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Fast forward filmmaking

Taking part in the 48-Hour Film Project
By SARA FAITH ALTERMAN  |  May 10, 2007

You wouldn’t think that spending six hours thinking about a tree elf is an exhilerating way to spend a Friday night. 

Fueled by endless cups of coffee, a six-pack of Sam Summer, and sporadic nuggets of sleep-deprived hilarity, I spent the past weekend participating in the 48-Hour Film Project.

The 48HFP was founded in 2001 as a way to push wannabe filmmakers to the very limits of their creativity, logistical skills, and sanity. Teams are given 48 hours to write, produce, and edit a four to seven minute film, which must include a specifically assigned prop, character, and line dialogue. To further the mindfuck, teams are also assigned a genre — Western, noir, drama, etc. Which is how I ended up writing a film about a tree elf named Winky, who teaches a gossip blogger about the spirit of Arbor Day, with a little musical help from his friend Neil Diamond.

I’m neither high, nor kidding. 

This is the third time I’ve participated in the competition, always with my trusty teammates from ImprovBoston. I consider them family, and by that I mean those crotchety, extended family members who drive you to smoke and drink at reunions and awkward holiday dinners. Imagine being holed up with your dirty Uncle Joe in an apartment in Southie, fighting over nitpicky video editing bullshit — like how many seconds of B-roll to include between scenes, or how many times the lead actress should be shown blinking before you cut away. You’d be halfway into a fifth of Jack, too.

Assigned ‘Holiday Film’ as our genre, we began to brainstorm the kinds of sappy crap that make holiday films so cringe-worthy.  A new boyfriend from out of town!  A senile grandparent who spouts gibberish! A mom with cancer!  That’s the tearjerker triple threat.  Our script eventually morphed into a parody of A Christmas Carol, complete with Dickensian lad in a jaunty cap.  I mean, why not?  We already had an indignant, pointy-eared creature who spoke in rhyme and traveled through time by sneezing magical dust. 

We ended up being pretty damned pleased with ourselves, especially when we discovered that one of actors does a spot-on impersonation of Neil Diamond.  He and our composer wrote a song to roll over the end credits that featured a duet between a chipper elf and Mr. (Faux) Diamond himself.

We passed the film in on time only to learn that one of the judges was Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese’s trusted colleague and Oscar-winning editor of The Departed, which we’d blatantly ripped off in a gory flashback scene. Oops. 

All of the teams sat through screenings of the entries at the Kendall Theatre this week, and watched what felt like hours of short films, ranging from the hysterical to the fucking terrible.  A word of advice, filmmakers: don’t feature a Boston-based pop band in a gratuitous guest spot, just to show off your Hollywood connections.  Because it might make you look like a pretentious asshole. 

All in all, it’s an experience worth having.  I got to flex the creative muscles, function in tandem with a group of people who all have strong opinions, and produce a piece of ‘art’ that shows off my sense of humor with few holds barred.  Will we win?  No idea; that’s up to Thelma. And, well, Winky, of course. 

Related: Super Diamond, Solitary man?, Photos: Neil Diamond at Fenway Park, More more >
  Topics: Features , Entertainment, Movies, Martin Scorsese,  More more >
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