News: 48 Hours Later

Filmmaking in a hurry

April L. Martin

Ericka Smith and Lee Hardin shoot a scene at a house in Wyoming for the first film in The 48 Hour Film Project.

The elusive dreams of the independent filmmaker live and die by the film festival circuit. The latest and hippest trend in indie filmmaking combines the strategy of Survivor with the sometimes not so great talent of American Idol.

In 2001 Mark Ruppert and Liz Langston — film, video and theater producers in Washington, D.C. — came up "The 48 Hour Film Project." More than a competition, it's a film festival, as well. The event allows aspiring filmmakers a chance to see if they really have the resources and creative fortitude to become the next Spike Jonze or Julie Dash. The project has competitions in 12 U.S. cities and in Paris, London and Auckland.

Participants are assigned a genre, anything from romance to mockumentary; a character, a landmark to identify the city and a line of dialogue. The film can be no shorter than five minutes and no longer than 12 minutes.

Participants have from 7 p.m. Friday to 7:30p.m.

Sunday to write, direct and edit the film. No stock footage is allowed — and don't forget the musical soundtrack.

Ericka Smith, a local filmmaker, found out about the competition from the Southern Ohio Filmmakers Association and decided to enter her group, The Collective. While studying film and theater at Michigan University, Smith became friends with Noemi Morales Ruffin. The pair started Chick Flick Productions.

"We were in school with a lot of men, and we felt women should have ownership in the film business," Smith says.

Ruffin traveled from Grand Rapids to help her partner assemble a diverse crew that included Cincinnati firefighter Lee Hardin.

On Aug. 8, 23 groups crowded into Landrum Hall at Northern Kentucky University to receive their assignments for that weekend's shooting. The Collective received the horror genre, a category it had hoped for.

By the end of the weekend the group would learn that anything and everything that can go wrong during the making of a film would happen to them. Friday night the crew brainstormed ideas for the script and Saturday morning shooting began on The Last Supper. The production was confusing and hectic as the crew tried to wrap up shooting at a house in Wyoming.

"We're behind schedule, but everything is under control," Smith said.

She calmly gave instructions to Ruffin to get the landmark shot, the clock at Union Terminal, and told her sister to go help with a setup in Eden Park. Later the crew would reassemble at First Watch in Springdale.

The beginning of the end started at First Watch. Upon arrival, they discovered the manager who had given permission to shoot in the restaurant was gone. The manager on duty didn't permit them to use the location.

After calling around to find a new location, the crew got permission to shoot at the First Watch in Hyde Park. But the debacle got worse. The manger at there had a prior engagement and told the crew it had to wrap up early and leave.

After looking at the footage they had shot, the crew decided to scrap everything and start over.

"Having a deadline brings out the best in people," Ruffin says. "You have to recover from fall-outs quickly."

Working against the clock, the team had to come up with a new script and new locations and shoot all over again.

"We broke into two groups, pitched ideas, took a vote and decided to go with Lee Hardin's idea, The Recruiter," Smith says. "We shot until 3 a.m. Sunday morning and rushed the film down to make the 7:30 p.m. deadline."

A line ran down the block Aug. 11 as anxious competitors and moviegoers massed at the Madison Theater in Covington see which film would go on to represent the region in the national competition.

The Recruit crashed and burned. The script had holes big enough to fall thorough, but a lack of good lighting and bad audio was the biggest scare of this horror flick.

The Collective didn't feel defeated, however. Members plan to regroup and mix-down audio and add more shots.

"We went above and beyond the call of duty," Smith says. "We're proud of what we did and we finished on time."

The winner of the Cincinnati competition, to be announced in three weeks, goes on to compete for the national title of "48 Hour Film of the Year." A compilation of the best films produced during the project will be released in theaters, on home video and broadcast TV.

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