The 48 Hour Film Project Comes to NOLA

Local Filmmakers Spin Two Days Onto the Silver Screen

Photo from Rachel Searcey’s “A Day Without Magic” made for the 2018 48 Hour Film Project.

Story by Jacklyn Leo, 10th Grader at Lusher Charter School

On August 2nd, the New Orleans 48 Hour Film Project held the first day of its 13th annual red carpet screenings in the Central Business District. The hall of the Solomon Victory Theater in the National World War II Museum(an odd location choice, to be frank) was decorated for a banquet, the casts and crews were dressed for the Oscars, and there was an arch decorated with flowers for the cast and crew to take photos underneath.

Logo for 48 Hour Film Project

If you’ve ever watched Minute to Win It, Supermarket Sweep, or anything with Gordon Ramsey then you’ll understand the stress of the 48 hour Film Project. Two days to write, film, and edit a 3-9 minute short film, then have it on display for an audience of your peers to judge and enjoy. It’s like any other game show, except the prize isn’t a brand new car or a trip to Hawaii, but $500, new editing software, and a chance to show your film at the Cannes film festival.

Teams of experienced and amateur filmmakers pick a genre and are given a character, prop, and line on Friday. They then have to use those prompts in the movie they deliver to the judges on Sunday. As the project’s title suggests, the movies needed to be written, filmed and edited all in one weekend. With no pre-scripting and no time to lose, the cast and crew tested their abilities to work under pressure to the most extreme extent.

The results ranged in topics from talking trashcans to murder mysteries. Although each film had its own touch, each film needed to have a character named Jerry or Jeri Arnold the accountant, a trashcan as a prop, and the line “We’re going paperless.” It would be easy to assume that having the same things in every film would get boring, but it was interesting to see the many different ways people used the different elements.

When the clock struck seven, people started slowly making their way into the theater. The cast and crew of each of the 52 teams were so used to rushing to meet their 48-hour deadline the week before, but when the time came to watch their films, they slowed down got ready to enjoy  . Since there were so many films they had to be split into screening groups, making the crowds much smaller and easier to manage. The audience was small but enthusiastic, and after a quick introduction, the lights went out and the films started rolling to loud cheers.

Everybody was all smiles at the screening, but things were not so easy a week prior when the films were being made. Rachel Searcey from A Girl and her Goldfish Productions, who has made a film for this festival in the past called “A Day Without Magic” described it as, “both hectic and invigorating to participate in the 48 Hour Film Project. There are moments where you fear that it won’t work out the way you imagine.”

Photo from Rachel Searcey’s “A Day Without Magic”

In the 48 Hour Film Project, teams of experienced and amateur filmmakers pick a genre and are given a character, prop, and line on Friday.  They then have to use those prompts in the movie they deliver to the judges on Sunday. As the project’s title suggests, the movie needed to be written, filmed and edited all in one weekend. With no preplanning and no time to lose, the cast and crew tested their abilities to work under pressure to the most extreme extent.

Why would anyone put themselves under this amount of stress? “I participate because I love the challenge of creating something wonderful in such a short amount of time with the restrictions,” wrote Searcey in an email to JRNOLA, “It really pushes your creativity to new lengths and boosts problem-solving skills on the spot. I love seeing what others do with the same elements.”

While filmmaking-for-filmmaking’s-sake is undoubtedly a motive for many, there is also the added bonus of awards and an opportunity to have your film screened at the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, if it is voted as one of the best of the entries. If you pass the first local round you get to move on to the national round, until there is only one film left. Aspiring filmmakers all over the world from Toronto to the Netherlands to Nigeria to Peru compete for this chance. 

The prizes are great, but when you win you don’t just get a prize, you get the rewarding feeling that comes from participating in an event like this. Gavin Ferrara, who participated in the event twice back in 2014 and 2015 said it was strenuous “when you’re having to stay up for basically about 48 hours to get your stuff done,” but he felt it was worth it, “once you get the project done and it looks the way you want it to look it’s definitely rewarding”

Every time before a new film started, a small cluster in the crowd erupted with enthusiastic applause. Predictably, it was the cast and crew. While they were mostly the only ones clapping before the film, each film finished with every single audience member joining them in applause. The air in the theater was filled with support. When the credits were over and the next one starts it’s the same thing.

The winner of this year’s competition, as well as the film that will be representing New Orleans at Filmapalooza 2020 is called COED INVASION by Moms from Ohio. The film follows a group of college students partying in New Orleans shot like a reality TV series. The audience favorite was Ride to Destiny by Team Crow, a film about a cowgirl riding through the streets of New Orleans on her stick horse searching for her calling. 

The 48 Hour Film Festival isn’t just all fun and games, there is also a lot to gain from participating. Ferrara said he learned a lot from his time participating in the event. “it teaches you how to deal with one of the major things in filmmaking which is time management.” Ferrara also said it taught him a lot about how to communicate with his fellow cast and crew members as well as learning what to prioritize, which helped him with bigger projects in the future. 

As the last few films played, the next screening group was waiting outside for their turn in the theater. Just as the first group was doing two hours ago, they are making friends, taking pictures, and enjoying the refreshments. As the credits for the last film finish up the lights flashed back on and the team leaders walk to the front of the theater to start the Q&A, which was cut short by a late start. 

Photo from Rachel Searcey’s “A Day Without Music”

For those who may feel a bit daunted by creating a film from scratch in just two days, Searcey had a few words to offer. “My advice is to assemble a good team who you trust, and to have a good schedule,” Searcey said. “Go with the flow and be prepared for mishaps, but have a plan for the weekend and don’t go in blind.” 

Ferrara offers words of encouragement to anyone who may be considering throwing their hat in the ring. He said, “give it a try because it really does put things into perspective for what it really takes to make a movie” Their advice not only applies to the hectic parameters of the festival, but to anyone who wants to throw their hat into the wild ring that is show business.

Even though the event has already passed, you can still participate next year by going to the 48 Hour Film Project website and searching for participating cities near you. Though none of this year’s films are currently available, you can still watch some winners from previous years on the website.