I have been involved in a few 48 Hour Film Festival projects over the years, this post is me trying to get down in writing the things that made our films successful. And by successful I don’t mean that we won prizes or accolades; I mean that we had a great time making them, learnt a few things, arrived at the finish line on time, and got to see our work projected on the big screen to a polite smattering of applause. In my view that is what the 48 Film Festival is all about.
None of the following advice applies to the superstar professional teams that enter the competition every year. Those people already know what they are doing. This is strictly for the first-timers.
Equipment and Software
Camera, you need one (well, duh). If you don’t have access to a professional video camera, your options are a digital SLR camera in video mode, or a home camcorder. The camcorder will probably be easier to use, but the DSLR camera will have vastly better lenses. This year we used a Canon 550D, a low-end DSLR, and were pleased with how it looked.
Tripod, doesn’t have to be flash – we used a plastic one that my Mum got free in some special offer years ago. If you are feeling ambitious then try to arrange a dolly – we did without but it can add visual interest to otherwise static scenes if the camera moves smoothly.
Sound is an area where a lot of films fall down; our films have never had good sound because we skimp on microphones and it costs us in the heats. Ideally you want an external microphone with a long enough cord to put in on a boom or somewhere close to the actors. The other option is to rerecord dialogue later and lay it on top of the video during editing, but that is a big job for an amateur team. You can use the camera’s inbuilt microphone but the results will not be great.
Lighting is a problem for small teams, especially when filming indoors with small camcorders. If you don’t have access to proper stage lights, reading lamps that are not too directional can do at a pinch. If the weather is good, try to shoot outdoors as much a possible. You have to be careful shooting in direct sunlight, to avoid the actors faces being half in shadow you need a source of fill light. A white piece of cardboard or polystyrene foam can be used to bounce sunlight back the other way to eradicate annoying dark patches.
A car (or two), you will need to transport people and equipment around. Food and drink enough for the entire cast and crew. Nobody works well when they are hungry and thirsty. Sunscreen is important when filming outside. Petty cash on hand to buy props and supplies in a hurry. A few changes of clothes for your actors if your story takes place over multiple days. Maybe some make-up for the actors.
A computer and editing software. If in doubt, get an Apple Mac. All Macs come with iMovie (editing) and Garage Band (music, multi-track recording), two pieces of easy to use software that together make up 95% of what you need to make a short film. Better software exists but not for free.
Two other pieces of software we found useful were Audacity (sound editor), and InkScape (graphics editor for titles, etc). Both these programs are available for Mac and Windows, and are free. Make sure you have at least a passing familiarity with the software before the big weekend. Every minute will count once you get to the editing stage.
Whew! I didn’t set out to write so much. This is going to have to be a two part affair.