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How to Film a Movie in 48 Hours

Follow one 48 Hour Film Project SF team as they race to the finish.

The  cast and crew in costume for the Bay to Breakers scene.
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Production assistant Matt McGill lurks in the bushes with boom mic, while star Heather Shepardson waits between takes.
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Director Trav Stanton.
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Mark Helsel (right) took over as director of photography when the original DP was arrested.
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Stanton and writer Aaron Paul (left) discuss a scene. The street locale was picked spontaneously because of the exterior window behind them.
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The first weekend of June, teams across San Francisco wrote, shot, and edited original short films in just 48 hours. It's the annual 48 Hour Film Project, a filmmaking competition screening right now at the Clay Theatre. How do you make a movie in just two days? We followed producer Lara Brecher's team in a race to the finish.

Friday, May 31:

At 7:30 PM the clock officially starts ticking. So that no one could plan or shoot in advance, the 48 Hours high ups have kept secret the required genre and elements of the film. Now is the moment of revelation. Brecher's team must shoot a romance. They have a budget of $350 (out of pocket). At 8:00 PM the eleven-person cast and crew arrives at Brecher's Hayes Street living room to plan the production, with an eye toward avoiding previous years' mishaps.

Brecher: Remember four years ago, when we finished with twelve people riding in a van with no seatbelts at four o'clock in the morning? Let's not do that again.

Though the script isn't even written yet they have to plan locations, begin assembling wardrobe and props, and even start composing the music. At 9:30 screenwriter Aaron Paul arrives and he and Lara begin writing "Have We Met?", a raunchy, madcap romantic comedy with a twist ending. They work through the night.

Saturday, June 1 (morning):

Brehcer and Paul finish the script at 5:00 AM, only three hours before the rest of the cast and crew will arrive. The script is particularly ambitious: day and night shooting, a dance number, and a scene set during Bay to Breakers, complete with costumes. The primary cast (Heather Shepardson, Allison Gamlen, and Pearl Marill) know nothing of their characters until the script is in their hands for the first read at 8:30.
 
Paul: This is all based on a real thing that happened to me.

Shepardson: Does my character have amnesia or is she just a bitch?

Gamlen: "Taking shots, up on the roof screaming, pushing each other into traffic"? Have you been reading my diary?

Merill: "Squeeze the juice, keep the pulp!" Wait, is that innuendo?

At 9:00 AM, they realize their director of photography never showed up. Turns out he's in jail. So they call in an emergency replacement: a 17 year old kid from Hillsdale High.

The team arrives at Alamo Square Park at 11:00 AM to shoot the first scene. The scripts calls for Shepardson to be hit in the face by a Frisbee; in twelve takes, five throws hit Heather, six go over her head, and one almost hits a dog. It's already 2:00 PM by the time the first two scenes are shot and everyone is way behind schedule, but at least they're in high spirits.

Saturday, June 1 (afternoon)

At 3:40 the crew arrive at a Hayes St. yoga center for the dance scene. Merill, a choreographer, runs the cast through the number; they have only twenty minutes to learn it. Gamlen has some slight reservations about saying her scripted line "I'm looking at that ass," as the teenager filming the scene is a student in her drama class.

At 4:40 the dance wraps and the cast immediately change wardrobe and set dress the studio kitchen to serve as background for a party scene. The original schedule called for daylight shooting to be finished by now, but in fact they're only halfway. Next, the entire cast, plus crew members serving as extras, will have to change costumes for the Bay to Breakers scene, shot in a corner market down the street during business hours.

Daylight is waning and the final day scene isn't shot until 8:00 PM.  Most of the cast are dismissed, but Shepardson and Gamlen must stay on for night shooting that runs until one in the morning. There's less than 19 hours left before deadline.

Meanwhile, editor and sound designer Frank Slodysko has been doing post-production since before the script was written. He composed all the original music Saturday morning and then, oddly enough, went to bed, waking at 8:00 PM to prepare for an all-night editing session.

Sunday, June 2:

Slodysko begins editing at one in the morning. He is seeing all of this material for the first time and no one else from the team is available to guide him; he just has to intuit what the intended style of the film is supposed to be. By 9 AM, the team assembles to see the rough cut. Sound design starts at 4:00 PM, and by 5:00 PM, the movie is done. Brecher races across town to turn it in at 7:00 PM. The team is done with half an hour to spare, but the real test will come when it screens tomorrow and the judges weigh in on what everyone's hard work yielded.

Naturally, in the chaos, a few mix-ups were inevitable:

Slodysko: Hey Lara I left my mic, boom pole, softie, windscreen, mount, mic stand grip, case, and two XLR cables at your place. Could you bring them to the screening for me?

Gamlen: And I left a purple sports bra, a pair of black yoga pants, and accidentally took home someone's shiny black leggings.

Want to see the film? "Have We Met?" screens with other 48 Hour films at the Clay Theatre, June 13 at 9:00 PM.

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