” or “Miscalculation.”  This lets the teams do what they do best.  The horror guys let their freak flags fly … the drama people have a whole bunch of crying and screaming … and we aim our target for as many silly laughs as we can get.  As a participant, and an audience member, I find the results more rewarding.

So my first 48 hour challenge was a complete disaster.

It was in Los Angeles.  An all SAG shoot (that was pretty cool), and I was invited to be the director by my good friends Brandy and Grady.  And it wasn’t the random genre that did us in … although we did get kinda boned there … we got mockumentary.  No, what did us in was “movie by committee.”  As the director I had virtually no say over the script and I wasn’t involved in the editing.  And with no real “vision” guiding the end result, like a normal movie, the final product lacked a comedic edge or any real teeth to it.  It just wasn’t funny.

"The Lords of Dragonhoth"

Two years go by and I get the itch again.  I always felt like it was the process, and not the actual nature of the challenge, that did us in.  The timed nature throws a lot of chaos into the experience, and on a film shoot chaos is death.  You need a “benevolent leader” to make sure everyone’s efforts are unified.

The solution, in my mind, was to make a 48 hour movie just like you’d normally make a normal movie … just, you know, really quickly.  In 2007 I gave the 48 hour challenge thing another go and we made “The Lords of Dragonhoth”, about a melodramatic night of role-playing (the theme was “Heroism”).  The result was a movie that we were quite proud of, and we felt represented our “squishy” sensibilities.

"The Hand You're Dealt"

“The Hand You’re Dealt” was our effort the next year, and in many ways it was a reaction to figuring out what the judges were looking for (more stylization, more energy, better camera work, etc.).

“The Lords of Dragonhoth” and “The Hand You’re Dealt” were completely invented on the night of the challenge.  With “Zombie Team Building”, we knew we wanted to make a zombie film no matter what, so we assembled the necessary props and crew, but we hadn’t written a single line of dialogue or character to honor the spirit of the challenge.

Brian's clever easter egg on "Zombie Team Building"


The great thing about these challenges is that it forces you to make movies.  Our goal has always been to not just make a good movie in 48 hours, but make a good movie.  Something that we’d be proud to have in our filmography.

So here’s some quick and scattered thoughts to end on:

– Have these challenges changed the way I shoot?  Did I shoot as fast as I do now?  We shot 46 setups in one day with “The Hand You’re Dealt”, but we topped that with an insane 81 setups for “Masters of Daring.” I’m not sure.  Probably.

– The competitive nature of these film challenges really kick your butt into gear and force you to up your game.  It’s fun to go up against the same teams each year and to develop private and anonymous rivalries.  But also you support teams with similar sensibilities and find yourself rooting for them to succeed as well.

– The downside to these timed challenges is that you don’t have enough time to let the stories germinate before you make them.  Production isn’t too compromised by the rush, but usually the writing is.  Editing is a bit too, but that’s easy to fix afterwards.  With our 48 hour movies I felt like we never had truly solid endings; that the third acts were always a compromised.

– There’s always a point, right about a lunch, during a 48 hour shoot that I feel complete and total panic.  I feel like we haven’t gotten anything we’ve wanted to get, that the movie isn’t coming together, and that it’s all completely and utterly sucktacular.  On “Masters of Daring” I felt that hardcore, but knowing that I felt that on the two previous movies, and I was happy with their end results, I just had to punch through the feeling and keep going.

– With each challenge we felt like we had to top ourselves.  “The Lords of Dragonhoth” had a crew of three and a cast of five all sitting at a table.  Three years later, “Zombie Team Building” had a crew of nearly twenty and a cast of six characters shooting it out with twenty zombies.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts On 48 Hour Challenges

Add yours

  1. I love the 48 hour challenges! They’re a blast to film and fun to watch. I’m always amazed at what you and the teams can put together in that short time frame.

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