A while back I was possessed by Spielberg’s blend of “courage and stupidity” to compete in a competition wherein contestants had to write, shoot, edit, and deliver an entire short film in 48 hours.

It was thrilling and exhausting, at times it was frustrating, but my team and I did it.  We didn’t win but we survived, and I have the “I survived a 48-hour filmmaking contest” bumper sticker to prove it (no, I don’t).

If you’re considering entering a similar contest — I also survived a 24-hour one and I have the sticker to prove that as well (no, I don’t) — then please benefit from these handy tips I wish that I knew beforehand.


HOME BASE HOME.  Whether it’s a house, office, or strip club, have a Home Base.  Choose one central to cast and crew (strip clubs are everywhere!).  Make sure it’s near a 24-hour convenient store (you and Misty Morningside won’t be the only ones working all night).  Caffeine will be required and, as unappetizing as that day(s)-old corn dog appears at 3 PM, it’ll look positively gourmet by 3 AM.

Rebel without a Crew book

Rebel without a Crew


THE RODRIGUEZ LIST.  In Robert Rodriguez’s book, Rebel without a Crew, the filmmaker discusses how he wrote El Mariachi after compiling a list of resources he had free access to, hence the scene with the hot chick in the claw-toed bathtub — he had access to both (hubba hubba).

Have everyone compile individual lists.  Then combine them into one master list.  The 48-hour film required us to incorporate specific props — a cassette tape, a knight chess piece, and knitting needles.  Once we knew that, it was easy to scour our master list and see who had what.  Surprisingly, there were plenty of knitting needles.  I’m just saying.


DREAM GLOBALLY, SHOOT LOCALLY.  For the 48-hour contest, our Rodriguez List included churches and schools.  The 24-hour contest gave us a one-day permit to shoot anywhere in LA that wasn’t private property.  Anywhere!

In each case I dreamed of filming unknown set pieces in high production value locales.  In each case I ended up filming no further than our Home Base.  They were best for the scripts, which were best for the contest-mandated themes.  It was like Luke Skywalker yearning to leave Tatooine for the stars, but never getting off-planet.

So dream big, young Jedi, but be prepared to stay home with Aunt Beru.


THE ONSET OF ON-SET ALLERGIES.  If you have allergies, find out ahead of time if the locations have allergens.  Luckily, my co-director’s wife gave me a heads up about their cat.  Considering that our base doubled as our main set, a lot of time was spent with dander-producing Boo Boo Kitty.  Good thing I brought Claritin.


The man your filmmaker could smell like.



HAVE DEODORANT, WILL TRAVEL.  You won’t think you’ll stay overnight but chances are you will, so pack a bag with essentials — aspirin, toothbrush, cell phone charger.  Nothing feels more refreshing than Old Spice and a clean shirt.  After numerous hours in close proximity, your crew will agree.  Trust me.


TRUST YOUR SPIDEY-SENSE.  I once did all of my Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve.  I didn’t have time beforehand due to college midterms, but in one day I got The Perfect Gift for each member of my immediate and extended families.  How did I do it?  Gut instinct.

If I shopped in July, I may have come across a 3 Tenors CD that would be perfect for a retired vocalist like my Uncle Vinny.  But that’s months before the deadline, which would riddle me with doubt:

“What if he doesn’t like it?  What else is out there?  Why am I Christmas shopping in July?

But come December 24th, there’s no time for second guesses.  Uncle Vinny’s gonna get a 3 Tenors CD whether he likes it or not, damn it!  As it turns out, he loved it.  So when making a film in 2 days, trust your gut, because that’s all you’ll have time for.


Don’t judge!


PERSONAL SOUNDTRACK.  We all have music that inspires us.  The 1812 Overture, the Rocky theme, Come Sail Away by Styx (don’t judge).  Whatever your personal soundtrack is, throw it on your iPod for when you’re in need of a recharge.  Because you will be.


DELEGATE.  Medics advise people to not point to a crowd and say, “Someone call 911.”  Instead point to a specific person and say, “You call 911.”  Make it one person’s sole responsibility because a crowd will take too long to decide who calls.  The same applies to on-the-fly filmmaking.


Alright, that’s enough tips for now.  Feeling inspired?  Feeling courageous and/or stupid?            Now go out and earn that bumper sticker.  They really do exist (no, they don’t).


COMING SOON: Superheroes unmasked (whether fanboys like it or not).



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  1. Dodie says:

    Great tips!!

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