No more than 45 seconds into Benjamin T. Wilson’s short film Past the Worst, there’s a Zoom funeral. The eulogy can’t be read because nobody can figure out how to let someone in off the waiting room.
The 2020 winner of Pittsburgh’s 48 Hour Film Project, Past the Worst represented much of the competition last year: adaptable, creative, but with more struggles than usual. Started in Washington, D.C., the now-international competition challenges teams of filmmakers to write, shoot, edit, and score a 4-7 minute short film, all in one weekend.
Each team has to make their film in the genre they’ve picked out of a hat, with a line of pre-determined dialogue that must be said verbatim, a prop that must be seen, and a character that must be used. In the words of Gaynard, “It’s pure adrenaline, coffee, and insanity.”
It’s a monumental undertaking for indie filmmakers, but many say that’s a big part of the fun. “Filmmaking at almost any level is a process of being creative within specific constraints, be them budgetary, logistical, or being on a time crunch such as during the 48,” says Wilson, now a back-to-back winner.
However, this sense of energy and momentum was dulled somewhat in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, pushing the entire event virtual.
“Inherently, Zoom doesn’t allow for many conversations to happen at once, which is how film networking really happens,” says P.J. Gaynard, producer of the Pittsburgh 48 Hour Film Project. “People had to take turns speaking. Also, it kept our community fractured because some people didn’t see the invite or don’t like Zoom/Facebook. They thrive in person, onset and/or on a movie screen.”
Luckily, that won’t be an issue in 2021. Every part of this year’s event — from the shoot taking place July 9-11 to the screening on July 26 — will be done in person, with virtual options still available for those who aren’t ready for large groups.
Teams have already started registering for the project, with 17 total in Pittsburgh. It’s being touted as the fastest start in the local chapter’s history, which Gaynard attributed to the enthusiasm of the community.
“Having the events in person this year is like a kick-off to the indie film community in Pittsburgh that we are back in full force,” he says. “People use the 48 Hour Film Project to meet and network as much as make films. That just doesn’t happen as well through a screen. Being in person, together is how projects get built. It’s how we connect. It’s how we make art.”
These connections all kick off with a Meet-up and Networking Event on Sun., June 13 at Riley’s Pour House in Carnegie. A number of filmmakers will be there, including Wilson, and it gives everyone else a chance to potentially find a team and develop relationships that often carry on far past the confines of this festival.
“One of the best parts of the weekend is seeing old friends and fellow filmmakers, actors and writers,” says Robert Scott, another long-time participant in the festival. “The camaraderie is wonderful and adds to the excitement of the weekend.”
Gaynard expands on this, saying the overall festival acts as a “slingshot that propels many groups through the year.”
So many people say that the group they make a 48-hour film with creates a team that spawns many other projects,” says Gaynard. “These 48-hour films are really flashpoints that multiply into many more projects down the line.”
The influence the competition has had on the local film scene is echoed by others as well. This year, the judges include Ellen Doherty, CCO of Fred Rogers Productions, and veteran character actor Cotter Smith. It’s also supported by Chatham University, Film Pittsburgh, and the Tull Family Theater in Sewickley, which will screen the films.
“The Tull Family Theater highly values experiencing cinema in community,” says Tull Family Theater Executive Director Carolina Pais-Barreto Thor. “The energy of emerging filmmakers sharing their work on the big screen for the first time is a welcome affirmation of the cinematic arts.”
All in all, organizers believe the whole production will be a welcome return to the kinetic energy and collaborative spirit the local film industry is based on.
“The energy of an in-person screening is something that has never been and will never be replicated in an online format,” says Wilson. “40 people watching something in a room will always be more exciting than 400 watching online. I’m so excited to have that energy back, both for the screenings and for the rest of the competition.”
Or as Gaynard puts it, “The thing I’m most excited about is that Pittsburgh filmmakers of all types will come together again, safely in person, and make crazy filmmaking magic on a weekend in July.”
Those interested can register for the competition up until Fri., July 9. Registration fees apply. For more information, visit 48hourfilm.com/en/pittsburgh-pa.