It can take a long time to make a short film. But the annual Boston 48 Hour Film Project challenges teams to squash that complex process into two days. An awards screening Monday, June 12 at the Somerville Theater's Crystal Ballroom is celebrating 2023's crop of on-the-fly productions. As always, the filmmakers went on a wild ride to finish their mini-movies over the course of one adrenaline-drenched weekend.
This cinematic throw down — now in its 20th year — kicked off at 5:45 p.m. on Friday, May 5. Hailing from around New England, 72 teams joined a virtual meeting on Zoom without even knowing what type of movie they'd attempt to tackle. Then, Boston 48 Hour Film Project producer Andrew Osborne asked each group to randomly draw numbers that revealed their assignments.
Among the cornucopia of genres were spy/espionage, vacation/holiday, doppelganger/mistaken identity, mockumentary, romance, comedy, horror, road movie, martial arts film and musical. The participants' reactions spanned the gamut from “Oh yeah” to “Oh, God” and “God dammit.”
Professionals, newbies and every experience level in-between signed up for this collaborative gauntlet to stretch their creative wings, network or learn something new. Those who finish by Sunday at 7:30 p.m. get to bask in the glow of their films splashed on the Somerville Theatre's big screen. Judges choose one to compete with 48 Hour shorts from more than 100 cities around the world. That winner's big prize is showing at the Cannes Film Festival.
A few Boston teams have moved on to the international competition in the past, but Osborne said that really isn't the project's point. “It has this amazingly great effect on getting people to work together, use their minds, problem solve,” he said. “Because you know, when you've only got 48 hours, what do you do? You got to figure out how to how to make it work.”
This year they needed to do that in four- to seven-minute films that had to contain three crucial elements: a tattoo artist character named Alexander or Alexandra Greene; the line of dialogue “she'll never know” or “she will never know”; and a pizza box.
“All right,” Osborne told the teams at 7 p.m., “Get out there. Get filming. Be safe.”
After brainstorming script ideas late into Friday night, a team called Women Artists in Action got a few hours of sleep, then gathered equipment and props to start shooting early Saturday morning. Julia Curiale co-founded the Somerville-based collective. “We're a group that brings together women and nonbinary artists to gather and learn new types of mediums,” she explained, “and just have a place to network and collaborate with other artists.”
Eight of the group's 13 members were on location at a quirky Lincoln landmark known as Ponyhenge. It's a whimsical, surreal-looking installation of donated, toy hobby horses. “We were saying, you know, how do we get access to horses to film this Western?” Curiale said. Then they remembered where they could find some.
The day's blue sky, puffy clouds and hot sun also suited their social commentary/western, “Outlaw Ink.” Some tracking and drone shots were in the can by early afternoon. Around 3:30 p.m., the crew of mostly beginners wielded cameras and mics while hovering around two actors in cowboy hats.
“A lot of our group has never been on set before,” Curiale explained. “We have a couple of people interested in learning cameras, so they're watching our camera operators as they're adjusting settings, asking questions to our editor about how the process is going to go.”
Writer Sacha Kenton observed the action with anticipation. “I've been writing and making films for a while, but because I'm disabled, I have to collaborate,” she said. “Here, everyone's doing a little bit of everything. And I'm going to get to do the camera for the first time in 10 years, which is a whole new world.”
Curiale asked Madison Cayer to hold the requisite pizza box before issuing that hallowed film direction, “action.” The actor found this weekend gig on Facebook, and got the part of Alex Greene, the vengeful tattoo artist. But she also joined the scriptwriting process. “I'd never got to be on that side of making a film,” she said, “and this definitely showed me that I want to get more into that part as well.”
Sound person Annie Laurie Medonis was the sole film industry professional onsite, and she was wary of the ticking clock. “The deadline is tough, this is my first 48 Hour Film,” she said, “The sun's going down at like 7 p.m., so we still have a few hours left. I would say we can get this wrapped within the next couple of hours and then we'll go to our next location.”
At dusk, they headed to an artist's studio in Lowell that doubled as a tattoo parlor and production space. Curiale and the team worked through the night and agreed to record updates as they worked.
“All right, so we're on our snack break,” Curiale explained through a voice message. Medonis chimed in, “And it's almost 10 p.m.” Curiale continued, “The problem we're running into right now is the lighting is going to change so much more in the morning, and that's not something we really thought of ahead of time.”
Later on Sunday, with just two and a half hours left in the race, some of the teammates were losing track of the days. Medonis clarified that it was, indeed, the last stretch of the 48 Hour Film Project. “And Kayla is in the process of still editing. We have the composer's tracks, which is very exciting. A few of us are pretty tired or struggling, but we're here.”
The group's editor, Kayla Avitabile, cranked for hours at the computer, working towards the looming 7:30 p.m. deadline. Then, while trying to upload their film, they ran into some issues. Panic ensued.
Producer Andrew Osbourne waited to greet harried participants on Zoom while dozens of films began rolling in. Then, the countdown began. "Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, five. It's 7:30 p.m.!" he exclaimed. “Congratulations for participating in the 2023 Boston 48 Hour Film Project!”
Seventy of the 72 registered teams completed their films, and seven of those came in after the deadline. Julia Curiale was relieved to report team Women Artists in Action got their film in on time. “We survived,” she said. “It was quite the experience, to say the least.”
Breanna Martins, who's a professional painter, was thrilled with the collective's first foray into filmmaking. "We were sitting there watching it, and I was like, 'Oh my God, we made that? It's like really crisp,'" she said, "and it doesn't look like the terrible B-horror movies I would make with my friends in high school. It looks like a movie.”
The team got to see their little movie on the big screen at the Somerville Theatre on the same night as dozens of other highly creative, generally hilarious and wacky 48 Hour Film Project shorts. And while Women Artists in Action's debut isn't up for an award at the finalists' screening on Monday, June 12, they had a blast and said they'll definitely sign up again next year.
The 2023 Boston 48 Hour Film Project's “Best of” awards screening is Monday, June 12, at the Somerville Theatre's Crystal Ballroom in Davis Square.
This segment aired on June 12, 2023.