Local filmmakers, actors and writers put their skills to the test last weekend for the 2015 installment of the 48 Hour Film Project and subsequent short film festival. Starting Friday, June 12, registered teams celebrated the 48-hour time-crunch kick-off by drawing a genre from a popcorn bucket, and then racing to get their films in by the Sunday, June 14 deadline. Despite not knowing their genre in advance—possibilities ranged from Musical to Fantasy to Romance to Horror as well as everything in between—teams only had 48 hours (plus a 30-minute drive time to cut down on accidents) to cast, write, shoot and edit a 4–7–minute short film. SLUG was lucky enough to sit down with 48 Hour Film Project producer Brian Higgins to see what makes this one of the world’s most unique film challenge experiences.
Higgins started out as a 48 Hour Film Project participant for five years in Boston, and he’s now been the producer for the festival in Salt Lake City for the past six years. “Seeing the creativity of what people can do in 48 hours is incredible,” he says. “You don’t have a film on Friday, and then on Sunday you do and then you’re watching it in the cinema.” Each year has different groups, ranging from 48 hour veterans to brand new teams across all ages, backgrounds and artistic styles. This year, Salt Lake City hit a new record: of the 32 entries, only two were submitted after the deadline. Late entries can still be screened at one of the three screenings, however, they are not eligible for any of the awards with the exception of the audience award. What makes this such a unique film challenge is that you are not only competing against your peers in your city, you are up against filmmakers around the world, from Tokyo to Sydney to London. Winners from each city go on to compete again—at Filmapalooza at Grauman’s Chinese theater in Hollywood—where the winners get screened at the Cannes Film Festival in France. This means that every year, any actor, director or cinematographer from any town in the world, including Salt Lake City, has the chance of getting discovered at Cannes just by making a quick and clever short film over the weekend with some friends.
There are some elements that make the 48 Hour Film Project unique, and that is that you never know what you’ll get. Teams range from one person to 100 people, and a budget of pizza money to being able to afford full scale props and effects. Each year has a different set of requirements that have to be included—as a challenge and to make sure the films aren’t being made in advance. This year contestants had to feature a character named Greg or Gretta Maisel, feature a key chain as a prop, and use the statement “Your guess is as good as mine.” Interestingly enough, this year, none of the teams drew the coveted horror genre, which doesn’t mean there was a shortage of stage blood or shocks. This year there is an animated film in the running as well as a short period piece featuring an antique B-17 Bomber. Higgins points out that the beauty in the films lies in the creativity of the teams. “You can use these three things to see where they take you, but some people just squeeze them in.” He also muses, “We had a lot of drones shooting footage last year.”
At the 9 p.m. showing of the Group B set at the Broadway Theater, 11 films (one was a late submission) were screened. The genres on the ballot ranged from “fish out of water” to “superhero.” After the screening, a short Q and A took place with the directors and some cast members. Cleverly named team Alpaca Punch thanked their puppeteer in the audience for “making the piranha tail move just right.” Team Red Leader and their Romance short Your Hand in Mime featured a mostly silent film with the protagonist being a mime falling in love with a pretty waitress. Nick Markham let the audience in on why they went with a silent film as a choice “There was a flash mob of about 50 Peruvian dancers who showed up”. They filmed at the Salt Lake City Library, which is usually relatively quiet and peaceful, “Of all the days for a Peruvian group from Colorado to show up,” he says. Also screened in Group B was the period piece Dearest Gretta, where the lucky team procured the B-17 Bomber and authentic vintage costumes. “To be honest, I just got really lucky with it. I had an in with the WWII guys,” says Freelance Film’s Lance Nelson. “The hardest part was not laughing. The Utah Military History Group are the funniest guys I’ve ever met. I was laughing and trying not to shake the camera.”
The films that will play at the June 23 award screening have all won awards based on the judges decisions, and they will all be sent to the Headquarters in Washington D.C. Winners will be announced as their films play. Higgins encourages others to take part in this and other film events. “Just knowing that I’m part of the creativity of Salt Lake and that just keeps getting better and better. It’s a wonderful place to live.” Higgins, originally from Ireland, calls himself a “trans-media” story teller, running this festival as well as others in the valley, and also has a focus on mental health through film called Create Reel Change. He states that the what filmmakers can get out of the challenge is “Validation, and love and support from their peers, and the opportunity to screen, and smiles for everyone.” He’s also got advice for future participants. “Keep it simple. A lot of people fail because they overreach. Simple film, small teams, and have fun.” The formula for success: “Structure. It’s a timed competition, so structure is important. And rely on the community.”
The awards show is at 7 p.m. at the Broadway Theater in Salt Lake City and tickets are $12 at the door. You can also check out Brian Higgins’ other projects Create Reel Change and Filmulate, as well as see his stand-up routine sometime around town. More information on the 48 Hour Film Project can be found at 48hourfilm.com the Salt Lake screening information can be seen at 48hourfilm.com/en/saltlakecity/.
He took a break from comedy to pursue filmmaking in his early 20s, spending a few months pounding out a script and actively trying to get it made. His repertoire includes some short films as well as an elusive “stripper documentary” that he didn’t delve into too much, to Staker’s surprise. He has decided that comedy is more of his thing these days. He says, “Making people laugh is one of the best gifts that someone can have.” He’s been interested in documenting the conversations people have about film for awhile. “I feel like everyone likes movies, despite who they are or what they do,” says James. “It’s weird—it’s one of those things that if you love something, you can jabber on about it.”
The bubbly counterpart to James is Quinci Staker, who was born with film in her blood. She has been acting since the second grade, focusing on film when she turned 18. Staker and James met on a casting call that he did on his script. In fact, he still had her head shot years later when she joined his podcast, which wasn’t creepy at all or anything, according to Staker. Her goal is to be able to take a part in at least one film in every genre, and her passion has always really been in drama. This is her first podcast, and she jumped on the opportunity to co-host, as she shared the same love and nerdiness for film as James.
When James approaches people to be on the show, he asks for their top 20 favorite films. “Everybody has their go-to movies that they either love talking about or they love telling people to see.” He’s got the set up of mics, a laptop, and couches in the living room of his apartment. James sees this as an opportunity to have an uncensored talk about movies where anything can happen with people who are experts on the movies that they love. “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover,” says Staker. “I know that there have been a lot of people and the stuff that they’re into, you would’ve never known in a million years.”
Staker reminisces on her favorite episode, “When Cinematic Animals Attack,” with the one and only Melissa Merlot. “I don’t think I’ve really laughed as much as I did with Melissa,” she says with a huge smile on her face. James agrees, “Melissa has the most infectious laugh, and she could say the stupidest thing, and I’d still laugh.” One of their most memorable moments was on the recent Roadtrips episode where things got really uncomfortable and up close and personal between James, Staker and guest Shayne Smith talking about their, uh, sexual encounters. “Every episode has genuine moments, and I can pick out a favorite moment from every one,” says James.
Just to put the hosts on the spot, I had to turn the tables and find out what their favorite movies are. In order to trust these nerds as an authority on the matter, this is the most important question that could be asked. Staker is an all-time fan of Trainspotting, and credits this as the film that got her interested in filmmaking. James names underground and underappreciated dark comedy Death to Smoochy. Although, he’s not shy about his absolute love for romantic comedies, either. Now, if you think you can trust these nerds, you’ve got some podcasts to listen to.
You can download the In Movie Nerds We Trust podcast on iTunes and Stitcher. Jordon Mazzioti is their current sponsor and also designed their eye-popping graphics. Check out local filmmakers at the upcoming FilmQuest event, and stay tuned for live events coming up at summer’s end for the duo. You can also follow them on facebook and twitter to get exclusives on new episodes and see pictures from the taping.