You’re making a film and there are some constraints. You have to include a hat as a prop (not a baseball cap!). You have to have a character named Alex (or Alexis) Brownstone who must be a restaurant server. Your script has to include the line “she should be here any minute.” Your film must be between 4 and 7 minutes long.
The final catch: You don’t get to choose the genre.
Could you do it?
Could you do it in 48 hours?
That’s what 21 teams of local filmmakers recently pulled off, making it clear that Kansas City has a growing filmmaking community that supports each other's efforts and projects.
Kansas City’s branch of the international 48 Hour Film Project kicked off with an August 18 party at the Screenland Tapcade, where the teams gathered to learn their required prop, line and actor, and to receive their assigned genres. At 7 p.m., the clock started and the teams fled the building to begin what is usually a months-long process of writing, shooting and editing a short film.
Besides glory and attention, the teams were competing for prizes provided by local sponsors, such as Film Society KC memberships, passes to the Kansas City Film Festival and discounted headshots and audition reels for winning actors.
Two days later, Screenland Armour hosted a screening and provided ballots for the “Audience Choice” Awards. The event was joyful and raucous, with friends and family cheering for all of the teams and their films. Filmmaking is an inherently communal process, requiring ranges of personalities and skill sets; this event might be a competition, but the feeling in the room was one of comradery.
“We love the way the project promotes filmmaking in Kansas City,” said Jessi Burkette, who co-produced this year’s event with Drew Martin.
All of the local judges traditionally have Kansas City roots or ties, including this year’s: director Morgan Dameron; casting director Corbin Bronson; director and producer Kendal Sinn and film critic Lonita Cook. Kansas City Film Commissioner Stephane Scupham presented the top three “Best of City” winners.
The completed films varied widely in quality and spanned a range of genres and subjects (although there was a consistently generous use of squibs — the props that provide fake bursts of blood).
Writing a coherent, clever 4-7 minute script in time to allow for shooting, editing and post-production is an astonishing feat and all three of the winning films pulled it off.
"The Audition: an Adult Film,” which took third place, is a raunchy comedy about a young man who decides to audition for a pornographic film in order to better support his pregnant girlfriend. The film also won Best Original Score for a goofily explicit end-credit song.
“We were absolutely ecstatic when we found out that we had the genre of comedy,” said Keegun Selley, the film’s director of photography. “By 9 p.m. we really locked in the idea of the porn audition. There were four of us who stayed up until 3 a.m. Friday night, writing and editing our script … We shot our final scene Sunday morning.”
His team, Outer Road Productions, consisted mostly of Avila University students and recent graduates and shot much of the film on the school’s campus. Selley found the tight timeline energizing.
“Drew Martin told us before the competition that after handing in our film we would walk out the door swearing to never do the 48 again, but the second we handed in the film, (team member) Jerry (Mañan) and I looked at each other and agreed that we would even do it again the following weekend.”
"Perspective: The Murder of Joanna Brownstone,” the second place winner, is even more professionally produced, deservedly winning awards for cinematography and sound design.
“It was a challenge — not so much a challenge about making it in two days, but about making something cinematic and impactful in two days,” said writer/director Baron Michael Redman.
While the story is fairly formulaic (jaded veteran detective and overeager rookie attempt to solve a murder), the trope is popular for a reason: It’s an appealing story structure that is easy to recognize and follow, particularly in the limited running time of a short film.
The formula is so familiar, in fact, that it forms the basic structure of the first-place film, “Deadtectives,” with the added twist of the rookie cop being a zombie.
While its cinematography is less artful than “Perspectives,” the overall film is a tighter completed product; the writing is punchy, the story compact and appropriate to the length and constraints, and the acting unexpectedly strong. Adam Heeray gives a melancholy humor and depth to the zombie Detective Schmitz, an accomplishment that seems impossible for such a short performance and earned him the Project’s Best Actor award.
“Hands down, this was the best year for me personally on the 48,” said “Deadtectives” director/producer Kyle Kelley. “Everyone just clicked so well together and made it fun.”
The team’s chemistry shines through, and “Deadtectives” will represent Kansas City in Paris this March at the international 48 Hour Filmapalooza.
The winning films can be viewed here.
Melissa Lenos is an Assistant Professor of English at Donnelly College, where she teaches film studies, composition, literature and popular culture. She can be reached at email@example.com