The 7:30 p.m. deadline for the inaugural Madison edition of the 48 Hour Film Project was strictly adhered to on Sunday night at the High Noon Saloon. Participating filmmaking teams scrambled to deliver their entries to the drop-off party at the near east side venue. In the end, though, only seven completed films were submitted in time for official consideration in the international competition.
"There was one team that was a minute late," says Project producer Sierra Shea. On the way to the High Noon, she explains, they were burning their DVD for submission in a car and hit a bump, consequentially interrupting the process. Upon reaching the club, Shea continues, they set up their laptop on the pool table and recommenced with burning. "The countdown to 7:30 p.m. passed, though," she explains, "and within a matter of seconds the computer finished burning. It was devastating for everybody."
Of the other six films, Shea says, one was ten minutes late, another was a half-hour late, and three arrived several hours after the deadline, the final coming in at 11:50 p.m. on Sunday night. Then there was one film that was submitted in time but was also incomplete, and therefore ineligible as an official Project entry.
All was a matter of course for the 48 Hour Film Project, an international filmmaking event that has held more than 100 two-day competitions in the six years since its founding in Washington D.C. This marked the first year that it was held in Madison, organized on a local basis by Shea, a recent UW graduate who took on the project in order to help boost the city's profile in broader filmmaking circles.
"I want to get Madison on the map," she says. "As a city, we're hiding in the shadows of Chicago. Overall there are so many talented people making films here, and I just want to get their work shown."
Madison is indeed a very film- and video-rich city, looking back at the numerous UW film clubs in existence a couple generations ago, the current ongoing growth of the Wisconsin Film Festival, and the broad array of local filmmakers creating shorts, music videos, and the occasional feature in an era of online distribution.
Creating a film in four-dozen hours is a well-established phenomenon in Madison too, with Wis-Kino conducting similarly styled Kabarets every spring and autumn since 2002.
What's different about the 48 Hour Film Project is that it is explicitly organized as a competition, the local branch of an annual cycle of filmmaking held in cities throughout the U.S. and in scattered international locations. The Project also features a detailed set of filmmaking and competition rules, along with multiple documentation requirements for everything talent release forms to a division of copyright agreement. Each team also paid $125 for the chance to participate, a fee sent to Project headquarters to help pay for the annual overhead of the event.
Kicking off at Escape Java Joint on Sunday, Mar. 25, this first Madison edition of the 48 Hour Film Project attracted fourteen teams of filmmakers, each committed to producing a four to seven minute short from script to post-production between 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Apr. 20 and Sunday, Apr. 22.
Like many other artistic endeavors organized around creating a work within a set time limit, the Project also featured several elements required to be included in the films. These elements included a character (named "Ray" or "Rae Roberts" working as a handman or -woman), a prop (Christmas lights), and a line of dialogue ("That was as smooth as butter"), each selected by Project staff in D.C. Every entry was also intended to differ too, though, given another element selected at the outset of the process.
Project organizers selected fourteen potential genres for submissions this year, a number that coincidentally corresponds with the number of teams in Madison and makes for no overlap between entries. Drawn from a hat during the kick-off on Friday night, these genres are: "Holiday," "Spy," "Sci-Fi," "Film de Femme," "Superhero," "Road Movie," "Romance," "Comedy," "Buddy Film," "Musical/Western," "Drama," "Horror," "Fantasy," and "Detective/Cop."
Films were completed for each genre excepting the final two. The "Detective/Cop" entry was the one submitted as an incomplete work, while the group drawing Fantasy opted to select a wild-card alternative and wound up with "Animals" as their final genre.
Madison theater enthusiast Christian Neuhaus provides a detailed account of the filmmaking process for one team, their creation in the "Road Movie" genre getting submitted just in time for inclusion as an official entry.
Since receiving all fourteen films on Sunday night, Shea has been pre-screening and compiling the films in preparation for their premiere tomorrow. All thirteen completed works will be shown at the Orpheum Theatre at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Apr. 24, through which viewers will be able to select their favorite for an audience award and at least two of three judges will get their first look for the official competition.
These three judges in Madison were selected by Shea to represent the breadth of film experience to be found in town. They are UW art video instructor Rosemary Bodolay, Blame Society Productions principal and documentarian Tona Williams, and independent filmmaker David King.
"They're looking for the best overall film, they're looking at the use of dialogue, character and prop elements, and finally how well the teams adhered to their genre," Shea explains. Other Project awards are also sometimes given at the local level for things like Best Directing, Best Script, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Acting, Best Use of Character, Best Use of Prop, Best Use of Line, Best Music, Best Sound Design, and Best Effects.
The winners will be announced and presented during a party at the High Noon Saloon on Monday, May 7. The entry selected as best film will subsequently be eligible to compete against other city winners, including a five-team showdown in early 2008 to shoot a commercial for Boston Brewery (Sam Adams) on a HD Panasonic camera where the winner takes home the hardware.
Shea is already thinking about the 2008 edition of the 48 Hour Film Project in Madison, particularly the timing. "Next year, I'm thinking late August when the weather is still nice and students are back in town," she says. "Then it won't be falling so closely after the film fest." Shea is also speaking with festival director Meg Hamel about possibly screening some of this weekend's creations as a programmatic element in its 2008 edition.
"Because Madison already possesses a passion for film," Shea concludes, "I hope the project will be a success."