The 48 Hour Film Project’s origins lie in The 24 Hour Comic, something conceived by Scott McCloud and Stephen R. Bissette in 1990, as a creative exercise to make a comic book from scratch within 24 hours. This inspired the 24 Hour Plays as well as The 48 Hour Film Project, which was born in 2001. The main rules of the competition are that the film has to be created (i.e. scripted, shot, edited and submitted) completely within the 48 hour deadline. In the interests of ensuring that no pre-prepared films can enter, all teams entering the competition in a given city are all required to include a particular character, a prop, and a line of dialogue. Also, the film has to be a minimum of 4 minutes and a maximum of 7 minutes. Finally, each individual team draws a paritcular film genre within which to set their work. With me so far? Good.
I’d first heard of the competition last year, from a friend of mine named Sarah, who’d recently returned home, along with her husband RJ, after living abroad for many years. She casually mentioned on Facebook that she was looking for help with a film project that weekend. “I’m intrigued,” I said. “Ah, don’t get too excited!” she replied. When she told me what the project was, a few days before its beginning, my response was somewhere along the lines of, “How could I not be excited? Even if we make an unwatchable 7 minute detritus of a film, this’ll be mad craic!” As luck would have it, the script only required 3 shooting locations, with my own contribution being conveniently minimal; my main goal was merely to hang out and witness the experiment, helping in whatever way I could without ruining it in the process. Everything went like a dream by all accounts, and the film was even completed 6 hours ahead of the deadline. Happily, it was also the winning film from the Dublin competition of 2014.
So for this years competition, at around 7 or 8pm on September 25th, the Dublin entrants were given the following:
For our team, (The Sessioneers) the genre we drew was Romance. This year, I didn’t manage to make the initial brainstorming session on the Friday, but a phone call to Sarah informed me that I needed to meet them in the city centre the following morning at 7am, making sure to bring both casual clothes as well as something appropriate for a boardroom scene.
Fashionably late, I arrived along with my girlfriend Edel, at 7:30am around the St. Patrick’s Cathedral area, both of us still only half awake. The chosen base of operations was an apartment rented by some friends of RJ and Sarah’s. Toast and much needed coffee were provided, while RJ handed me the script to read. Not surprisingly (considering our little tale for last years competition of a war between mermaids and humans, set 15 years into the future) the story was once again pretty fucking weird. This time though, there was a sweetness to the narrative, and most dauntingly, a larger cast, far more shooting locations, and a comedic tone to the film. Making something dramatic is one thing, but trying to make people laugh is quite another. Some of the locations in question were proving to be tricky to get hold of, too. We wanted an opticians, a cafe and a boardroom, but these things aren’t easy to round up at 11am on a Saturday.
As it happened, there was a cafe right below the apartment we were using as our HQ. Sadly though, the owner of the Cathedral Cafe told us it really wasn’t feasible, given how busy the place tended to be on the weekends. At some point though, she took mercy on us, and agreed to let us shoot there, on the understanding that we could get it done relatively quickly. Save for the occasional customer coming in for coffee, meaning we had to interrupt a few takes, everything shot in the cafe seemed to go off without a hitch. We were in and out in under 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, for an opticians, you presumably can’t simply pop into Specsavers on Henry Street and ask them to use the place. Even if you could, imagine the logistics of filming with that much customer traffic in and out of a city centre business such as theirs. No, our initial thoughts were to use one of the rooms in the same building we were hoping to acquire for the boardroom scene to be shot at the end of the day. That was until I remembered the quirky little opticians on Kildare Street I happened upon just once, at an EP launch for a band I used to play in. I didn’t know the owners; in fact I’d never even met them, but I figured there was no harm in asking. I made the call, explained what we were doing and without hesitation, they said yes. They were going to be at the 8th amendment march on Parnell Square from 2-4pm (as were we, as it happened) but told us we could show up any time before or after this point.
The location for the boardroom scene was also secured at this stage, but someone was required to drive to Sandyford to collect the keys to the offices in question. RJ initally asked me, but then thought twice, reasoning that a complete stranger wearing a Hooters t-shirt and a mustard coloured beanie hat, arriving to collect the keys to a business premises probably wasn’t the best idea. Two of the other, more refined members of The Sessioneers were asked to make the trip instead. By the time they arrived back at our HQ, it was time to head to the next location: The Garden of Remembrance. By around this time in the day, there was an abortion rights protest in the area. Somehow we’d managed to interpret a protest scene into our script, so the understandably large turnout around Parnell Square proved ideal for the shoot.
While the guys were filimng the protest scene, myself and Edel popped to The Woolshed for lunch, agreeing to meet the rest of the crew around 2pm. To our surprise, they had already finished the scene by the time we met them, and it was now full steam ahead to Love Lane, for a scene which I quite frankly had no understanding of until I saw the completed film. It took a few takes to nail the main shot, due to inconveniently placed puddles and a dozen or so bikers on a guided tour passing by, but the shot was eventually affectionated, so to speak. After a brief scene on the LUAS, much to the fascination of several of the passengers on board, it was time for the first of our two remaining big scenes: the opticians.
We were once again blessed with the Molloy and Dowling’s as a choice of set. Not only did it prove to be perfect for what was needed for the scene, the owners even allowed us to use their equipment, going as far as setting it up for us and advising our actor playing the optician what to say during the eye examination sequence. After this scene, with more coffee than blood flowing through our veins, we took a brief recess at headquarters for food, before heading to our final destination for filming: an office adjacent to the Liffey. This was the boardroom scene which essentially tied the whole story together. If we fucked this up, the film was going to fail.
We arrived at the office at around 7:30pm, a full 12 hours after arriving in the city in the first place. “This’ll probably take an hour, or an hour and a half at the most,” I thought. “Probably leaving enough time to head home and relax for the remainder of the day with a well earned beer.” Sadly, I was way off with this train of thought. After 4 long hours spent in the office, we had finally knocked the boardroom scene out of the park. Exhausted by this point, we recorded audio outside the office of some shouting for the aforementioned protest scene filmed earlier before heading our seperate ways, for a much needed nights sleep.
The next day (Sunday) was the day of submission. Either way, no matter what state the film was in, it had to be submitted by 7:30pm to qualify for entry into the competition. As the film’s director and editor, RJ was now facing the unenviable task of editing together a total of 90 minutes of footage to into a film that was cohesive, engaging and no more than 7 minutes long. As well as that, it needed music. I volunteered my services on that front, promising I’d bring some guitars to RJ and Sarah’s apartment and do my best to bash out a few ideas that could be used for the film. Unfortunately for me, while I am a pretty decent guitarist, my skills as a recording artist are quite limited. And by limited, I mean non-existent. On the rare occasions that I have been involved in recording music, it was always someone else doing the recording. So I arrived with my guitars, my amp and some pedals, hoping to Christ that I’d find some suitable inspiration, and manage to figure out how to use Garageband to fill in the blanks that my guitars couldn’t.
Upon my arrival, one thing was certain: RJ was very much feeling the pressure. “I meant to get up at 8am to start editing, and never got up until 9!” he said, very much dismayed. Sarah had a lot to do as well, using her synthesiser and laptop to make ominous music in the film wherever it was needed. And therein lay the major obstacle for me. There were only 2 main rooms in the flat and they were both occupied: one by a panicked editor, one by a panicked composer. I was caught in between, unsure if I could provide anything of worth, even if I was able to actually get an opportunity to record something. Much to my relief, two people who had emailed music across to Sarah gave more than enough appropriate material to cover the film. Their music proved to be far better than anything I had managed to come up with, and as the music was laid down under the dialogue, the film finally started taking shape. Panic gave way to hope. But soon enough, panic set in once again.
As it turned out, luck finally decided to piss off on us. A pivotal section of footage from the cafe scene had somehow been lost. Without it, the film would make absolutely no sense. A frantic phone call was made to the 2 actors from the scene, who graciously agreed to immediately make their way to the cafe once again to try and recapture the lost footage. Unfortunately, while the cafe was quiet enough for filming on the Saturday, it was far too busy to use on this particular Sunday. It was then decided to re record the dialogue on audio only, and somehow try and edit it over out-takes of film footage and once again hope to Christ it would end up making sense. RJ chipped away at the editing, like a demented sculptor facing a death sentence. Then miraculously, the footage used to patch up the missing portion of the cafe scene started to actually fit the film. In fact, it seemed that it would end up working far better than the originally intended footage would have. The end result of that minute or so wound up being hilarious, one of the strongest parts of the film even. At around 7:15pm, with mere minutes to go to the deadline of submission, we left the apartment and drove to Smithfield, still burning a DVD copy of the film in the car as we travelled. In the room where the entrants were handing in their films, teams slowly shuffled in, one by one. Tragically, one of the teams had been rendering their film on a laptop when their battery died. Consequently, their work was ineligible for the competition. It was a heartbreaking thing to witness. We may have had some hiccups of our own, but something like that happening to our film would have been a crushing blow. It just goes to show that as well as an enthusiastic team on your side, luck really does go a long way.
Afterwards, we had some drinks and a celebratory screening back in RJ and Sarah’s apartment. In fact, we played the film several times, our enthusiasm somehow undiminished after watching and listening to multiple portions of footage throughout the day during the editing process. When I left, Sarah said, “Sure maybe we can do it again next year.” “Fuck that,” I replied. “Let’s do it every year.”
If only every weekend could be this enjoyable, surreal and exhilarating.
If you want to book tickets to the screening of this years Dublin entries for the 48 Hour Film Project, you can do so here. The screening is this Tuesday, October 6th at 6pm.
If you missed the screening or if you want to check out The Sessioneers entry again, you can view it below: