Tag Archives: 48hours

Spy Tunes : 48 Hours Film

A few weeks ago I flew down to Wellington to rejoin the rest of my team for the 48 Hours Film Competition. We lost a few members this year, but we gained a couple of new members who both turned out to be great additions.

What Went Right
In previous years we have shared directing duties around. This gives everyone a go, but leads to lots of time wasting discussion. This year I directed the whole thing apart from a couple of shots and it seemed to go a lot smoother.

Our editing tools were a lot better this year as well. Last year we edited on an old MacBook and the final render took almost 3 hours. This year Bevan’s up-to-date desktop could render faster than realtime, which let us check our work. On top of that, this year’s film is edited much more aggressively giving it a sense of pace that our previous efforts have lacked.

We had access to two cameras this year, which allowed us to shoot sitcom style, from two angles at the same time. We worked so fast that we managed to get the film in early!

What Went Wrong
Audio is still a problem. Dialogue was recorded by the camera’s built in mic at the time, with no replacement or overdubbing. It could be generously described as “OK”. The songs were recorded using a USB headset with no working gain control, with the microphone placed as far away from the singer’s mouths as possible. Next year I really would like to get ahold of a proper microphone.

Much of the film has a moody blue cast to it. Possibly this was a stylistic choice by the director to give the scenes a cool, film noir tone. Or possibly I screwed up the white balance right from the start and didn’t notice. Who can tell?

There was no free beer at the finish line this year, so our efforts in arriving early were wasted.

You have waited long enough:

(You can also watch it at the 48 Hour Screening Room, along with the other films we competed against)

The reviews have been mostly kind. We didn’t make it out of the heats, but there is always next year…

State Highway Death : Turn Right for Murder

Here is our entry for the 2011 48 Hour Film Competition:

Watch on Youtube

The reviews were not kind, but everyone had fun making it. The elements this year were a character called Bobby Young, the dialog “What have you got”, a piece of bent wire, and the film had to end on a freeze frame. Our genre was “Road Movie”, to be honest I think we ended up with more of a revenge film (one of the other genres) but I think we got in enough travel to make it count.

My contribution was mainly as the camera operation, although I helped write the original script and directed the odd scene. It is my fault that Bobby is out of focus in the last scene – hi-def video is unforgiving.

So You Want To Make a 48 Hour Film Festival Film (Part III: Timeline)

Note: this is part three, see the first part for the introduction and disclaimer.

If all goes well, your effort should unfold something like this:

Before the competition: triple check the equipment. Do an end-to-end test by shooting some test footage, editing it into a short clip, and outputting it into the final format. Double check that the resulting file meets the requirements of the competition and take note of how long everything took. Remember to estimate how long your film will take to render and subtract that from the 48 hours you think you have to finish. Do this a couple of days beforehand so you have time to organise any replacement equipment should you need to.

Make sure that you have replacement batteries and recording media. Trust me on this.

On the Friday night: Send along a couple of people to the 48Hour kickoff event. The rest of the team should assemble somewhere quiet and comfortable. After the kickoff, your team’s representatives should phone ahead to let the team know the genre and required elements. The team should spend the evening kicking around ideas until everyone is happy with the rough shape of the film. The script should be written that night, ready for the start of shooting the following morning.

Saturday: Aim to start early, especially if travel is required. The script should have been emailed to the team during the night, so everyone should have seen a copy and know roughly what they need to bring in terms of costumes. With any luck, you can start shooting as soon as it is light. Aim to shoot the outdoor scenes first, you never know how much fine weather you are going to get. Make sure everyone is fed, people will be working hard.

With any luck, most of the shooting will be done by Saturday afternoon. If you are organised, it may be possible for your editor to start assembling finished scenes while the rest of the crew completes shooting but I have never been in a team that has managed this yet.

The editor can now get to work making a rough cut of the film. This should tell the complete story and give an idea of how the pacing works, but does not need music, titles, or much polish. It is here that the editor might discover that he or she does not have a shot required to tell the story, or that the sound is bad in one shot, etc.

Sunday: Assemble the crew you need for any reshoots and get them out of the way. You might have some ideas for different shots after seeing the rough cut, now is the time to try them out. Your musicians should be finishing up about this time. The final edit might take a couple of hours, depending on the complexity of your film. Adding in music tracks, and the title and credit sequences always take longer than you think. You really want to be finishing up about mid-afternoon. Remember that rendering your film can take hours if you have a slow computer. Don’t be like the people I see every year standing at the finishing line holding laptops still waiting for the render to finish as the clock strikes 7pm.

Now you get to bask in the knowledge that you have completed a film. Enjoy the heats, they are a lot of fun to watch.

So You Want To Make a 48 Hour Film Festival Film (Part II : Cast and Crew)

Note: this is part two, see the first part for the introduction and disclaimer.

Unless you are one of the mad people who can fling together a film solo, you are going to need teamwork to get the job done. Being on a team involves knowing when to share your ideas, and just as importantly, knowing when to shut-up and keep out of the way. You are going to be with these people for most of the weekend, so make sure you at least tolerate each other – things are going to be stressful enough as it is.

Apart from the actors, you are going to need some crew.

A director's chairMost importantly, the director decides how the action plays out in a scene including where the actors are positioned, what is in the background, what exactly the camera is looking at, etc. The director should not be afraid to boss people around if needed, and he or she has final say if discussion about an aspect of the filming gets “spirited”.

The camera operator is in charge of the camera equipment, including the lenses and making sure that batteries are charged and there is a fresh supply of media to record to. This person should know how to use the camera enough to make sure everything is in focus and the white balance is set correctly. The camera operator usually has a better idea of what is actually being recorded through the lens, so can often help with setting up lighting if this is required. Also, if you are recording sound directly onto the camera, the camera operation can check levels and microphone placement.

If you have a small crew, the director and the camera operator can be the same person, but it is often good to separate the roles since setting up the equipment can take up valuable directing time. While the camera operator is shooting, somebody shot be writing down a rough description of the shots being taken. This will help the editor later on.

The scriptwriter takes the ideas from the team and writes a shooting script. This will have all the dialogue and rough stage directions. In my experience, it is hard for people to write a script as a group; far better to let one or two people go off and whip something up once the general idea for the movie has been decided on. The script is not set in stone, but should give the actors the dialogue they need and the director an idea of what shots are needed to tell the story. Remember that the script needs to include all the required items specified in the rules.

The editor assembles the shots into a film and has the biggest influence on the final product. This person should be familiar with the software being used. Like scriptwriting, editing is difficult to do in a big group – one or two people maximum. If the editor can’t tell the story with the material the director shot, it may be necessary for the dreaded reshoot.

Depended on your film and who you have available, your crew might also include musicians, dedicated people for lighting and sound, drivers to ferry everyone around and possibly make-up artists if your cast is ugly.

So You Want To Make a 48 Hour Film Festival Film (Part I : Intro and Equipment)


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

Canon 550D CameraCamera, 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.