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by Chris Mason / 23.11.2015

In the space of 48 hours between Friday and Sunday evening I usually achieve at least one good hang over. Those less inclined to self-destructive pastimes may do weekend things like going to the beach or hiking up mountains. Some simply lie in the comfort of their rooms with the newest series blaring; quite content.

The point is that a weekend is not a large amount of time. So when two dozen or so teams of (young/student/professional or first time) filmmakers got together at the beginning of the Cape Town iteration of what is the oldest and largest timed filmmaking competition in the world, one thing was certain – there would be very little sleeping.

The 48 Hour Film Project takes place across 130 countries in six continents. It’s the kind of event that as the organizers say “puts an emphasis on doing instead of talking”. Which is to say there’s a lot of talking before and after but during – there’s just filmmaking. Since its inception in 2001 over 30 000 short films have been made through the project and every year the top 10 films from around the world go to Cannes, so it’s a potentially useful stepping stone for any hungry filmmaker.

But I doubt it’s about the prizes or kudos for most that entered. It certainly wasn’t for us. What was more exciting was the chance to throw ourselves into a purely creative endeavour and be sure that in two days we’d be squeezed dry of artistic juices with our adrenal glands left flapping like fish on the deck of a boat. But most importantly, we’d be done.

If you’re looking for a concise, easy answer to how to make a film in 48hrs. There’s not. But what I can offer is a few snippets into the process, from start to finish…


Friday evening, 7:00pm – Lecture hall in the Cape Audio College

Gathered in the room were a hundred or so people. In front, one of the competition organisers was laying out the rules:

      1. Each team picks a genre from a lucky draw. It could anything from comedy, sci-fi, family, western and everything in between.

2. There are three things that your film MUST include in 2015:

– Character: Dennis/Diana Hill – professional golfer
– Prop: a light bulb
– Line: “Who put that there?”

3. All necessary release forms must be signed
4. You have 48 hours

The draw starts. I’m sitting in between James, the director and Sparky, head of sound. We crack open the ‘Monsters’ in front of us and gulp down the sweet, flat, chemical mix. The rush starts hitting me well before our turn to draw. We wait. Teams draw genres ‘dark comedy’ and ‘family film’. Eish. Nerves flare and we are a collective network of stress conducting pylons. James runs along the top of the table to get to the front and jams his hand in the orange tiger beanie, cringing: ‘Genre: Fantasy.’


Friday night, 11pm – James’ edit suite

The brainstorm ends and the rest of the 12-person crew leave. The two directors, Rudolf and James, the writer Max and I now have to turn the cacophony of ideas into a script. The room quickly fills with cigarette smoke and we babble and stammer, forming something like a story, then watch it melt away, too weak to stand. This happens time and again. It’s like we’re birthing one at a time an army of deformed little creatures that gurgle and shriek before bursting into puffs of multi-coloured smoke. Finally one wobbles to its feet. Unsteadily it starts to walk, then runs for the door.

Saturday morning 2am, James’ living room

I am bloated by a hard shelled, hollow feeling of deep despair. The script, or rather our idea for the script, is crap. Not absolutely terrible but filled with holes and potential for lameness. We all know it and sit staring blankly at one another. Someone describes it as ‘glorified yacht porn’. We throw it out, all at once, in a rare moment of lucid decisiveness. Here and now I feel like there can be no film. I can’t help thinking “why the fuck did I sign up for this?”


Saturday morning 4am, driving on the M3

I drive in the kind of sober hallucination that comes from little sleep and hyper-stimulation of the creative regions. We had a story, at least. It was one of those times where, in the moment of total despair, something arrives, almost out of nowhere but in truth from a place that it had always been waiting. The new story was much clearer, much more alluring. It had a quality to it that everyone liked and could relate to. And, no porn.

Saturday morning 10am, a small holding in Tamboerskloof

The location is like a movie set already. We don’t need to dress it at all. Broken down, spray-painted cars stand outside brick and concrete buildings with boarded up windows. Horses and goats roam in an adjoining field and an aggressive gaggle of Geese hiss as we pass. While setting up, a man in a multi-coloured tracksuit pops up and to show us his muscles. “Come see me later, I’ll show you my drums,” he says. A girl with shaved peroxided hair dressed in a tiny skirt comes up next and tells us about her vintage clothing truck parked just down the road. We thank her. The place was perfect, bizarre and loose, exactly what we needed.

Saturday 2pm, the forest

An actress is wearing a baby monkey skull in a wreath of flowers as a crown. She sways from the branches of a pine tree, cackling. The wind blows her red hair and her golden dress billows. Through the viewfinder it looks amazing.


Saturday 6pm, on location in a flat in Kennilworth

The crew has started to flag. Movements have become slower and silences longer. It’s been 24 hours of relentless activity and stress and it’s taking a heavy toll. The production assistant Amanda leaves. She comes back with a box of big, yellow Monsters. They are eagerly consumed and shortly after the metallic clang of the last one bouncing into the bin sounds the bursts of laughter start. Then there is signing. Wrapping. Back slapping. In half an hour it is like 11pm at a trance festival. With an injection of potent stimulants the crew surges into the second half.

Saturday 10pm, the Hallway

White light pours through the doorway into an otherwise dark passage. It’s like looking into another world. Silhouetted against the light, a man and woman walk towards it. The camera rolls in 90 frames per second. It’s the last shot of filming. Two hours late according to the schedule, but hey it’s a wrap!


Sunday morning 4am, edit suite

Rudolf, the editor and other director, hasn’t slept for two days. He’s staring straight at the computer, not listening to the questions being asked of him. His fingers move fast and the timeline snaps and sings. Behind him those few still awake make sounds of quiet appreciation at the pace with which he works. He doesn’t look back, drinking Coke out of a wine glass. Hits export. The edit is done.

Sunday 12pm, Hobnobbers Bar

Only two beers. That’s the rule. The film has been delivered to sound mix and now we wait. No one has had a drop of alcohol this weekend so a beer with lunch sounds good. But it goes quickly to our heads and the warm tipsiness changes to strung out anxiety (a side effect of lack of proper food or sleep since Friday). Luckily the food arrives just as someone loses the feeling in their lips.

Sunday 5pm, Cape Audio College sound studio

The delay in last night’s shooting, the revelry of the afternoon and some unexpected technical issues have meant that we are not on schedule. It’s two and a half hours to deadline and the final mix has yet to be done, which can only happen somewhere out past the airport. Outside the rain and wind batter the city relentlessly. Everyone is lying on the floor except for the sound guy Sparky, who paces anxiously waiting for a file to copy.


Sunday 6:50pm, N2 past the airport

The music is at full volume. I’m going fast but trying to remember that the road is slippery and driving shouldn’t feel like a TV game. The final mix is in my pocket and there’s 40 minutes until the deadline.

Sunday 7:18pm, Lecture hall in Cape Audio College

We are here at the front desk and we are on time. The paperwork is in order and the film is playing on the organisers systems. There is hugging and jubilation. A feeling of achievement come what may. It was this that we signed up for. The forging of new friendships and pushing out of the well-worn comfort zones.

7:30pm arrives and all entries are closed. Outside a light haired guy stands, a shell-shocked pallor hanging over him. “There’s still 8 minutes to go on the export,” he says, knowing that it makes no difference now.

It took a while to recalibrate after the weekend. Lost sleep and the hyper-intensity of the endeavour made somewhat lasting impressions. We all floated on the adrenal buzz of accomplishment and the virtual high fives filled my WhatsApp all week…


Fastforward: My team smoked nervously on the balcony before the awards. We all wanted to win something, at the end of it. But it was a relaxed desire, dulled by the agreement that it would be worth it even if we nothing. Which was a good thing to agree on, as it turned out that the film ‘The Book Club’ cleaned up, taking a myriad of categories and the final win. It was a black and white horror that sings with precision, even from the snippets we see as the awards are handed out. The top three films are remarkable in their quality and I’m not the only one in the room struck by the undeniable cinematic talent Cape Town can muster over the course of a windy, overcast weekend.

We bag an award and a nomination for our film ‘The Bird’, which makes the team happy enough. It’s modest but fitting recompense for what we all thought turned out to be a good little short film and enough of an acknowledgment of the collective ability we represent to illicit promises that this won’t be the last.

In retrospect it’s about the doing. The head-down-mad-rush to create and complete in a short space of time. A time-frame of 48 hours strips away the need for over-thinking and allows one to produce a work that, although imperfect, stands well-propped by passion and through its very presence, becomes inspiration to do more. It reminded me that for those people who want to create, whatever the medium, the value is in the action, not the outcome.

Check out the trailer for ‘The Bird’…

Check out the winning film of last year’s 48 Hour Film Project, Cape Town titled ‘Thread’…

For more details on the 48 Hour Film Project 2015 winners and competition visit www.48hourfilm.com/cape-town-za or follow their Facebook  page for updates on the upcoming 48 Hour Film Project film screenings here #48HFPCPT

Images: Behind the scenes of ‘The Bird’ courtesy of Lightwards Pictures.

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