Why you should care
Because maybe you’re the next Godard.
The 48 Hour Film Project is the Cannonball Run for filmmakers. Teams are given 48 hours to write, shoot, edit and score a seven-minute film. The clock starts when they are randomly assigned a genre and a variety of elements that must be included in the film. Ready … set … go. Show up with your film 30 seconds after the 48 hours is up? Tough, you’re out.
Participating in the 14-year-old competition has become something of a ritual among caffeine-jacked film geeks. This year, more than 60,000 have signed up to compete in 130 cities around the world. Results vary from mini-pieces of art to the type of stoned mayhem you might expect. “Last year there were quite a few robot boyfriends and girlfriends,” says festival co-founder Liz Langston. The horror genre always brings out a certain style of auteur, with entries that feature “a lot of vomiting,” Langston says. Many of the participants, though, are already working in the industry, and established actors like Martin Freeman and Oscar winner J.K. Simmons have waded into the craziness.
The kick-ass masters of this game is a group of French filmmakers known as Les Parasites. In an unprecedented streak, Les Parasites won four separate city events in France in 2014. “They killed it,” Langston marvels. “To win French cities, with the quality of films, is remarkable.”
Despite the extreme time limitations, Les Parasites, a loose cadre of former film school students, manage to create stylized films with distinctive themes and storylines. Their films have a beginning, middle and end, and usually involve a moral dilemma. In the Montpellier contest, they were assigned the romance genre and came up with Symptômes d’Amour, a whimsical fairy tale about a couple who discover they are inflicted with love, which no longer exists, and struggle to break the bond.
“Because of the constraints, it pushes you to be more creative,” says Guillaume Desjardins, a member of Les Parasites, in an email. “You make movies that you would have never done otherwise.”
The group doesn’t prepare a script or develop ideas before the competition, Desjardins says. They find a location, bring their gear and random props, and then try to adapt the setting to whatever elements they are assigned. “You can’t write your story beforehand,” he explains. “If you did, you would be less creative, because you’d want to stick to the first idea even if it doesn’t match with the genre and elements. It can ruin your film.”
The reward for this frenzied, stress-riddled attempt at art? On a local level, the winning team usually receives a cool trophy, a few freebies and a chance to win $5,000 at the project’s annual international event. But members of Les Parasites have been approached for jobs, and producers have expressed interest in supporting their films, Desjardins says. “It gives you confidence in your work,” he says. “You understand that you can make movies in a really short amount of time. It gives you energy to keep going.”
Amour Artificiel, a sweet story of android love that won the event in Tours, is typical Les Parasites. The assigned genre was “Fantastic,” and the required elements were a necklace, a character named Marin or Marine Prost, a waiter and the line “A deal is a deal.” Given those parameters, the team crafted a lyrical story with humor, charm and a demented twist. It takes film students years of grant writing, parental loans and whining to create this stuff. Les Parasites did it in 48 hours.