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48 Hour Film Project: Mini-cinema on the fly

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- COURTESY 48-HOUR FILM PROJECT
Guerrilla moviemakers get their chance to work at top speed in the 48-Hour Film Project.

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If you wrote, cast, shot and edited a short movie in three days, you’d be an efficient filmmaker who earned peers’ respect. But you wouldn’t be accomplished enough to get your movie shown at McGlohon Theater next week.

That honor is reserved for people who can make a film from start to finish in two days – after pulling a genre at random from a hat and being assigned one character, one prop and one line of dialogue that must show up in it.

The 48-Hour Film Project takes its name seriously because the stakes are high: The Charlotte winner gets $500 and a chance to advance to the world competition in Cannes, where $5,000 awaits.

Will Fisher knows how carefully rules have to be followed. He entered a team last year in the first Charlotte competition. He and his cohorts incorporated a clothespin (the prop) and an athlete named Paul Wooper. (Paula Wooper would also have been OK.) But in a rush to finish, they left out one word of required dialogue and couldn’t qualify.

That experience whetted his appetite to make this project soar – but as its local producer, not a director. He aims to sell out McGlohon on Aug. 21, when audiences and judges pick a local winner. It’ll go to Filmapalooza, the U.S. finals, then to France next year if it wins.

Fisher has turned into a tornado to ballyhoo this second version. Heavyweights such as Blumenthal Performing Arts and The Gem Theatre sent e-mail blasts to followers. The Arts & Science Council announced it through the Culture Guide. The Charlotte Knights agreed to run animated 20-second promos before games.

In fact, he was a few minutes late for an interview at Coffee Central because he couldn’t find a place to park the trailer attached to his truck; he’d picked up chairs for an event that night at Pocket Park, the spot near the old Carolina Theatre.

So what motivates him?

“The long-term goal is to get people to understand the level of talent here, to be proud of these filmmakers and to invest in them,” says Fisher. “In 10 or 20 years, this city can be a hotbed of talent. Artists can stay here and think about their craft.”

When Fisher took the producer’s job, he started “pounding the phones, gathering e-mail lists, calling filmmakers and asking them to apply.” He recruited black and Latino moviemakers to ensure diversity.

Seventeen teams took the bait, paid the entry fee and will meet at Dilworth Neighborhood Cafe Friday night to learn the character, prop and line they must use. They’ll have until Sunday night to turn in a picture lasting six to eight minutes.

The national organization estimates each movie takes 13 people to complete; the smallest crew consisted of one brave/manic soul, and the largest used 116 humans and 30 horses. Fisher and volunteers are there to make sure contestants do paperwork if they use Screen Actors Guild members, credit musicians and meet standardized requirements, down to the length of the time the national logo stays onscreen.

Mostly, he wants these teams to feel the adrenalin rush he experienced last year.

“It’s a lesson for life,” he says of speed filmmaking. “Stop talking endlessly, affirm other people’s ideas – or top them with a better idea – and learn to get to consensus. It’s all about cooperating. The directors and actor and editor on our team were all there from the start, giving input.

“I don’t think any of us slept for two days: When I got tired, I did pushups. I survived on six cups of coffee, two pieces of pizza and four energy bars. At the end, I felt purified by fire: I felt I’d become a better person by going through this.”

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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