A couple of weeks ago someone posted on the Australian Screen Editors page on Facebook. They were looking for a video editor to work as a part of their crew, who were competing in the 48 Hour Film Project. As the name implies, the 48HFP gives you 48 hours to script, shoot, edit, score, mix and master a short film of between 3 and 7 minutes. It was something I had been looking in to as I thought it would be quite an interesting experience, but I wasn't entirely confident about being up to the task so I didn't pursue it further. Just because I lacked confidence, though, didn't mean I couldn't do it, and here was an opportunity staring me so hard in the face it was impossible to ignore.
I got in touch with the post's author, Errol, and discussed the details. After ensuring the footage they would be shooting and the workflow they were planning on using matched my experience and laptop's capabilities, I signed on for the project. I met with some of the crew and cast at Beer Deluxe one night and we discussed some logistical details. I was immediately impressed by how organised they were. My expectations were low given that some of the crew were students and I was under the impression this was all a bit last-minute, but they had all the gear they needed, the actors were locked in and we had a rough schedule. The writer / director, Chrissy, also had a bank of scripts to call upon to leverage should we need them.
On the Friday night, a group of us gathered at Chrissy's house while our producer, Farhad, went down to ACMI to sign us up for the competition and to gather all the information we would need to start pre-production. Like other film competitions, there are things every team's films must contain. For the 48HFP, those things are a character name, a profession, a prop and a line of dialogue. This year it was Thomas or Tammy Cox, motivational speaker, a ruler and "A promise is a promise". Farhad relayed the info to us by text and we started talking about potential ideas.
The last piece of the puzzle was the genre. There are sixteen genres, which are split as evenly as possible across all teams. We were extremely surprised to learn there were 55 teams competing. That's massive! We drew "romance" as our genre. After everyone groaning a little bit, we got down to brainstorming ideas for a rom-com (we did briefly consider doing a sci-fi/time-travel/romance which I think still has a lot of potential as an idea, but in the end went with something a lot easier to achieve).
Our film is called "Measure of Success", and it is the story of three motivational speakers who attend a speed dating event. Thomas and Tammy Cox, who are recently divorced, and Kieran Long, one of Thomas' more successful rivals.
One of the locations we had planned on using fell through, so we spent a fair bit of time just figuring out where we were going to shoot the next morning and how it was all going to work. It was decided that we would shoot some sequences outside our main location first, and then move inside when it was available to us. After it was mostly figured out and it was just the details that needed to be locked down, I left them to it. I had to get a decent night's sleep (and a bit of a sleep-in). I was going to be editing on set while they were shooting, but that still meant there was nothing I could do until they'd shot at least a tape's worth of material. Plus I would be up all night editing.
I arrived on set the next morning and things were slowly moving ahead. I chatted with Farhad and a few of the actors while waiting for things to get to a point where I could start working. Eventually we moved inside and I got set up to work. The location we were using was Howler Bar, a place in Brunswick. I used the backstage band room as my edit room.
During the course of editing on set, it became apparent that the first scene we'd shot would be one of the harder ones to edit together, for a number of reasons. One big problem was that the camera angles they had got made the background massively blown-out and white, and incorporated a lot of negative space. It was amateurish and, in my eyes, a big problem.
Our audio guy Mark came up to check on me and to see if his sound was syncing with the footage as we'd planned. I showed him the shots and he agreed that they were bad. He said "If you think they're a problem, speak up. Eleanor is still here and we might be able to re-shoot them." Since our child actor, Eleanor, wasn't required throughout the day I figured she would have already left. I pounced on the opportunity at once, getting the director, producer, and DP
up to view the shots. They agreed that they were awful and planned a reshoot at once.
The reshoot basically saved the scene, which was a relief. I couldn't do anything about Eleanor's fairly flat, monotonic line delivery, but at least the scene worked. We wrapped shooting, went out for dinner, then I headed home for a long night's edit.
I probably started editing at around 8pm. After a lot of experimentation with the way scenes could be cut together, after a lot of yelling at the DoP for not framing shots differently, and after far too much Red Bull than anyone should drink during the course of a few hours, by 3am I had the film cut and had also done a light colour grade.
Up at 6am and over to Greensborough to show Chrissy, Mark, one of our camera operators Kevin, and one of the cast, Chris. After repeated screenings of the film, and discussions as to what worked and what didn't, we made a few changes and some additions. The more we tweaked, the happier everyone felt with the film, until finally we locked picture and I could hand off to Mark who would be mixing the dialogue and adding music to the film. Kevin started work on an additional colour grade, and I worked on some text elements.
Mark really pushed the time he had very close to the wire. Overall it was a great sounding mix. There were a couple of elements that I thought could have been tweaked differently, but time didn't allow for it. After he was done it was back to my machine to add in the final mix, Kevin's graded footage, and push it out to a couple of memory sticks for submission.
First I did an export that was slightly too large to fit on a memory stick, so I had to drop the quality down fractionally. After about six minutes that was done, and I started copying to the first memory stick, and it was going to take 20 minutes. THAT was a problem - if BOTH memory sticks took 20 minutes, we weren't leaving ourselves much time to get from Greensborough in to ACMI and submit. It was decided that I'd continue copying the file over in the car. I left my gear set up at Mark's and everyone piled in to cars and headed in. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but in the end the second memory stick only took about 7 minutes to copy the file across and we made it with about half an hour to spare.
It was a pretty amazing feeling, dropping the film off, surrounded by people that were feeling the same way we were, as well as people who had brought their laptops in to ACMI with them and were doing all the final transcoding and exporting in the submission room. After submission we all headed over to Young and Jackson's for some post-film drinks. I went and grabbed my laptop and we had a screening of the film for the cast and crew who hadn't seen it yet. Not the best, playing a film from a laptop in a noisy pub, but people still enjoyed it. A few people commented on just how damn happy I was. I couldn't stop smiling. It was hard not to feel happy. It's not the greatest film, but it's still an achievement. I'd happily work with most of that crew again too, and there was already talks of other scripts we might develop.
Mark and I got a lift back to his place with one of the cast, I packed up my gear and headed home, very tired but very happy.
From the 48HFP Melbourne's Facebook page:
"At 7pm last Friday 55 teams started the challenge of making a short film in only 48hours.
Some are new teams to the Melbourne competition and some already have up to six years experience.
45 teams made it on time, with 2 teams handing their film in at the very last minute!!
7 teams came late but are still stoked to have had the 48 experience.
3 teams did not complete their films.
Now the judges will get to work....
Make sure you're coming to see the films at ACMI between the 22nd - 26th of September and the Awards night/After-party on the 3rd of October. Screening groups will be announced this coming Friday."
We've been given our screening date: Wednesday 24th of September. 13 films will screen, including ours, starting from 7:30pm. Go to this page on ACMI's website if you'd like to buy a ticket to come along
. It will be the first time anything I've cut will be shown on the big screen. I've got a festival pass and plan to see all the films made for the festival, both to inform my own editing, and to see what ideas other teams had.
Overall it was an excellent experience and I'd definitely compete again. In the meantime, I have a bunch of new contacts and may work with them again in the future, and a film that I cut together screening in a cinema. So yeah. Life's pretty rad. :)