The 48 Hour Film Project, self-described as "the oldest and largest timed filmmaking competition in the world," celebrates its 12th anniversary at the Music Box Theatre this week with premieres of four-to-eight-minute short films that local filmmakers completed—i.e., wrote, shot, edited, and scored—in just two days. The winning short, to be announced at the Best of Chicago screening and award ceremony by a panel of local judges on Thursday, September 15, will go up against other 48HFP shorts from around the world at Filmapalooza 2017 in Seattle, Washington, for a chance at a grand prize and an opportunity to screen at the 2017 Cannes film festival.
Each summer, satellite producers host screenings in 130 cities worldwide, including Chicago. The kickoff dates vary by city, but the rules are essentially the same. On a designated day, typically a Friday, filmmaking teams show up at their city's kickoff location, draw two of 30 possible genres from a hat, and choose one genre for their script. All of the squads are given the same character, prop, and line of dialogue to incorporate into their films, which must be turned in to the city's producers exactly 48 hours later. Chicago producer Jerry Vasilatos told me that this year the character is Ian or Iris Burrmon, Treasurer; the prop is a cassette tape; and the line is "It can't be that difficult," or "It cannot be that difficult."
The 2016 Chicago 48HFP kickoff
Vasilatos says that the contest does not impose a limit on the size of the filmmaking teams, nor to the kind of backing the filmmakers can receive. "A team can be one person, or it can be 50 people," Vasilatos explains. "It really depends on the scope and ambition of the team leader's choices regarding the film they produce." Filmmakers can spend as much or as little as they wish on their films, Vasilatos says, but "all films must be a total of four to eight minutes running time with credits."
After the teams create and complete their films during the course of a whirlwind weekend—in Chicago's case, the last weekend of August—a panel of judges evaluates the entries and ensures that all of the films meet the competition's requirements.
"Each city producer selects the screening venue and reaches out to professionals in media to act as judges," Vasilatos says. "We have five judges reviewing all films turned in on time, for the awards to be given out at the Music Box on September 15. This year, out of 57 registrants, only 39 made the deadline to be eligible for judges' awards."
The 2016 Chicago 48HFP dropoff
This year, Chicago's local celebrity judges are: Amy Guth, WGN Radio personality and documentary filmmaker; Gabe Mendoza, host of WLUW 88.7's Morning Rush Show; Ericka Mauldin, owner of Edit Talent Group; Adam Fendelman, publisher and film critic at HollywoodChicago.com; and Ted Reilly, film producer and executive director of Chicago Media Angels.
According to Vasilatos, judging is primarily based on the following criteria: artistic merit (story, creativity, and entertainment value) at 45 percent, technical merit at 30 percent, and adherence to the assignment at 25 percent of the overall score. Secondary judging considerations may include use of prop, character, and line of dialogue, as well as adherence to the chosen genre.
The 2016 Chicago 48HFP screening on September 11 at the Music Box
The winning Chicago team will take their short to Filmapalooza, which takes place from March 1 through March 4, to screen against other 48HFP champions from cities across North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and Australia. Vasilatos says that registered filmmakers will have the opportunity to "see all films, network, and promote themselves" among industry leaders in attendance. Last year, the international competition took place in Atlanta, Georgia, and the "Take 23" team from Amsterdam won the grand prize with their short film Unforgettable. Other awards presented at Filmapalooza include Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Writing, Best Directing, Best Use of Character, Best Use of Line, and Best Use of Prop.
Though only one Chicago team will have the chance to pursue the grand prize in 2017, Vasilatos believes that putting a film together in just two days is a remarkable achievement in and of itself. "It's really amazing to see filmmakers be able to turn something around in 48 hours to screen at the Music Box," he says, "which makes them all winners to me."