Time-based movie competitions are a great workout to keep your skills fresh and sharp, and are especially useful for us microbudget film makers, forcing us to work fast and think on our feet under a tight deadline. These cinematic sprints are also a lot of fun, and you get to make a lot of really cool little films.
I entered a time-based filmmaking completion for the first time in 2010. Since that time, I have become addicted to the process and I eagerly look forward to the events. There are three locally, and I try to hit them all each year.
In these competitions, contestants are given a few set parameters that must be worked into their movies to ensure (well, to try to ensure) that the film is scripted in the allotted time period, and not pre-crafted. The teams are cut loose to make their movies and deliver a final film – written, shot, edited, scored – by the deadline. Typically that is around 48 hours later (which might be a good name for a timed zombie-themed contest), in order to make a weekend of it. However, some are a little more leisurely and give contestants as long as a month, allowing for more thoughtful stories and stronger production values, perhaps.
Often the competition organizers will provide a line that has to be spoken someplace in the movie. In the very first competition I entered I had to write a script using the line “don’t put that in there!” As a result, I had one character stick his finger in another’s ear, which naturally elicited the line.
Anthony Joseph Mazzie and Christopher Lamb in our most recent time-based film contest entry, “Sir Real’s Holiday.”
The contest organizers may also have specific landmarks that need to appear in contest movies. Some will provide a thematic element that must “inspire” the work, such as a poem or a song or a work of art. The 48 Hour and the 50 Hour Film Slams in Spokane are of this nature.
Others time-based contests are genre-driven, and only a certain kind of film is allowed. Often, these are horror and/or sci-fi contests, like the Demon Chaser Festival in Salt Lake City.Contestants have a month to make an 8 minute horror film.
My team mates, Tom Steeber and Brad Picard and myself, have made three films for that festival, even though we do not live anywhere near Salt Lake City. With this contest, we challenged ourselves to do a period piece in a different period each time out. Our first was “Game Camera,” a contemporary found-footage horror film about hunters who track a monster. The second was “A Thorn in Paradise,” a medieval-themed film with a Harryhausen-inspired stop motion giant demon. Our latest enter was “The Grave Ones,” set in 19th Century England.
“A Thorn in Paradise,” Mitch Tiner and Brad Picard.
“The Grave Ones,” Tom Steeber and a host of the puppet dead.
We have taken a few awards, too. “Thorn…” won best score (John Carl Toth and Mitch Tiner) the Ray Harrryhausen Memorial Award for its effects (Mitch Tiner).
“Game Camera” won best make-up effects in 2012, and we loved the premise so much that we regrouped a year later and remade it as a feature film.
And “Last resort,” a simple family drama, took second place at the Klink’s Resort summer film competition in 2014.
For those interested, most metropolitan areas these days seem to have a time based movie making competition or two during the year. Check your local arts commissions to find one. Or there are many contests around the nation and the world that do it all online, such as New York City’s 24 Hour Film Race, which cuts the typical 48 hours in half. Now there’s a challenge! I need to do that one next year.