July 26, 2012

Indie Film: Filmmakers must get act together fast in annual '48'

The breakneck nature of the 48 Hour Film Project necessitates some serious quick thinking and teamwork.


If you see gaggles of goggle-eyed young people running around Portland next weekend -- some wearing costumes, some wielding cameras, all sporting bed head and coffee breath -- don't panic. There's nothing to worry about.

“Toy Cops 2: The Sequel” was Slow Children Productions’ funny entry in the drama category in the 2011 48 Hour Film Project.

Courtesy photo




Friday: "The Intouchables" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild." The Nick gets a two-handed high-five for bringing in two acclaimed indie films on the same day. The former is a French heart-warmer about a paralyzed aristocrat who hires a young caretaker from the ghetto; the latter is a fantastical fable about a remarkable 6-year-old girl on a journey through a magical, beast-laden Mississippi Delta.



Wednesday: "El Velador." The library's summer documentary series brings us this sobering doc about the titular night watchman tasked with tending the rapidly swelling opulent graveyards of Mexico's ruthless narco barons.

Unless you're a filmmaker participating in this year's 48 Hour Film Project -- then you're in trouble.

In case you haven't heard of the 48 Hour Film Project (48hourfilm.com/en/portland_maine), here are the rules: You (and your equally brave/foolhardy cohorts) gather on Friday evening. You're given a film genre plus a character, a line of dialogue and a prop, all of which must be included in your short film. Then you've got the next frenzied, sleepless 48 hours, until Sunday evening, to turn in a finished film.

Why would people do this?

For some directors I've spoken to over the years, the "48" is a chance to hone their filmmaking skills under extreme pressure. For others, it's more about gaining notoriety, or maybe some of the contest's prizes.

But for local moviemaker Bryan Ferrante, the annual moviemaking marathon is more about three f"s: fun, family and friends.

"My brother Nick and I grew up making shorts and commercials just for fun, and we fell in love with it," Ferrante said. "It was guerilla filmmaking, so this is right up our alley. Plus, it gives us and our friends a reason to get together once a year."

Ferrante and his film company, Slow Children Productions (sites.google.com/site/slowchildrenproductionshome), have participated in every 48 Hour Film Project since Portland brought the international competition here six years ago.

And while he concedes that winning awards is nice and all, "We make the films more for ourselves. We want to make something we're proud of and that people will like."

While approaching this exercise in creative self-abuse as an end in itself may be an enjoyable experience for the Ferrantes et al., its breakneck nature necessitates some serious quick thinking and teamwork.

"We all gather on Friday night, draw our genre and then spitball ideas for the next two hours," said Ferrante. "We whittle it away until we come up with a story, then into the wee hours we actually write the thing, although we do rely a lot on improvisation."

That on-the-fly approach extends to Slow Children Productions,' shall we say, flexible take on the genre it's assigned. Its (very funny) 2011 entry, "Toy Cops 2: The Sequel" (a "Robot Chicken" meets "Reno: 911" stop-motion comedy) was submitted, even though the assigned category was drama.

"We try to include comedy in everything we do," said Ferrante, "so we included a moment in a chase scene where a character says, 'This is very dramatic.' We like to play with the genres, and they give us a lot of leeway."

As for next week's film-a-thon, Ferrante said his experience in the "48" has taught him to schedule at least a few hours of sleep, anticipate a calamity or two, and that "coffee will be my best friend."

And for this year's Slow Children team? "We've got seven people on board. Mostly friends and family -- our tallest friend will hold the boom mic, and Mom is catering. We figure at least we can feed everyone."

Whether for experience, fame or fun, here's hoping that all the 48 Hour Film Project's intrepid artistes weather the challenges with aplomb.

And feel free to buy a coffee for anyone you see around town with a video camera.

Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.


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