film challenge

How to Shoot for a 48 hour Film Challenge

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48 hour film challenges are exactly what you might expect; the challenge of making a film from start to finish in 48 hours. Sounds hard right? That’s because it is! But that shouldn’t put you off from doing one and here’s why…

What is a 48 hour film challenge?

Designed to test your teamwork, creativity and organisation to its limits, you are given 48 hours to come up with an idea and then plan, execute and deliver the film. There are a number of 48 hour challenges around the country (and the world), including local and national ones, but whilst some that are genre specific (such as the London Sci-fi challenge), the really challenging ones don’t give you anything until the launch event.

To ensure that you aren’t getting a head start and are genuinely shooting the film only once the clock starts ticking, they give you set criteria that needs to be included in your film. common criteria can be –

  • A line of dialogue that must be said
  • A character
  • A prop that must be seen
  • A genre
  • A theme

Why wouldn’t I just make a film anyway?

We all have that script that is the best thing ever written, the film that’s going to launch our careers to new heights, only problem is it’s been sat on your laptop desktop for 6 months and you’re still no closer to filming it.

The burning desire to make films is often counterbalanced by the inevitable lack of funds, time or self-belief, but when put in the tight time constraints of a 48 hour film challenge you have to just run with an idea and just start.

Don’t believe me? Think about when you are getting out of bed in the morning…if you know you only have 5 minutes before you need to leave then you just get up and get ready, but if you think you have an hour then you hit that snooze button and before you know it you’ve overslept and missed your appointment.

Sitting there at the launch event with no idea what you are going to make and then sitting there 2 days later with a finished film is an amazing experience, and a great way to start filling out that showreel.

Inevitably compromises will be made in areas and it won’t ever be as good as if you had a week to spend on it (most commonly the grade and sound design), but there’s nothing stopping you from finessing it after the 48 hour deadline has passed for other film festivals.

One of the other great uses for 48 hour film challenges is to test your collaborations, and see how well you can perform as a team under pressure so when working on bigger and more financially invested projects you know who you can rely on. These challenges improve your decision making, your adaptability, and your network.

Check out the film we made, winner of best director, and nominated for best acting, best editing, best sound and audience choice award.
Cast – Nina Shenkman and Alice McCarthy
Director – Nuri Moseinco
Writers – Nuri Moseinco and Nina Shenkman
Assistant Director – Katy Thompson
Director of Photography – Aram Atkinson
Camera Assistant – Benjamin Shallcross
Sound Designer – Lavinia Gavrilovici
Editor – Jordan Michael

How can I make a good film within 48 hours?

Whilst there are set criteria to stop you starting before the 48 hours begins, there are ways you can get ahead and give yourself the best chance of maximising your time.

Each competition will have rules about what you can and can’t do beforehand, but in general it is fine for you to secure locations, actors, crew and equipment before. You are likely to already have a crew in mind, equipment to shoot with and if you can guarantee at least one male and one female actor then you are in a good position, but locations are the real key to success.

Judges want to be wowed and feel like what you’ve shot has taken a week rather than a day to film, and you can do this by having 2 or 3 unique and varying locations all in close access to each other. Having a base is crucial, somewhere you can settle whilst you work up the idea, where someone can prepare food and equipment can be kept, and if it can double up as a key location then you’re cutting down unnecessary travel time.

Perhaps you have 2 amazing locations but they are far away from the launch event? No matter, you just need to delegate someone (check the rules as to who) to go to the launch event and then they can pass on the details so you can start coming up with ideas whilst they travel back, just make sure you factor in the return time.

Many of these events are highly strict with deadlines, miss the hand-in by 30 seconds and that’s it, 48 hours hard work down the pan.

One thing to bear in mind when unsure of the genre is the flexibility you will need not only in location, but in costume and even age of the actors. Some of the genres I have come across have included road trip, generation gap, film noir, period drama, sci-fi…give yourself as much range as possible.

Now you have all of these in place, the best step is to come up with a plan. For the last film challenge I did we dedicated Friday night to coming up with the idea, writing the script, creating a shooting schedule and lighting the first scene.

Some teams crack on right away and start shooting which is absolutely amazing if you are confident in your idea and your script is written super fast, but if you run before you can walk you may fall flat on your face come later in the day.

Sleep is often sacrificed and whilst they are all going to be long days, you can try to structure your crew’s sleep hours so people aren’t running on empty; does the editor need to be awake whilst you are shooting til 4 in the morning or can they just wake up early and crack on whilst your cinematographer sleeps?

I’m hooked, where do I find them?

The big ones are the 48 hour film challenge (part of the global 48 hour film challenge project), sci-fi 48 hour film challenge and there is an animation challenge too in the UK.

They run throughout the year and there is most likely a relatively local one to you at some point, but if there isn’t then what’s stopping you from creating one. Maybe Scunthorpe is crying out for their own 48 hour film challenge, who knows.

Creating anything from concept to delivery in 48 hours is a huge feat and no matter what you create you should be proud of making something in that time period. Good luck!

Here’s a list of a few of the main 48 hour film competitions.

→ 48 hour film project
→ Sci fi London
→ Portsmouth film challenge
→ Two Short Nights
→ Anijam (Animation)

Do you know any which we have missed? Post a comment and let us know.

Aram Atkinson
Aram Atkinson
Aram is an award-winning writer, director and DOP. He specialises in commercials and high concept dramas.

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