The scene at Escape Java Joint and Art Gallery was relatively calm on Sunday evening as more than a dozen teams of filmmakers taking part in the 48 Hour Film Project turned in their latest cinematic creations. The national two-day short filmmaking festival returned to Madison for a sophomore year over the weekend, with participants adhering to the deadline-driven spirit of the event to a much higher degree than in its local debut last year.
"There was no mad rush in the end," notes organizer Sierra Shea, who brought the project to Madison in April 2007 and returned for another round this summer. "Last year the teams struggled with tweaking as best as they could do on their films while ignoring the deadlines," she explains, "and this year it seemed as though the teams though, 'Whatever we have in 48 hours is what we have,' and dropped them off on time. So I'm excited."
The 48 Hour Film Project is an international competition that challenges participants in a city to create an original short movie of four to seven minutes in length over the course of exactly two days. Additionally, each film must incorporate three required elements and be presented in the format of a specific genre, assigned from a broad spectrum of options at the outset of the two-day countdown.
The concept is very similar to various other local time-based events, such as the Wis-Kino Kabaret or Blitz by Mercury Players Theatre, but differs significantly in a few important respects. One, the Project over the weekend was but one of scores held in this year in cities around the U.S. as well as in Europe and elsewhere, including the ethereal plane of Second Life. Two, it is an explicit competition, one in which filmmakers vie to not only win accolades within their city from a panel of judges, but can also move on to compete against other entries created around the world.
Sixteen teams participated in this year's Project, two more than last year. Compared to the mere seven that made the deadline in the 2007 competition, there were 13 teams that submitted their works on time this go around, which was at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday at Escape Java Joint. "The first one brought to me by ten minutes to 7," notes Shea, "and by 7:20, another twelve were there. I was impressed."
The clock started ticking two days before, when teams gathered at the Willy Street coffeehouse and art gallery to learn the trio of required elements and draw their genres. These three things that were to be featured in every film were a character named Buddy or Babby Kant who is a philosophy instructor, a greeting card as a prop, and a line of dialogue: "Chalk it up to dumb luck." Genres were drawn from a hat, meanwhile, and teams were given the option of rejecting their first selection for another shot at the pool. The final selections were: detective/cop, spy, horror, holiday, comedy, sci-fi, historical fiction, road, film de femme, thriller, romance, ghost story, and fable.
Most teams could claim members that have at least some experience behind the camera, Shea notes. Additionally, six teams that participated last year returned, all hoping for another shot at taking the Best Film title that was won by a visiting filmmaker from Britain. One member of a returning team detailed his experiences in a report about its brainstorming and subsequent filming process. "Filming and related tasks, which included creating three fight scenes, took about 11 hours, not including a dinner break, and employed indoor and outdoor locations," writes Christian Neuhaus on Dane101 about their shoot on the Epic Systems campus in Verona about a Holiday-themed entry about vampires and Arbor Day. Another team was led by local videographer and UW instructor Rosemary Bodolay, who served as one of three judges for the project last year.
A new trio of judges will be viewing this year's works. They are Film Wisconsin associate director Melissa Musante, film marketer and Madison co-producer Joanna Burish, and UW-Madison professor and dance filmmaker Douglas Rosenberg. They'll be selecting the Best Film out of the 13 eligible submissions, and can also give awards for various other achievements, including Best Directing, Best Script, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Acting, Best Use of Character, Best Use of Prop, Best Use of Line, Best Music, Best Sound Design, and Best Effects. One final award will be decided by much broader input, though.
All completed Madison 48 Hour Film Project shorts, including those not submitted by the deadline, will be screened in their world premiere at the Orpheum Theatre at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 30. Admission is $10, and everybody in attendance will be able to vote for their favorite in the Audience Award.