Lights, Camera, Action!

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New Haven 48HFP producer Trish Clark on awards night. Credit: Duc Nguyen.

By Olivia J. Kiers

Many wonder how a film is made, but here’s a trickier question: How would you make a film in only 48 hours? The 48 Hour Film Project (called the 48HFP or simply, “48”), the largest and oldest timed film competition in existence, challenges professional and amateur filmmakers alike to do just that in cities across the world.

The 48HFP arrived in New Haven, CT, thanks to Trish Clark, who had been on the project’s mailing list and was actively looking for producing opportunities in her hometown. When one newsletter mentioned that the 48HFP was expanding into Connecticut, Clark jumped at her chance and convinced the project to come to New Haven, which it did in 2011, with Clark as the city producer. New Haven’s 48 has been a great success, attracting participants from across Connecticut and along the eastern seaboard from New Jersey to Massachusetts. “A lot of people that do it are returners,” says Clark. “The team that won in New Haven last year was Wax Idiotical Films. They participate in several cities; they are a Boston-based group, but they usually do 48s in Providence, New Haven, and sometimes Maine. This summer, they’ll be doing their 30th 48 with us.”

As producer, Clark has many responsibilities. Each 48 includes additional challenges beyond the time constraint. Clark is in charge of assigning a character, item and line of dialog that all participating teams must use in their films. During the event weekend, she is on call should any teams run into trouble with permitting or technical difficulties. But for Clark, “the real fun part is the kickoff” when all the teams will gather—this year at the Outer Space Ballroom on the evening of Friday, July 29—to draw their genre challenges out of hat. Then seven o’clock strikes, and the race is on!

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Drawing genres from a hat at the kickoff event. Credit: Duc Nguyen.

With only 48 hours to write, shoot, edit, and turn in the finished product, teams need to budget time wisely. Clark recommends doing as much as possible beforehand, things like choosing a site and filling out the necessary permissions paperwork. Benjamin Hecht, veteran of four New Haven 48s, agrees. Even before the event begins, his to-do list covers a range of items, from making sure the tech is working, to brainstorming possibilities. “My wife, Jenn, co-leads with me and we sometimes will go late into the evening playing ‘what if?’ and analyzing how other teams handle[d] different genres in the past. We watch films from other cities and other years.”

This year, Hecht will lead a team of at least nine people, his largest ever. He admits that the process is strenuous, but keeps coming back because “the 48 is a unique experience… This is an opportunity to work within constraints defined by an external source. Your box is drawn for you and you are unleashed upon it.”

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Film still from Ben Hecht’s 2015 48 film Exit Protocol. Credit: Ben Hecht.

From Friday night to Sunday afternoon, while Clark is fielding calls, all the participating teams will be stretched to the limits of endurance. “The most challenging part of the project is keeping up the stamina of the team,” says Hecht. “Friday is a real crunch to lay the groundwork of the film and can be the most challenging. We need the solid foundation of good character and story to hit the ground running on Saturday, which is devoted to production… There’s a point mid-Sunday where I can see the finished product at the end of the tunnel—that the vision is coming together. That’s what I hold out for.”

Not all teams succeed within the time constraint. “They have to be [at the Outer Space Ballroom] by 7:30 p.m. on July 31 to be considered on time,” Clark explains. “I get films anywhere between 5 to 8 p.m.” Late films are still screened with the rest on August 3 and 4 at the Whitney Humanities Center, but are not eligible for many of the awards. Those films that are eligible also have a shot at really winning big—being screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Wax Idiotical Films’ Falling in Love in a Coffeeshop, winner of the 2015 New Haven 48HFP and awarded Best 48 Hour Film at the Independent Television and Film Festival, was shown at Cannes this year.

No matter the challenge, each year sees films full of memorable characters like “Hubcap Man” or set-ups like a mockumentary TV show Past Poets Now—the sort of quirky filmmaking that seems naturally born from the challenge. “I think that comedy ends up being infused in most of the 48s, no matter what the genre is,” Clark explains. A healthy sense of humor is probably a driving force for the teams that succeed in such a strenuous endeavor, but so is desire. “So many people want to be creative and be part of this field, and there’s a lot of desire to do it, but it doesn’t always come to fruition. The 48HFP allows you can try it out, and the film is going to be seen by a lot of people, within a week.”

Interested in participating in New Haven’s 48 Hour Film Project? Registration is open until the kickoff on Friday, July 29. See for details.


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