I recently led a team of 10 people to create a film, Breadpool, for the Seattle Summer 48 Hour Film Project, 2022. This was my third 48 film and while I keep having fun, I still make a lot of mistakes. To be fair, it is really, really, really, REALLY hard to create and complete a film in 48 hours, I don't care who you are. To create a quality film in 48 hours is exponentially harder. My main lesson I've learned is simplicity, simplicity, and simplicity. While I say that and I know it to be true, it has proven illusive to act on that lesson. Here are my biggest three mistakes that I feel I made on this last 48. Disclaimer: I own these mistakes. My team was incredible. I'm humble and appreciative that these awesome and creative people put their trust in me, and work their butts off to help create our vision.
Pick a Genre
So if you're not familiar with the 48, you get two genres randomly drawn (out of 30+ genres) on Friday, the start of the 48 around 7pm. You can either choose one or combine both. But if you declare both, your film must be recognized as both those genres. So what did we do? We decided to do both. Bad idea.
Our two genres were Climate and Comedy. I will say that off the bat, I know I don't do comedy well when it comes to script writing. So in hindsight, I made it a ton more difficult to write a comedy by throwing in a "clever" post apocalyptic world that was created from failure to react to climate control. Oh, and the film has to be 4-7 minutes long.
To give you an idea of our process; once we get the genres and the elements (character, line of dialogue, and prop) at 7pm on Friday, we do a brainstorm / ideation session with anyone who wants to be part of that creative process. We yell ideas out and someone (Michelle, the incredible actor extraordinaire in this case) takes notes and helps facilitate the session. I like to time box this session to 2 hours. By 9pm I want to have the characters outlines along with the story outline including all major plot points (e.g. Inciting Incident, etc). We did that and with the excitement of the 48, I fully believed that our story outline could fit the bill for both Climate and Comedy. In fact, I was super confident we had good story structure and we were right on schedule.
Keep your story simple and script < 5 pages
I've heard that a good rule of thumb to convert script pages to timeline is about 1 page == 1 minute of screen time. I don't know how accurate that is but its probably a good rule of thumb.
I had an 8-full page script by 1am. There were still some folks awake and we read through the script, and while it was rough in some parts, we again felt it had good story structure and we could visualize it. I figured, eh, if we're only 1-page over (7 pages == 7 minutes according to that rule) we can squeeze some out in post.
Bad idea. I need to really follow my simplicity, simplicity, simplicity rule. It would have been a hell of a lot easier to cut the script than to cut it in post.
In addition to the 8-page script, the story I was trying to tell needed time to develop. The story was too complex for this 48 short. Hell, I had a 1.5 page monologue for our gambler character Robin that was Sam Jackson / Q. Tarantino inspired to develop the crazy, playing with her victims type speech. I must admit, I felt pretty good about that monologue for cranking it out in < 10 minutes. It had relevancy to the story, the character but was off the fucking wall enough to give the audience reason to say "WTF?" - Our lovely actor Sarah worked her ass off memorizing the lines, working the lines, adding intent, asking questions and just worked her ass off on that monologue.
It didn't even make the first cut. Oof. Big mistake on my part. There are so many sub mistakes from this big one. Keep it simple and under 5 pages. If I would have kept that, that monologue probably would have never made the final script cut.
Allow for sleep / re-charge time
I am so stupid. So very, very, very stupid. I know from working 2 prior 48s that you start to lose rational thought by staying up so long and you start making poor decisions, and your follow through falters as the hours go by.
I had a 4:30 am call time on Saturday. Wow. Dumb.
I was obsessed with the idea of filming an abandoned festival. We were filming at a business in the Junction in West Seattle and it just so happened that the West Seattle Summer Fest was happening that same weekend. I thought, wouldn't it be cool to set our post apocalyptic, post climate world in an abandoned fair? Wouldn't it be creepy to convey that? Well, first of all, why the hell would there still be a fair setup in a post apocalyptic world? If we know anything about human nature, that shit would have been destroyed minutes after the fall of society. I was tired, leave me alone and it sounded like a good idea at the time.
Well, in order to capture that scene, we had to go when no one was there but there was some natural light. So we looked up when dawn was and set the call time to 30 minutes prior. dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb dumb.
That means that I took a 1. 5 hour nap before we started shooting. When we got there, there were festival workers there and they were super cool, but we had to work around them. There was also a contingent of people out (joggers, troublemakers, etc) that we had to work around. Oh, there were street lights and a beautiful looking downtown West Seattle with pristine fair tents and booth set up. Hardly the post apocalyptic scene I had in my head a few hours before in writing the script.
Oh and the crows. The goddamn crows.
The monologue I mentioned earlier was about crows. Our gambler character was talking about how she was surprised crows didn't survive the climate incident, ranting about how smart crows were. To be clear, in my Breadpool world, crows were extinct.
There was about one thousand goddamn crows (and other birds) in every shot we tried to shoot, including all their damn morning chirps and caws. Stupid crows ruining my movie.
We ended up shooting until 9pm. Yup, close to 16 hour shoot day. Ugh. That's brutal and sounds stupid just writing it. If any of my team are reading this, I'm sorry. I'm stupid and won't let that happen again.
To top it all off, we had a 6 am spotting session with our composer Wallace on Sunday so I needed to get the rough cut done by then. Oh, we also had a lot of folks drop (all for good reasons, health and family first) at the last minute, so Wallace being the awesome guy he is, volunteered to do the sound recording / boom operator.
By 2am Jason (who was killing it at editing) and I had a 10 minute and 30 second rough cut. We ran out of juice and had to take a nap. We were going to get up at 5 to try to cut 3.5 minutes but I "over" slept until 6. So we didn't get our rough cut done until 8 am, only giving Wallace limited time to work on the music / scores, after him pulling a 12 hour day the day before.
Have Fun (Bonus Mistake)
At the end of the day, we finished and turned a film in on-time. We had to cut so much in post that we dropped the climate part. In hindsight, the climate aspect was only there by a thread anyway, by the time we had to cut so much, it was completely gone, along with some key moments from our story.
When I did my first 48 I had a kickoff meeting with the team and told them my goal was to finish on time and not get disqualified for messing up one of the rules. Mission accomplished AND we ended up winning an award.
I had a kickoff meeting with this crew and told them my goal was to come in within top 3 of best in city. I wanted an award. Mind you, the awards are minor for this competition. Don't get me wrong, there is a great deal that does into the viewing and judging for this film fest and I'm grateful for it. AND it definitely feels nice to win, but the chances of overnight fame and fortune from a 48 award are pretty slim. STILL, I think at least for me, mentally, I had this award or nothing mindset and I don't think that is a good mindset to operate from. That "Ignorance is Bliss" talk is true sometimes. That first 48 we did, I had no idea what I was doing and just filled with blind optimism. A year later and completing my 3rd 48, I know more now and the more I know, the more I realize I don't know, and the pressure to "award" probably distracted me a bit.
We did it. We made a movie in 48 hours and didn't get disqualified. Mission accomplished.
I'm excited to get started on the horror 48 coming up in October. I have most of team assembled and we have a new goal for this 48; To scare the shit out of at least 10 people.