Step by Step Guide to Filming a Short in 48 Hours


There is something about being a glutton for pain that is required when you want to undertake any sort of Hackathon, or 48 Hour Film Festival. These events are more like marathons for the physically weak but mentally tough and fortunately after this weekend I will have attempted and hopefully completed both. 


Let me first give you some background on what the 48 Hour Film Festival is. First, you are given a genre, character, important item and 48 hours to assemble, cut, shoot and edit a 7 min (max) short film. In order to enter into the contest you pay $140 (early bird submission) per team and throw your sanity out of the window. This contest is open to professionals and amateurs, and my friend David has been doing this particular festival for the past few years now. Last years submission was made with a team of 8 people and although it did not win a selection it was one of my favorites.

There isn't a limit on the amount of people that can participate but the largest team to date was a team from Albuquerque with 116 people and 30 horses. On average there are about 15 people per team and once the submissions are all in; there is a premier that showcases all the films where they are judged by people in the industry.  

HR 1 - HR 8 Story Development

The Handbook from Cutting Imaginary Ties

The first portion of a 48 Hr Film Festival consists of story development you are given a genre, character and important item and from that point you have to launch into your story. Last year our genre was "Coming of Age" and our important item was a handbook and our character was Carly Fitzwater. Michael and 4 of our department heads started coming up with basic story concepts here were a few of our ideas:

"It's like GHOST BUSTER'S but with children"

"An exterminator for imaginary friends" 

Most of our ideas were based on films we all loved and grew up with as children. Or ideas we once had when we were younger but never had fleshed out until we were forced to think of them again 10 years later to film in 48 hours. Once we had a basic idea worked out we locked Michael, our writer, in a closet for 6 hours to come up with a script and dialogue. 

HR 4-7 Scheduling and Casting

Once we had a basis for what we thought our idea would be we would make up a schedule and a general location list. Casting for a shoot that is going to last only 48 hours is a little bit different than casting for a TV series. Most of these people are going to be your friends and their family and you need to just tell them to keep the weekend free for you. Other times they are just strangers on the street that see you filming and ask if they can be a part of it. We needed children for our story so we asked a few high school kids to come in and masquerade as 10 year olds. Let me know if you could tell... 

HR 7 First Shot

It's 7 AM and our first shot is in a few minutes, our story is largely fleshed out and any new revisions that take place will come as we go through our takes. In order to ensure cohesiveness on this project we had Cameron, our editor, edit the film as we shot it so we could get pick up shots as we went a long. 

HR 12 Lunch

As you roll through your shots for the day everyone that was not in a shot ended up eating. Ultimately if your crew is large enough you can send out a secondary team to get pick up shots, but if you are just a small team like us we just all sat down and had a meal together. Fruit, vegetables, nuts and carbs, something light to keep you going. When we are on a larger production we usually use a catering company that preps us a warm meal but because we are on a no budget type of film we are just going to have to deal with whatever we find at Costco. 

HR 18 dinner

HR 20 Sleep

HR 25 Last Shots

HR 30 Edit

Cameron, trying to edit on a Mac Book Air. (Don't do it) 

Cameron, has been editing all day so this final stretch is not too crazy. At this point he is just coloring the shots and putting together the music. You know that video game noise you hear when you see his brother playing with the Power Glove? All Cameron. A lot of sound work is added or created in post production, from music to background noise so don't short change your sound guy just because you just think he's standing there with a giant mic. He's doing something, and whatever it's important. 

HR 38 Preview, Final Revisions and REndering...

still Rendering.....

Hr 44-45 Submit

It's the last few hours of our 48 Hr Film Production and in our case we finished all the filming on Saturday at around 9pm. So we all slept fairly well, but if you are running up to the wire, you only have 3 hours to submit and you haven't gotten to picture lock yet? Well there is a category for you at the festival, it's called "The one's that didn't make it". Anyways, your short needs to be submitted in a flash drive that you will never see again so make sure you aren't giving them some sort of super sentimental flash drive your ex girlfriend gave you one birthday. Or in this case it might be a very opportune time for you to guarantee that you never see that flash drive ever again. 

We exported ours in ProRess 422 LT and our only hiccup last year was we decided to buy a USB 2.0 Flash Drive instead of 3.0,  and it took a few more hours to transfer data. it took a few hours longer to transfer data. Amateur mistake, anyways because we finished everything around 9 hours early we had plenty to wiggle room before we needed to submit our film. In LA you have to drop off your USB at the Regal Cinema Theater by 7:30 so we left at 5pm because who knows what could happen in LA traffic. 

Anyways, take a look at our submission below and I'll see you all at the festival this year!