This past weekend, I acted in the 48 Hour Film Project, a crazy weekend where multiple teams make seven-minute films in only two days. The format is simple: On Friday night, team leaders show up at a designated spot and draw a genre out of a hat. A list of parameters—a character’s name and occupation, a line of dialogue, and a prop—is given to each group. A complete film—shot, edited and scored—must be handed in on Sunday evening. They’re shown the following weekend and judged in several categories. I was part of a group of 29 people, trying to do something in one weekend that usually takes weeks or months. This is what it’s like.
7 p.m. I pull into the parking lot of our base camp, the Orpheum Arts Space, and some grinning crew members tell me the genre we’ve drawn is black comedy. There is general discussion about what actually constitutes black comedies.
7:30 to 9 p.m. The cast and crew brainstorm with the writer, who will go home and write the script overnight. It’s rumored that some teams work on a script in advance and adjust it to fit the genre they draw: Everyone agrees this is lame.
6:50 a.m. I stumble blearily into the Orpheum. Almost everyone is here already, and people seem cheerful. There are lots of boxes of coffee. Rob, the writer, looks exhausted. “Did you get any sleep at all?” I ask. He smiles happily. “Naw.” The director of photography, the grips and the director are already setting up shots and planning. They’ve seen the script and it’s been decided, although we had others lined up, that the Orpheum will be our only location.
7:45 a.m. We read through the script and it’s awesome. People laugh out loud and everyone applauds. Some stunts are necessary, a fact that we’re all happy about.
8 a.m. Tony, the producer, tells everyone to begin setup. Grips and production assistants are making the Orpheum into a church. Props people begin to make things. Actors ask questions of the playwright and start to sort through possible costumes. We have very little time to figure out who our characters are and what motivates them. No scene study here.
8:40 a.m. I’m perusing the script outside when the writer comes up and suggests we title the film “End of Daze.” I can’t tell if he’s joking.
8:45 a.m. Someone comes up and tells the writer how he/she would have better developed certain aspects of the script. This is the first of a few times this will happen. The writer takes it graciously.
8:45 a.m. I’m French-braiding another actress’ hair to make her look more “conservative.” I haven’t braided someone’s hair since middle school. The actors read the first scene through a few times. This is how we memorize the lines.
9 a.m. We’re rehearsing the first scene we’ll shoot under the lights. Then there are several filmed takes. Lights and cameras get moved around a lot and we, not seeing the footage, don’t know why. Just repeat what you did before as exactly as you can, for continuity. Sometimes the costumer dusts my face with what might be cornstarch.
10:30 a.m. We’ve started filming close-ups. It’s my movie boyfriend and me. What he’s doing with his character reminds me of Charlie Sheen in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s hard to not break into laughter.
10:55 a.m. I go into the kitchen to get a granola bar. I see the director of photography and the editor watching a computer screen. It’s the footage we just shot. Instead of the two people they wanted to be focused on, another actress is the major focus of the shot, due to lighting placement and her bright red sweater. We’ll probably have to reshoot all of the material. The actress is me.
11 a.m. It’s supposed to be lunch break soon, but we’re nowhere close. In fact, we’re still setting up shots for the first scene. We’re behind already. It’s looking like a long night. The actors are getting a little restless with this never-ending Scene 1.
11:30 a.m. There’s some obvious tension between two of the project leaders.
12:17 p.m. We’re on 10-minute break. Actors scurry to powder their faces. The air conditioner gets turned off during every take. It’s hot and several of us are wearing sweaters. It’s past lunchtime but we’re still working on the first scene: a lot of angles, a lot of close-ups. The writer is still awake.
1:07 p.m. We wrap for lunch, just finishing the first scene. Hopefully it was the most complicated and it will be downhill from here. I overhear a conversation between the executive producer and producer about how we’re not on schedule. The tech crew, director and stunt people don’t break for lunch. They’re talking about all the remaining shots and stunts to rig. Everyone looks tired, but they’re still in good spirits.
1:12 p.m. We are recalled from lunch to get some reaction shots for Scene 1.
1:21 p.m. We break for lunch again—after getting a lot of close-ups of Bibles and crazy worshipers yelling at the sky. Enchiladas come from somewhere, thanks to magical craft services. In this case, that means the executive producer.
1:37 p.m. Amy, the stunt coordinator, is on a 15-foot ladder, rigging something to a point in the ceiling for a ratchet-pull that’s coming later. In this stunt, an actor gets pulled up and back terrifically fast, like she’s getting sucked out of an airplane or blasted away by a cannonball. Yay!
2 p.m. Actors are called to meet about an upcoming shot on the roof. We’re told to put on sunscreen. I check the temperature: 92 degrees, full sun. Amy the stuntwoman is strapped in a harness and four guys are testing the ratchet-pull.
3 p.m. There’s been some sort of camera problem. One of the cameras used in the first scene has taken “unusable,” grainy footage. We hear we might have to reshoot the entire morning.
Running down a narrow hall, wearing high heels on really sweaty feet, while holding hands with a guy who runs faster than you is hard. Now I know why chicks in horror movies always fall down.
3:24 p.m. We just came off the roof, which was like the surface of the sun. It burned our feet through the soles of our shoes. The sun was directly overhead. Rachel’s death scene is going to look cool, so it was worth it.
3:26 p.m. I’m told we’ll shoot my death scene now. That will be the first thing we’ve done out of sequence, and it’s really out of sequence. I just overheard “We can totally fake it.” The planned finish time for shooting is 7 p.m. We haven’t finished even a third of the scenes.
4:04 p.m. I just finished my death scene. I was working with my movie boyfriend, Joe. I got my face squeezed really hard and have red hand marks on my cheeks. I also swallowed a lot of vitamin B. It’s actually really fun to do gross, sweaty, violent scenes. I overhear Joe say to the writer that the scene was “a little intense.”
4:48 p.m. We just finished another outdoor scene. The temperature is now 93. Scott, the director, can’t hurry fast enough. We run outside, look surprised then run in. We do this about 12 times. It seems like people are less nervous because we’ve accomplished several scenes now. Then we get into the hallway and the director names the two scenes we have left. Someone reminds him of a third. He looks in the script and discovers a fourth. We might have to shoot one scene tomorrow. Sunday is supposed to be just for editing.
4:55 p.m. The director suggests a “write around” to the writer. They discuss something new so we don’t have to film a scene with difficult lighting and effects.
5:27 p.m. The founder of “the 48 Hour” shows up with a photographer to check out what’s happening. People’s energy seems lower, but the attitude is good. The entire cast and crew are watching a very energetic two-person scene, which is reinvigorating.
7:07 p.m. It’s now been a 12-hour day. The writer is still awake. We just finished reshooting the entire morning scene. The director kept the setups tight and it went fast. Well, two hours vs. the entire morning. Everyone was fresh and surprising. My feet hurt like crazy. Dinner break.
7:44 p.m. Joe is wrapped and puts his stuff in the car. On dinner break everyone sits down and loses steam. The crew and director don’t really break. They shoot the “electrician scene.” The writer makes a bet with me about when we’ll be finished. The editor leaves to get started, working with the footage we already have, or “we won’t have a movie.”
8:16 p.m. Rachel is wearing a harness, which she describes as “extremely uncomfortable.” She is going to get strung from the ceiling for footage in front of a green screen. I suddenly realize that I’m committed to writing and printing this article, even if we don’t finish our film on time or some other horrible disaster happens.
8:42 p.m. Rachel is actually in the air in front of the green screen. Five guys are pulling her rope and she’s pretending to fall through space. It’s her last scene and when she’s done everyone applauds. The writer says, “When you wrap, you get the clap. ... Oops, I mean applause.”
9:32 p.m. Courtney gets ratchet-pulled wonderfully, flying through the air. Everyone claps. Several people are lounging on the floor. It’s been more than 14 hours now. Somehow we still have two more scenes to shoot.
9:45 p.m. I’m holding a ladder, spotting the stunt coordinator who takes down the rigging. Courtney is getting killed in the kitchen.
10:30 p.m. We’re wrapped, kind of. The director goes to the editor’s to stay up all night and help him. Several of us—including the writer, who is still awake—sit around and drink beers and congratulate each other on various funny moments. Now it’s up to the editor. He’s getting the footage about four hours late.
7 a.m. I am asleep in my bed, but somewhere out there the crew, the director, the producer and two actors are filming one final scene. Later I hear that the producer sat through a Catholic mass to get a location waiver signed by the priest.
7 p.m. Shouts of joy and clapping greet me at the bar where the official drop-off happens. Our film is in, with time to spare, and reports are that it looks awesome. The editor and director look surprisingly alert, after staying up all night. I think the writer may have gotten a few hours.
9 p.m. Another team has a screening at a house. A handful of the finished films are shown, including ours. The atmosphere is incredible, the way it must feel to have survived a harrowing ordeal with a group—like a battle or a shipwreck, but positive. Everyone is cheerfully greeting and hugging each other, even if they’ve never met. The crowd is so tight that it’s difficult to see the TV and sweat is rolling down our faces. There is no sense of competitiveness. Everyone laughs and gasps through every film and follows it with a round of uproarious clapping. It occurs to me that this camaraderie is why we did it. We are now part of a special club for crazy creatives. We accomplished something ridiculous and can share it with the world. I feel like one small cog in a huge machine running on craft, adrenaline and love for an art form.