How To Make a Movie in 48 Hours

Gloria B. Ho

Two of the creators of “A-pearl-calypse Now,” right, and a third participant contribute to a panel at the festival.

In last year’s “The Five Obstructions,” director Lars Von Trier challenged retired filmmaker Jorgan Leth to remake his 1967 short film, “The Perfect Human,” along an arbitrary set of hindrances that Von Trier had put forth, including restrictions on shooting locations, lengths of frame, even choice of medium. Leth went along with the proposition and was roundly commended by critics for his gamesmanship and the fairly watchable results in the face of the Von Trier hurdles.

Still, Leth ain’t got nothing on the participants of the 48 Hour Film Festival; he at least had an actual crew, as much time as he’d liked, and previous content on which to base his work. Those braving the Festival’s challenge had to create a short film, four to eight minutes in length, entirely from scratch, over the span of one weekend.

Each short film had to incorporate, in one form or another, the character of child actor J. Withers, a pearl necklace, and the line, “I’m not really like this.” Furthermore, each team picks their respective genre out of a hat on Friday night, before production begins.

Ben Guaraldi, the festival’s producer, estimated that about three-fourths of the filmmakers had some experience in the field. The rest of the pack included many people excited by the impetus behind the project, who had learned to operate the necessary equipment in the course of putting together their short.

Sixty-three teams registered for the competition and only three failed to put together a movie. Forty of the films were actually handed in on deadline, Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

Marta Anderson, who directed a foreign language entry, says “‘El Sotano’ finished burning on a laptop we had in the car on the way there and we turned it in at 7:28.”

Alex C. Britell ’07, who acted in “El Sotano” and is also a Crimson editor, adds, “The directors, producers, composer, the whole crew, put in the full 48 hours. You’d be amazed how much work goes into a 7 minute film.”

Screenings of the films took place at the Brattle Theatre and Kendall Square Cinema on Tuesday and Wednesday night. While at times the production values veered dangerously close to high school Spanish class videos, these lapses were more than accounted for by the crackling energy and spirit that poured off the screen. The end results often turned out as quite successful spoofs of the assigned genres, with the details of the quickly hatched plots being represented in as simple a way as possible.

In “A-pearl-calypse Now,” while a homeless man explains the cause of a mysterious rash of murders perpetrated by killer oysters, the audience is treated to scene after scene of helpless victims being bitten death by an appetizer. As the director of the film pointed out, “The strangest part of my weekend was spending four hours gluing things to oysters.”

Being forced to operate on the fly gave birth to some wonderfully ludicrous ideas, inappropriate for a longer piece of work, but just right for the prescribed length. In “Withering Heights,” the tragic career of famed Esperanto actor Judge Withers is explored on the faux-A&E; Biography show “This Modern World.”

According to this masterpiece, Withers had been a champion of the international language of Esperanto ever since his parents’ death in Japan, caused by their inability to read the “Beware of Dragon” signs, which were, unfortunately, in Japanese. He rises to the top of the Esperanto film world, but crashes and burns when he attempts the crossover to the more accessible English language films. It’s preposterous, and that’s what makes it so funny.

All around, the filmmakers understood that these weren’t pieces of fine art, nor should they be, and at times acknowledged their slapdash nature, eliciting a great response from the crowd. In “Dead Weight,” the protagonist, who’s just run over a women and has dragged her bloody corpse into his house, tries to get his roommate’s attention by screaming, “Does it look like I have fucking ketchup on my shirt?”

The roommate—the famed J. Withers, who had been distracted by reruns of the show he starred on as a child—finally turns his head from the TV and deadpans perfectly: “Yes.”

The festival is a competition, with the best of the Boston crop ultimately competing with the crème de le crème from incarnations taking place all over the U.S., as well as in Australia, Sweden, and Denmark. To the festival’s credit, the atmosphere never felt very competitive. There aren’t too many pretensions on hand—no one’s trying to land a three picture deal with Warner Bros. For the most part, it’s just people making movies for the sake of making movies, and that’s why it’s so refreshing.

But let’s leave it to the filmmakers to represent their over-caffeinated, half-crazed festival. This line is from “Kombat Kitchen,” in which the producer of an extreme cooking show is attempting to explain its popularity: “We know what the people want; a little ‘T&A;,’ a little violence, and a whole lot of eating.”