June 16, 2011

Indie Film: Stress? Try making a film (from scratch!) in 48 hours


If you happened to see gaggles of stressed-out filmmakers around Portland last weekend, that's because they were trying to beat the clock in this year's 48 Hour Film Project.

George Dalphin made "Payment" for the 48 Hour Film Project in 2010, and "Manifest Destiny" for the ecologically themed 48 Hour offshoot GoGreen this year.




Today to Sunday: Head Down East to this Ellsworth-based festival featuring an eclectic mix of features, documentaries and student and short films.



Friday: "Forks Over Knives." Another documentary determined to ruin your trip to the buffet, this film outlines the controversial claims of Dr. T. Colin Campbell, who suggests that maybe we shouldn't be eating so much meat and processed foods.

The two-day filmmaking sprint challenge provides all participants with a character, a prop and a line of dialogue, all of which must appear in each finished film. The intrepid movie- makers have just two days to write, shoot and edit the whole thing.

It's a test of endurance, creativity, flexibility and maybe sanity, and I talked with four-time participant George Dalphin, a Portland director, about just exactly why he continues to put himself through this.

How many times have you participated in the 48 Hour Film Project?

I made "Don't Be" in 2009, "Payment" in 2010 and "Manifest Destiny" for the ecologically themed 48 Hour offshoot GoGreen this year.

The rules are set up so that participants can't just show up with a finished film and pretend they just shot it (like Richard Nixon showing up with pre-whacked snakes in the "Whacking Day" episode of "The Simpsons.") But what preparation can you do beforehand?

I found it's helpful to do a certain amount of prep, at least to gather actors and crew, beforehand -- getting access to locations, maybe having good locations in your pocket, just in case you can use them, or locations that could be used for a number of different genres. The same with props and costumes. I usually go into it with story ideas and the genres those could be tweaked into. But my experience is that the guidelines can completely derail your plans.

What if you find a great location, a decrepit barn, say, and your genre turns out to be "science fiction?"

That's where some of the creativity they're trying to force with the format comes in. If that's all you've set up, you've got to make it work. So having a handful of places and actors ahead of time is key.

So, does "48 Hour Film Project" mean you are actually working for 48 straight hours?

The first time, yes, I did. Mostly on Saturday night, because editing takes a long time. The second time I was able to find some sleep, and the third time just happened to go so smoothly, mostly because I'd learned to shoot with an eye to editing. I got better at it.

You've made your own films (like "Doubting Thomas") without a stopwatch running. What brings you back to the 48 Hour Film Project?

It's a really interesting exercise in that it doesn't have to be one of your baby projects. There's only so much attention you can give it. It ends up becoming something more like an exercise, rather than a piece of art you've been working on for two years. It's freeing in a way.

Plus, it forces you to do it; you can't put off the 48 Hour Film Festival. 

See more of Dalphin's work at www.man-likemachines.com/index.html.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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