Sure, they came for the art. But the filmmakers really came for
themselves. They wanted to have fun, to see their work on the big screen,
to actually finish the movie this time.
So they showed up, 30 teams in all, Friday night at Metro Cafe for the
kickoff of the third 48 Hour Film Project. The goal was simple: Write,
shoot and edit a 5- to 12-minute movie in 48 hours.
Participants included friends, and colleagues, and the friends of
friends and colleagues. Some had experience, others were neophytes. They
didn't know exactly what they were getting into, but whatever happened,
they had to hand in a tape Sunday night. And for that, everyone knew their
finished work would be screened this week at Visions
To pay the bills, Jai Mitchell, 30, is a production assistant at the
Discovery Health Channel. To feed his creative passions, he shoots his own
videos -- in the 20- to 45-minute range -- in between his day job and
helping other filmmaking friends on their projects.
"It's a nice escape to be able to create your own," he said at Metro
Cafe. Having it on a big screen for the first time was also enticing.
Making movies is a lot easier and cheaper than it used to be. With
digital video and in-home computer editing, filmmakers don't need the film
anymore. Forget developing time. Now you can see the results of a shoot
Mark Ruppert created the 48 Hour Film Project after hearing about a
24-hour play in New York; if a play could be written, rehearsed and staged
in a day, he thought a movie could be written, filmed and edited in two.
Since the first 48 Hour Project last May (the second was held in October),
it's grown from 11 teams to 30.
This time around, each team was guaranteed a screening earlier this
week at Visions. A compilation of the top films, chosen through audience
surveys and a panel of judges, will run tonight through next Thursday at
the theater. One movie will be named the best.
To cheat-proof the process, participants got key elements for the
scripts Friday evening. Each movie had to include the same character
(Carmelle "Courvoisier" McMurtry, a hooker), a common prop (a sleeping
bag) and a common line of dialogue ("Get your wallet and let's spend some
money, big boy.") -- elements that organizers pulled from hats. Each team
got a chance to pull its own genre (comedy, mystery, action/adventure,
gangster, film noir, etc.).
The crowd went wild when Mitchell drew "musical."
Not just any team can pull off song and dance, so Mitchell also had a
choice to do a Western or sci-fi flick. But he took the cheering as a
His teammates didn't agree. They argued most of Friday night -- the
prime script-writing hours. His lead actor couldn't sing. His music
director quit. But Mitchell held firm.
"I've helped out a lot of friends on their films, so it's come back to
haunt them," Mitchell said.
By Saturday, the team was shooting scenes around Arlington about a guy
who dresses up as a rapping bear for parties but wants to be a filmmaker.
There was no script. The star, the guy in the bear costume, was Steven
Eskay, a local actor who doesn't know Mitchell well, but worked with him
on another movie. He wasn't getting paid (no one in 48 Hours does) and he
thought the story line, what there was of it, didn't make sense, but the
chance to make a movie is a chance to make a movie. A musical, even.
"It's not like I'm trying to trick you into thinking I'm a great
singer," he said at one point Saturday.
The story essentially goes something like this: Rapping bear performs
inappropriate material at children's party; rapping bear/aspiring
filmmaker meets with film exec who hates his ideas; depressed and out of
costume, our star hooks up with hooker.
At Lubber Run Park's amphitheater in Arlington, the team shot its big
rapping and break-dancing finale. Everyone pitched in with lyrics, or what
passed for them: "I went to law school, my friends made some noise, but
I'm here to say, I'm still down with the boys."
There was a woman with a clapper ("Scene 7, Take 2!") and "forties" of
apple juice. There was a guy who did "the worm" and a woman who came up
with some funky kicks and a backspin. Mitchell used a wheelchair as a
dolly for himself and his camera.
But the finale ended up on the cutting-room floor. Okay, the computer's
recycle bin. Turns out that when Mitchell edited the movie, it was 17
minutes long instead of 12.
"Instead of ending on an upbeat, it gives it more melancholy," he
Kenneth McLeod is the producer of Pretty Little Heads, a group of
moviemaking buddies who regularly make "short, sarcastic videos."
They drew "superhero" from the hat and decided to explore a day in the
life of "The Chevron." His powers are unclear, but the daily grind of his
job includes seeing an endless stream of fans who visit his office.
They shot some of their video at the art gallery Signal 66. In contrast
with Mitchell's team, this group seemed right at home on their makeshift
set. The lighting was just so. The sound man was bothered by the hum of a
computer across the room. Between takes, an actor reviewed his script,
trying to get the lines just right. The superhero sat at a desk nearby,
patiently waiting for his turn on camera.
Everyone was so organized and focused that at the end of each scene,
the dozen team members applauded. They were even running ahead of
On Sunday night, 21 teams arrived at the Warehouse Theater lobby by the
They were buzzing with excitement, exhaustion, camaraderie and plenty
of stories to share.
There was the team of mostly Discovery Channel employees who did a
mockumentary called "Trading Spouses," based on the popular home
redecorating show "Trading Spaces." Two wives switched husbands for a
little revamping. For one, the hooker was a consultant on his libido
There was the only all-women team, Girls Night, who decided to make its
hooker a rugby player. It's a position for the athlete who "hooks" the
ball into the scrum.
And the missing teams? Two dropped out, and seven others missed the
"It's the 49-hour film project," joked Ptolemy Slocum of the Washington
Improv Theater team. They had computer editing problems. But last night
they still got to screen their story about a detective on his last day of
work, trying to solve the mystery of his surprise party.
Latecomers aren't eligible for the "best of" designation. But Mitchell,
Pretty Little Heads, Girls Night and the Discovery Channel employees have
all won a spot in the Visions screenings that start tonight, says Ruppert,
who is expanding in coming weeks to the 48 Hour Film Project to New York
and Atlanta. (For information, see http://www.48hourfilm.com/.)
The moral of the weekend?
Mitchell summed it up:
"It's just a matter of survival."
The 48 Hour Film Project screens at Visions
Cinema/Bistro/Lounge, 1927 Florida Ave. NW, through next Thursday. For
showtimes and prices, call 202-667-0900 or visit www.visionsdc.com.