In 48-Hour Contest, It's Hurry Up and Film

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 2, 2008

Seven years ago, Mark Ruppert and his filmmaking partner, Liz Langston, were stuck. The D.C. pair had made a couple of small movies but often found themselves mired in details and the quest for a lofty ideal.

Just for kicks -- and to give themselves a creative kick in the rear -- they devised a friendly challenge: who could write, cast, direct and shoot the best flick in two days?

"What it provided was this incentive to make a film. And not worry about having the perfect film or the perfect actor, but to just go -- go make it," Ruppert recalls.

Ten teams showed up that first year. This weekend, 104 will compete in what's now called the 48 Hour Film Project, and 40 more are on the waiting list, hoping to get a shot if another group drops out.

It works like this: Tonight, the teams will show up at the Warehouse Theater in the District and draw one of 14 movie genres from a hat. The organizers reveal several elements that must be incorporated into the films: a certain character, a prop and a line of dialogue. Then they're unleashed into the city to see what powers of speed and ingenuity they can bring to the endeavor.

"The big question was always whether you could make a film in two days and whether anybody could stand watching them," Ruppert recalls from the first years of the competition. "That was the surprise: They were quite entertaining."

Langston and Ruppert compare filmmaking to bowling in the 1950s and desktop publishing in the '80s. It's popular in part because anybody can do it, the technology having improved so dramatically as equipment prices have declined.

"Ten years ago we couldn't have done this competition," Ruppert says. But since its inception, the quality of films has risen enormously, he adds. "It's amazing to see how creative people can be."

Teams must complete and submit their films by 7:30 Sunday evening to be judged for awards, including best film, cinematography and direction. Washington's best 48-hour film will go on to compete with winners from the 70 cities around the world that hold similar contests.

But the real payoff is that each movie will be screened next week at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring. The public is invited to eight screenings of 12 to 13 films over four nights, Tuesday through Friday. Organizers never know what they'll get from filmmakers, who range from hobbyists to professionals, but past submissions have featured several types of animation, original music, guerrilla-style street cinematography, studio-quality editing and foreign language scenes with subtitles. All of that, kept within the four- to seven-minute length requirement.

"People are always skeptical when they hear about it, but when they come to the screenings, they're quite surprised," Ruppert says. Still, no one is more surprised -- or elated -- than Ruppert at what has come of that quirky little experiment. "It's quite gratifying to know that all these filmmakers are out there, making some really amazing stuff -- and just to hear people say how much fun they're having during the weekend."

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