It all begins with required elements — a prop, a character and a line of dialogue — and then a genre drawn randomly. Over the course of two caffeine-filled days after learning what kind of movie they are making, local filmmaking teams race the clock to get it made. It’s all part of the 48 Hour Film Project, now in its 14th year in Atlanta. Started nationally in 2001, when creator Mark Ruppert came up with the idea to make a film in 48 hours, the competition has fielded more than 900 competitions around the world and been responsible for more 25,000 short films. Organized by co-city producers Gabe Wardell and Paula Martinez, Atlanta’s event is the fourth largest 48 Hour Film Project in the world, behind only France, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
As part of the event, filmmakers must use the assigned elements for their film and have it written, finished and submitted within 48 hours — and keep it four to seven minutes in length. The regular deadline ended last week but Martinez says teams will enter all the way until the very last moment. While a list of the possible genres is available online, the required elements are random — and not revealed until June 12, the day filmmakers can begin.
A few years ago, for example, filmmakers had to use Jackson or Jackie Lewis as a character, a cell phone as a prop and the line “Why don’t you try again?”
Both Martinez and Wardell tend to have favorite teams and films, which is why it’s important to have a jury choose winners. “It’s really interesting to see what the jury comes up with,” Martinez says. “Each year, what we think, we are completely off.”
Wardell and Martinez have been presenting the Atlanta version since 2009, first as part of the Atlanta Film Festival, where Wardell was the executive director and Martinez the managing director/festival producer. When they left the film festival, they took the 48 hour event with them and have grown it over time. Last year’s 96 entries set a local record.
Having worked together for so long, Wardell and Martinez complement each other professionally, even when they have differing opinions. “We fight all the time,” Martinez admits. “It’s kind of like we are work spouses. But it’s good. I have this business sense about me and he has the creative sense; that is why we work well together. In the end, we see things from all different angles, which helps us make better decisions.”
Growth has allowed more diversity. “I think Gabe and I have worked really hard to build relationships with local teams and filmmakers,” says Martinez. “We have a great melting pot of diversity here. When we started we didn’t see that much diversity, but the teams now are becoming more diverse.”
All the submitted films will be screened from June 22 – 25 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema and in early July, the Best of Show and Awards Ceremony screens the winners and honors the winning filmmaking teams. The local winner advances to Filmapalooza in Los Angeles, and those winners advance to the Cannes International Film Festival.
Technology has raised the stakes for all participants, both in terms of high-end professional equipment and low-cost consumer products. Yet while the technical quality of the films continues to push the envelope, Wardell says the simple truth is that the best films start with a good story.
The local event brings together a cross section of teams, from filmmaker wannabes to seasoned pros. One year, an individual entered who had never touched a camera before, or any editing equipment, and was the only one on her team. She actually finished very high.
“The majority of the people want to do it because it’s fun, but some are very competitive,” Martinez says. “About 10 teams are very competitive. They can get angry if they are not recognized, especially if they have been doing it for years.”
Wardell feels the growth of the local industry — specifically television series — has been both a blessing and a curse to an event like the 48HFP.
“The key benefit is that it has stemmed the flow of talent looking for paid production work in L.A., New York or elsewhere,” Wardell says. “That so many of our filmmakers are making a good living locally, thanks to steady flow of industry production in Georgia, also spawns all sorts of ancillary work. The challenge we face is this: We are so many crews deep in production right now that many of the folks who would normally form a team and make a movie quite simply are too busy right now to do so.”
He and Martinez had hoped to reach 100 teams in this year’s competition. The feedback they’re getting from many regulars, however, is that they can’t spare the time because they are on set working. “That’s a good problem to have,” Wardell says. “We’re happy for the success of our alumni, and we are thrilled to provide a platform to launch the careers of the next generation of filmmakers.”