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Austin 48 Hour Film Project Gets the Full Rundown from ATX Screen Scene Editor in Chief Gabriel Ponniah
Austin’s own Richard Linklater made headlines nearly a decade ago when his 2014 film Boyhood finally came to fruition—the realization of a 12-year undertaking that saw cast and crew grow up right before the audience’s eyes. Not every movie requires such a protracted schedule.
From pre-production, to production, and through post, the whole ordeal usually lasts a matter of months–up to a couple years for the real behemoths of the bunch. Within that window, all hell breaks loose. First the script needs a punch-up, then the lead talent has demands, naturally the weather won’t cooperate, and of course the edit drags. Each journey from start to finish is unique, but one near-constant remains across all films: time is money, and movies need all they can get. So to do it all in two days represents quite a challenge indeed. Enter: The 48hr Film Project.
Stanley Kubrick famously advised aspiring filmmakers everywhere that “the best education in film is to make one,” and so it’s auspicious that “The 48” finds its origins in 2001, when Mark Ruppert and Liz Langston first conceived of the contest. Now over 20 years later, The 48hr Film Festival annually challenges teams in 130 cities across six continents to assemble a team and create an entire short film in a mere weekend. Beginning Friday night, teams select a genre from a hat, receive their required “elements” (a given line, character, and prop) from The 48 headquarters, and set off to begin writing. By Sunday evening, teams must submit their shot-and-edited final projects before time expires. The films are screened, judged, and the best of the fest goes on to represent that city’s chapter at the international 48hr Film Project championship: Filmapalooza.
This year’s Austin 48 featured a whopping 29 projects, each adhering to their respective genre, and each making use of this edition’s elements: the line “don’t tell anyone what I’m about to say,” the character “Taylor Getties - Expert”, and a wrench as the prop. Many teams were veterans of the 48, having one or more members who’ve done this kind of thing before—in Austin or elsewhere. For one such team, the 2022 Project in Austin marked their 40th 48hr film, an impressive feat that was duly recognized at the screening. Some teams were mostly newcomers, including a group of high school students and their AV teacher. Some had previously won best film, and were therefore able to tease the audience with tidbits from Filmapalooza during the filmmakers’ Q+A. One team featured members from three generations of the same family. Another was spearheaded by a poor soul who had to replace his ranks on short notice. Like I said, each journey is different, but all hell is certain to break loose.
Making a short film from scratch in two days produces a unique creative environment. Drawing heavily on the improv tenant of “yes, and...”, there’s an electricity to the process that contestants find irresistible, the same unbridled flow of ideas that inspired Ruppert and Langston during their first forays into 48-hr filmmaking over 20 years ago. Generally, teams spend Friday night writing, Saturday shooting, and Sunday editing, but these dileniations vary wildly depending on a number of factors. Many hands make light work, and larger teams are able to share the load, passing the proverbial baton from sub-team to sub-team until it’s reached the end of the assembly line. Smaller teams, on the other hand, take the gritty spirit of the 48 to heart in their marathon efforts to birth a viable project with minimal support. Those who draw the dreaded “musical” genre out the hat must integrate songwriting and recording into their workflow. This year’s contest saw anyone who braved the outdoors suffer in record highs which continue to wrack the globe as we speak, and the unbearable heat was a common talking point among entrants after the fact. Once all was said and done, 29 of 31 teams submitted projects on-time.
“And how were they?” you might ask.
The nature of the 48 pushes filmmakers to reach for what’s closest in their mind, and as a result, many of the entries wear their influences on their sleeves. This year’s collection featured a Soderbergh send-up, Hamilton: the therapy session, and Bill & Ted in a shed, among other influences. There were a few fantastical elements with Zemeckis’ fingerprints all over them, and then there were more grounded Gondry-esque approaches to the surreal. One short took a page straight out of the Daniels’ book with their frenetic, flashy editing. One film punned on marital dynamics with a superhero twist a la The Incredibles, while another riffed on the workplace streaming sensation Severance. In a very Robert Rodriguez way, each team wisely sought to maximize the resources they had at their immediate disposal, whether that be their clothes, cars, home, school, place of work, people, etc. Some projects came in with a little more polish, some traded technical merit for charm, but all possessed the manic ingenuity that can only be found under these extreme circumstances at The 48.
As a universal reward for their hard work, every film was screened at Linklater’s own AFS Cinema, where attendees packed the theater to the brim to enjoy the show. Whether participants or laypeople, everyone was treated to an exciting showcase of grassroots talent, observing how filmmakers met the challenge of turning that marathon we call moviemaking into a short sprint. At the conclusion of the screening, representatives from each team took the stage to regale the audience with some behind-the-scenes stories of the set and tales from Filmapaloozas past. Most of all, Austin’s dynamic 48 duo of Alyne Harding and Keira Marti, the producers of the Austin chapter and MCs for the festival, reminded all in attendance that when you take the plunge and join the 48, you’re not just setting aside a weekend of your life to shoot a short—you’re joining a family.
Whether you’re a long-tenured elder-statesman of the contest, a literal family of generations of participants, or a freshly inducted group of students just beginning to pique their cinematic curiosity, the bonds and experiences forged in the fires of the 48 can last a lifetime. To Austin’s lucky representative at the next Filmapalooza, I wish the best. To this year’s remaining entrants, I can’t wait to see what they come back with next year. And to everyone else, I hope to see you there.
The 2022 edition of the 48hr Film Festival concluded its Austin event the second weekend in August with a screening of the 10 “best of the fest”, followed by the much-anticipated awards ceremony. The stars were in attendance: the hapless conservationist from “A Convenient Truth” lazed about the lobby, while the possessed jaguar costume from “Mascot” posed for pictures on the stand-and-repeat—even The Wrench himself made an appearance. Soon the fraternizing was finished, and all filed into the theater for the main event.
Program heads Alyne Harding & Keira Marti opened the festivities with a slew of special thanks, recognizing local sponsors and shouting out other festivals, including the monthly ATX Short Film Showcase and the upcoming AniFab 2022. Seeing this kind of local network spread amongst grassroots artists warmed my heart. Amidst a deluge of increasingly depressing stories to come out of an increasingly callous and financially dogmatic film industry–most recently Warner Bros.’ Batgirl shelving snaffu—it’s difficult sometimes to remember the spark of genuine creative passion that unites all of us who, as the inscription above the cinema reads, make, watch, and love film.
The screening commenced, in no particular order, with the 10 films which the judges agreed were, on the whole, the most effective and proficient of the 29 on-time entries. From those, nominees and winners were selected in the following categories:
Adherence to Character “CHECK” from Red Canvas (Mystery) “End of Session” from Ghostwright Media (Musical) “Mythomania” from Buda Treehouse Studios (Comedy)
Adherence to Prop “NEVER AGAIN” from FORESTGIRAFFE Productions (Revenge/Sci Fi) “The Wrench” from Yellow Dinosaur Productions (Superhero) “What She Does” from Laconic Mojo (Superhero)
Adherence to Line “Moving Day” from Reject Modernity, Embrace Magicians (Drama) “Silent But Deadly” from CAKE Films (Silent Film/Revenge) “What She Does” from Laconic Mojo (Superhero)
Adherence to Genre “End of Session” from Ghostwright Media (Musical) “Mythomania” from Buda Treehouse Studios (Comedy) “What She Does” from Laconic Mojo (Superhero)
Writing “CHECK” from Red Canvas (Mystery) “End of Session” from Ghostwright Media (Musical) “What She Does” from Laconic Mojo (Superhero)
Individual Dramatic Performance James Drake Coleman in “CHECK” Matthew Eli Judd in “End of Session” Alexandria Bond in “Moving Day”
Individual Comedic Performance Isaiah Shankar in “Mythomania” Max Omer in “Mythomania” Clint Hofmeister in “Silent But Deadly”
Acting Ensemble “CHECK” from Red Canvas (Mystery) “End of Session” from Ghostwright Media (Musical) “Mythomania” from Buda Treehouse Studios (Comedy)
Stunts or Choreography “CHECK” from Red Canvas (Mystery) “Mythomania” from Buda Treehouse Studios (Comedy) “Silent But Deadly” from CAKE Films (Silent Film/Revenge)
Costumes (incl. Hair/Make-up) “CHECK” from Red Canvas (Mystery) “MASCOT” from NYOS Productions (Heist) “What She Does” from Laconic Mojo (Superhero)
Directing “CHECK” from Red Canvas (Mystery) “Mythomania” from Buda Treehouse Studios (Comedy) “Silent But Deadly” from CAKE Films (Silent Film/Revenge)
Musical Score “CHECK” from Red Canvas (Mystery) “End of Session” from Ghostwright Media (Musical) “Silent But Deadly” from CAKE Films (Silent Film/Revenge)
Original Song “Puzzles” by James Drake from “CHECK” “Drumline, Planning, Heist, Discovery, Chase, Possession, Credits” by Micah Beasley, composer from “MASCOT” “The Wrench” by Daniel Grzywacz, Wrenches and Producing from “The Wrench”
Cinematography “CHECK” from Red Canvas (Mystery) “End of Session” from Ghostwright Media (Musical) “Espresso Feelings” from The Dear Fear Folk (Coming Of Age)
Sound Design “CHECK” from Red Canvas (Mystery) “Mythomania” from Buda Treehouse Studios (Comedy) “NEVER AGAIN” from FORESTGIRAFFE Productions (Revenge/Sci Fi)
Graphics & Titling “MASCOT” from NYOS Productions (Heist) “Mythomania” from Buda Treehouse Studios (Comedy) “The Wrench” from Yellow Dinosaur Productions (Superhero)
Special Effects “CHECK” from Red Canvas (Mystery) “NEVER AGAIN” from FORESTGIRAFFE Productions (Revenge/Sci Fi) “What She Does” from Laconic Mojo (Superhero)
Set Design “Espresso Feelings” from The Dear Fear Folk (Coming Of Age) “Mythomania” from Buda Treehouse Studios (Comedy) “NEVER AGAIN” from FORESTGIRAFFE Productions (Revenge/Sci Fi)
Editing “CHECK” from Red Canvas (Mystery) “NEVER AGAIN” from FORESTGIRAFFE Productions (Revenge/Sci Fi) “Silent But Deadly” from CAKE Films (Silent Film/Revenge)
Audience Awards Group A: “Mythomania” from Buda Treehouse Studios (Comedy) Group B: “CHECK” from Red Canvas (Mystery) Group C: “MASCOT” from NYOS Productions (Heist)
Best Film “CHECK” from Red Canvas (Mystery) (1st Runner Up) “End of Session” from Ghostwright Media (Musical) “Mythomania” from Buda Treehouse Studios (Comedy) (Winner) “Silent But Deadly” from CAKE Films (Silent Film/Revenge) (2nd Runner Up) “What She Does” from Laconic Mojo (Superhero)
The “Espresso Feelings” crowd turned out in strong numbers, earning a sizable cheer for each of their two wins. The director at the helm of “Silent But Deadly” oozed comedic energy in his moments under the lights, which I felt was apt to his entry. But the biggest celebration of the night came for “Mascot,” and its team of high school AV students, led by their teacher, as all in the house cheered on the next generation. At the end of the ceremony, the most prized award—and the advancement to international competition at Filmapalooza—went to the impostor comedy “Mythomania”, just edging out fellow-frequent-nominee “CHECK”.
And so the judges’ will was done, and the audience and honorees exited the cinema. But I must admit, I’ve been holding out on you, dear reader, for among the judges throughout this whole process was yours truly. And while I’m more than satisfied with the results my fellow judges and I arrived at, I’ve got a few things to say about some interesting projects which, for one reason or another, just missed the cutoff. So now, I’d like to show some love to the best of the rest.
“Lucky Man” from VOXAVILA Films caught the attention of the whole panel, if for no other reason than because it was the 40th entry into a 48hr Film Fest from this team of seasoned veterans—and that experience shows. Having drawn the double-edged sword of ‘Musical’ out the genre hat, the team faced an uphill battle to turn in a solid project, and they passed with flying colors: tight narrative, solid setting, impressive music and lyrics, anchored by an unabashed lead performance. Looking at the awards record of genre-mate “End of Session”, it certainly would’ve been a contender in a decent number of technical and artistic categories, were it not for five measly seconds of extra runtime that put this usually surefooted crew of 48hr experts into the disqualified pile. Such was our disappointment that “Lucky Man” received a special mention at the ceremony, equal parts celebration and warning to those who might suffer the same fate, lest any of next year’s submissions let their credits begin just a bit too late.
“Glenn’s New Job” from Gary Peeton was a particular favorite of mine. I enjoyed the high concept: disenchanted with the working world, two brave souls forgo civilization to live off the land, but one is more committed to the cause than the other. The striking, incongruous visual of the desk in the woods, the creek scenes, the banter—sure it struggles to put a bow on things in the ending, but I loved this dark comedy nevertheless.
“A Heart Felt Memory” from An Unlikely Party featured compelling chemistry between its two leads, spiced up with absurdist puppets a la “How The World Works” from Bo Burnham’s hit special Inside. It got laughs at the screening, it showed intent in lighting and cinematography, and it featured visually entertaining credits. With the dearth of real contenders for graphics and titling, this is one project which seemed to put care towards those ends.
“One Father’s Wrench, Another Son’s Treasure” from Dos Pollos Productions took on their Coming of Age assignment in the form of a will reading, and had a chance at an ensemble nomination in my book. The performances were earnest, in spite of the clunkiness of having to write in the wrench as an object of symbolic importance (“The Wrench Who Fixed Christmas” struggled with the same problem; audiences just don’t buy a wrench with sentimental value). The pool stunt was fun, and the drinking visual gag was a crowd favorite.
“The Road To Amore” from 3 Generations was noteworthy for, as you might have guessed, featuring team members from three generations of the same family, building on famed Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’ all-hands approach. The grit this team showed, from making use of a tractor (“get in my bucket” got a nice audience response), to using dry ice for a busted engine (a tried and true trick of the trade), scratched a low-budget itch for me, and endeared me to the project. Now all that’s left to do is wait patiently for March 2023, where “Mythomania” will compete at Filmapalooza. After that it’s only a short while until rubber meets the road for the next edition of Austin’s 48. And who knows, with all the fun and excitement that enveloped me during this, my first exposure to the festival, I may not be writing you again next year—I might have my hands full diving into the project myself. And I hope I’m not alone (I know I won’t be).
Gabriel Ponniah Editor & Chief ATX Screen Scene
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