Here at Dragoon Films, we have participated in the Denver 48 Hour Film Project every year since 2011. I love doing The 48 Hour Film Project because it gives me the motivation to get people together and make a short film. Sometime the movie isn't always great, but I've never been late with a project and I always have a fun time making it. My name is Ross and I've been the producer, writer, and director of all our 48 hour films. Every year I learn how to do as much as I can in the limited time that we are given for the weekend and I want to share how I do these projects in pre-production, writing, production, and post production.
Having a solid plan for your film before the weekend even hits is by far the most important step for success. The best part about this step is that you don't have to do it within the 48 hours, you can plan weeks in advance. When I first started, I looked up all the genres and tried to think of a basic story for each one, but this didn't really help because then injecting the character, prop, and line into the generic story I came up with made things messy. So for the past few years I haven't worried about the story until I got all the elements for the weekend. The time best spent in pre-production is organizing your team and securing your locations. I call every actor, composer, and crew member I know and see if they are free and willing to help out for the weekend. I'd also call friends that have no experience in film making because they can help with gear, food runs, and be extras. Next I'll think about any location that I can use and what kinds of characteristics they have that would work toward certain stories. These locations can be as easy as friend and families houses or public parks, but also think of places like bars, stores, gyms, or anything that you think you can conceivably use. Call the owners of these places and see if they let you use their place. People are excited to be a part of films, you'll get more yeses than you think! You likely won't use all the locations you secure, but it's good to have more options when the time comes. Once you have all the possible people and locations for your film, you'll have a much better idea of what to write.
On the first night after I get the elements for the film, I brainstorm ideas with the other people I'm writing with and we write our script. I make a rule for myself that the script has to be done before I go to sleep on the first night. 48 hour film festivals can differ slightly on the rules, but for the 48 Hour Film Project you draw a genre for you film, then you are given a line of dialogue, a character, and a prop that has to be included in your film. I like to try to write the script around these elements because the story feels more coherent. The toughest part for me is always the character because they are given a first and last name as well as a profession or title that you have to work into the final project. The films that don't include this as part of the story tend to have an odd interaction where the characters randomly state what they do for a living. I try to not make my script too complicated due to the limited time. I generally shoot for just a few characters and a couple locations. After you are done with the script let your cast and crew know where the first location of the day will be and what time. Next go over the script and make a shot list so you know exactly which shots you'll need to set up for the next morning. I like to put together a call sheet to send out to everyone for the next day as well as have all my legal documents printed out and ready to go.
The very first thing I do when people start arriving is have them sign release forms. These forms are a pain in the butt all weekend long, but they have to be done, so keep on them! The second day is dedicated entirely to shooting everything you need. In the limited time you have this weekend, re-shoots are unlikely which is why it is important to stick to a shot list. Every time you complete a shot, cross it off the list. The production day is the longest and most physically taxing so keep your cast and crew happy. Have snacks available all day and have a good lunch break. The most important rule in the production phase is to have fun! The 48 Hour Film Project is entirely for enjoyment, so if you all end up yelling at each other, it's not worth it.
After we are done shooting I immediately go home and upload the footage to my computer and put together a rough cut before going to sleep. The rough cut doesn't have any music, color correction, or sound mixing, I use it as base to make my job easier for the last bit of the project. The final day is entirely devoted to editing. It can get mind numbing by myself so I like to recruit someone to hangout with me to go get food, bounce ideas off of, and just provide company. Simplicity is key, don't over edit and waste time, this is the final stretch! Give yourself plenty of time to render, upload your final film to a flash drive, and drive to the turn in point. I've seen too many teams turn in their project late due to technical problems. Once you get your film in, celebrate! You just completed you 48 hour film!