Broadcast version of this storyBroadcast version of this story for “All Things Considered”
On a recent Friday, filmmakers gathered at a large studio space to kick off a weekend of poor rest.
“Welcome to the 2015 Atlanta Film Project,” Gabriel Wardell, the co-producer of Atlanta’s 48 Hour Film Project, said.
Each team has 48 hours from 7 p.m. Friday to 7 p.m. Sunday to complete a four- to seven-minute film. The films then premiere one week later at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.
This year, the Atlanta 48 Hour Film Project had 80 teams participate. That means there were 80 directors, 80 directors of photography, 80 editors and several writers for each team.
“You have this massive creative group of people all engaged in a project at the same time,” Wardell said.
It’s just one of almost 150 projects that happen around the world each year.
Anyone can enter the competition from burgeoning filmmakers to seasoned 48 veterans employed inside and outside of the film industry.
Two experienced teams who participated were Cogito Creative under Gustav Wilde and Picture Shift under Jenna Kanell and Katy Tulka.
Wilde has participated nine times in Atlanta, and Kanell and Tulka are celebrating the success of a 48 they did in April. Kanell was starting the competition already sleep deprived.
“I just came from Los Angeles because the last 48 we did, which was for the Disability Film Challenge, was the winner and has gotten into several festivals, and so I just came from presenting at the New Media film festival,” she said.
Teams can scout locations, gather equipment and assemble their crew before the filmmaking begins. Some teams even get sponsors.
Preparation can only go so far, and teams have to be flexible. Something will go wrong.
At the kick-off event, each team drew for a genre and took a case of Red Bull to get started.
“Genre dictates what their film will be like,” Wardell said. “Things ranging from western and musical, which are the craziest because people are scared of those. They can get silent film; they might get film de femme, comedy, fish-out-of-water and so forth.”
Other categories include science fiction, fantasy, superhero, dark comedy, holiday film and buddy film.
Cogito Creative drew “horror,” and Picture Shift drew “fish-out-of-water.”
Picture Shift’s Kanell and Tulka explained what that meant.
“It’s a character in a situation where they do not fit,” Kanell said.
Or, “it’s basically when you are out of your element,” Tulka said.
Before the teams disperse, they get three elements that must be incorporated in their film: They must include a character named Robert or Roberta Jones, who is a photographer; They must include the prop, which this year is a cassette tape; And they must include the line of dialogue “It can’t possibly be this easy,” or “It cannot possible be this easy.”
“We just finished shooting, and we are barely alive,” said Kanell on the Saturday of the competition.
In their fish-out-of-water film, Roberta Jones is an alien who is trying to make a connection with humans. After a year of disappointment, Jones finally makes a connection with someone: a girl who is reading “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and listening to a tape player.
For Cogito Creative’s horror film, Roberta Jones, the photographer, is also the main character. She gets a gig taking photos of an abandoned house. It’s an easy gig but there’s a large paycheck, which cues the line, “It can’t possibly be this easy.” Inside the house, of course, there is a spooky cassette tape that alerts Jones to the fact that she is in trouble.
Both teams turned their films in on time without too much drama. Picture Shift had some audio problems, and Cogito Creative had difficulty securing a coffee shop for a shot location. For a 48, however, that was stress-free.
That was not the case for everyone, though.
Kanell and Tulka said they heard of one team that scraped an entire project on Saturday afternoon and began again at 5 p.m., which was just 26 hours before the deadline.
Wardell said that people don’t always make it to the drop-off point. “Every year, there’s one or two teams that don’t deliver. We have a number of teams that are late,” he said. “Occasionally, a team is convinced they have made the next ‘Citizen Kane,’ and they are so beholden to their film, they don’t want to give it up.”
The 48 Hour Film Project lends itself to thrill-seekers. It’s a weekend-long adrenaline high, but it’s also a time for filmmakers to get a feel for each other. They see who works together well under pressure and who doesn’t.
There’s also the validation of the red carpet premiere just a week after you turn in your film.
“It gives people a sense that they have accomplished something,” said Wardell. “There is no one telling you no.”
Just a couple days after the 48, Cogito Creative’s Wilde was already back in the film editing chair, and Tulka and Kanell started working on a short together. They hope to make up the sleep deficit before the next Atlanta 48 Hour Film Project in October.
Both Picture Shift and Cogito Creative will receive awards for their films tonight at Landmark Midtown Arts Cinema. There will also be a re-screening of all the award-winning films from this year.