48 Hour Film Challenge

If you haven't heard, there's a new video contest coming to a town near you. It's called the 48 Hour Film Project. Unlike traditional contests where you spend weeks, maybe months, crafting your story before submitting it for competition, this one challenges you to condense the entire creative process into a mere 48 hours. Sound crazy? Sure it does–and that's the fun of it. Sometimes working under pressure is exactly what it takes to get the creative juices flowing–remember all those last minute term papers?

And speaking of cheating, the project has built in safeguards to prevent contestants from preparing a film in advance. Generally this means a random drawing 15 minutes prior to the start of the competition that assigns each team a genre, a character, and a line of dialog. Other than that, you're on your own. (You can find out more about the details on the net at www.48hourfilm.com.) If you're up for the challenge, here are a few strategic tips that will help you make the most of your time.

Get Ready…

The first thing you'll want to consider is the story. Whether the genre is science fiction, comedy, mockumentary, or drama, stories basically have the same structure: a setup, conflict of some kind (something your protagonist must confront and deal with), a climax and a resolution. Since you have a very limited amount of time, your story must be clear and concise. Another consideration will be logistics. You may conceive of a great story with fantastic locations–but can you get to all of them in a day? That's about all the shooting time you'll have. So, consider setting your story in locations that are easily accessible. Your pool of actors will also be limited, so make sure you have the actors to fill the roles before you lock down your story. Once you've got a good idea what story you're trying to tell, you're ready for the next, crucial step.

Get Set…

With such a limited shooting schedule, you'll need to shoot as efficiently as possible. The best way to maximize your time it is to storyboard your shots before you start shooting. Improvising on location may sound tempting, but it takes time. Storyboarding allows you to visualize what you're after before you begin rolling tape. This will help guarantee that you end up with the shots you need in the editing room. Remember, there won't be time to run back for pick up shots later. You don't need to draw every single shot, but you should storyboard your key shots, the ones you'll need in order to tell the story. If you have time, you can always shoot additional coverage to give you some leeway in the editing phase. Storyboards will also clarify what props and costumes you're going to need before you're on location. As soon as you can "see" your story on paper, you're ready to grab a camera, marshal your cast and crew, and spring into action. </p?


Sound interesting? Want to get a feel for what the process is like? Why not have your own 48-hour film challenge? It's simple. Get together on a Friday night with your team of collaborators and write a list of genres on separate slips of paper, then fold them and put them in a pile. Do the same with a list of generic character types, and write a few simple, ambiguous lines of dialog. Note the time (contests usually begin on a Friday night at 7:00 and end at 7:00 on Sunday), then draw a slip of paper from each stack, and you're ready to go. Just don't plan on sleeping.

Here's a story generated from just such a random drawing. The video as conceived could easily be shot in one day and edited the next. It began with the genre "ghost story", the character of "Father" and the line, "Silence!". Check it out, then try one yourself. Who knows, you may be the next 48-hour wunderkind.

Title: Silence.

Location: A house.

Shot List:

Props: car, dining table, chairs, cardboard boxes, assorted furnishings, white sheets, table settings, glass of milk, "For Sale" sign, hammer.

Cast: Father, wife, young daughter, young son, adult daughter, adult son.


1) Ext. House – LS: Car pulls into driveway of house.

2) Int. House — MS: Man enters house. Shipping boxes and covered furniture indicate that the house is unoccupied.

3) Int. Dining Room — MS: He pulls off the sheet covering dining table.

4) CS: He sits at the end of the empty table.

5) POV — Suddenly he's looking down a fully set table at his wife and young children

6) CS: The Man softens at the sight. Then–

7) MCS: His son accidentally knocks over a glass of milk.

8) MS/CS/XCU: The family reacts with
raucous laughter.

9) CU: The Man slams his fist down, losing his temper. He shouts "Silence!"

10) WS: The family falls silent and looks at him in shock.

11) MS, Low Angle: The Man stands and glowers down at them.

12) MS: The first child glares back, then suddenly transforms into his adult form and storms off.

13) ECS: The Man turns his glare toward his other child.

14) MS: The second child glares back, transforms and exits like the first.

15) WS: The adult children leave, passing the mother who gazes disapprovingly at the Man. She fades out as we DISSOLVE TO:

16) WS: The room again deserted filled with shipping boxes.

17) MS: The Man buries his head in his hands. Image holds

18) CS: A car trunk pops open revealing the back of a yard sign attached to a stake. The Man grabs the sign and a hammer.

19) MS: The sign is driven into the lawn. It reads: House For Sale. Image holds.

20) WS: The car pulls out of the driveway and leaves. His house no longer a home
The End

Shot Order:

Shooting scenes in a shot order will help save time with camera set up, color balance, props and actors. Here is our suggested shot order for "Silence," organized by location and character costumes.

  • Exteriors: Shot #: 1, 18, 19, 20
  • Interiors; TIME: Current: 2, 3, 4, 16, 17
  • Interiors; TIME: Past: 5-15

    Interiors PAST shot order Broken down more precisely:

    MAN: Shot # 6, 9, 11, 13, 17

    YOUNG SON: 7 & 12

    OLDER SON: 12


    OLDER DAUGHTER. 14, 15



    Tad Rose is a writer and independent producer.

    Illustrations by Tad Rose.

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