Reassessing Madison’s 48 Hour Film Project

With more insight and some emotional distance, we revisit our criticisms of Madison’s 48 Hour Film Project

The 48 Hour Film Project begins tonight, which means that Madison teams are preparing to cram three arbitrary criteria and a random genre into a short film and hope that two days of screenwriting, production shortcuts, and frantic last-minute edits will be enough to capture one of next week’s Audience Favorite awards at Sundance. Or perhaps a coveted award from the 48 Hour judges panel. Or, you know, maybe those Madison teams are just looking to have a good weekend.

Last year, I proposed four possible changes to Madison’s 48 Hour Film Project, suggestions which received a positive and constructive reaction from city competition’s producer, Sierra Shea. To her credit, Shea not only responded very publicly on Facebook but also offered a follow-up discussion with me over the phone.

And after some distance from last year’s event and several lengthy conversations with Shea (Shea opted against a formal interview), I’m ready to reassess those points — and, perhaps, ready to eat some crow. From the top:

1. Step up your promotion

Right away in her public response, Shea disputed my critique of the event’s promotion, citing “various press coverage,” reaching out to, among other outlets, Isthmus Publishing. I can’t argue against that, at least not without calling those publications and asking. (Mmm, crow.)

On the other hand, I can’t exactly read all about it in the Wisconsin State Journal. Were I allowed to wind the clocks back on this point, I’d redirect my issues to those outlets. Long gone are the days when papers could afford to pay a reporter to follow around teams for the weekend. For all the outreach Shea does, it seems like the media doesn’t care, surprising given that there’s probably a UW grad doing something this weekend — and everyone loves those kinds of stories. Maybe all of the entertainment writers are too busy christening “the perfect venue for outdoor entertainment.”

Social media activity is up, so there’s hope. At the time of publication, there was yet to be a reminder that the 48 Hour Film Project starts tonight but in the past month, Madison’s Facebook page has celebrated the event’s 10-year anniversary and included an array of reminders for registration deadlines. Any activity would have been an admitted improvement, and this passes the test.

2. Shape up your venue or ship out

In the run-up to this weekend’s competition, 48 Hour marketing has focused on deadlines and registration fees, but hopefully ticket information for next week’s two premiere screenings at Sundance is posted sooner rather than later.

Of course, money is complicated. As it turns out, it’s not easy for Sundance to track 48 Hour ticket purchases in the same system as Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Ghostbusters. And speaking more broadly, Sundance Cinemas serves the 48 Hour Film Project as a venue first and as a business arm second. So really, anything outside of its ticket portal ought to stay outside the register, too.

What about online ticket sales? Cash only is a pain in the ass for the consumer, and as it so happens, Ecommerce sucks for the merchant. Shea mentioned the possibility of an online ticketing system for the premiere screenings, one separate from Sundance’s system. The trade-off in this hypothetical scenario is that convenience and diminished lines would come at the cost of fee-inflated admission prices. Brace yourselves.

All of this is only further complicated by ownership questions, where AMC’s acquisition of current Sundance owner Carmike Cinemas seems increasingly less likely. I stand by my criticisms of the city’s fanciest wasted opportunity, but it’s clear that Sundance’s woes are very separate, Twitter World.

3. Discourage the assholes who leave early

Short of resorting to Drafthouse-style theater ninjas, this one’s probably easier to complain about than solve. And, as Shea mentioned to me several times, the 48 Hour’s voting system requires each ballot to include at least three entries. Point taken. Crow eaten.

4. Highlight team projects

If you didn’t read about it, Madison’s chapter has a YouTube channel.

Let me repeat that: Madison’s chapter has a freaking YouTube channel. As in a central location to find all of last year’s projects. Shea told me she has designs on collecting entries from the other nine Project years as well. Are you doing backflips? Go ahead, it’s okay. I’ll wait for you to stretch.

Madison’s 48 Hour Film Project isn’t secretly thriving, but it’s certainly not on the ropes either, and the structure of the international event at large as well as a potentially tenuous venue situation both add complications outside the local franchise’s control. Like last year’s report card, it’s helpful to think in incremental steps. With some luck, a few extra YouTube videos, and outlets that give a shit, hopefully you’ll be able to read reports of Madison projects in more than one place. Hopefully.

  • Madison’s 48 Hour Film Project runs Fri, Jul 22 through Sun Jul 24. Two premiere screenings will hit Sundance Cinemas on Thurs at 7:00p and 9:00p. Admission will presumably be charged in some form or fashion.
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  • James Kreul

    The two questions to consider in relation to coverage are: what is the event? and what is the story?

    By what is the event I mean should the coverage occur before the 48 hour production weekend or before the screening, because no one is going to cover both with separate articles.

    If it is the former, then Isthmus, for example, would have to have the final copy ready at the latest the Monday before the 48 hour period, which eliminates the follow-the-team angle. But in most cases at least a draft would have to be in 10 days before publication, so the follow-a-team angle would also be unlikely for a story before the screening.

    I would answer the question by saying the event is the screening, even if a preview article might help get people involved in the production weekend. Realistically, very few people are going to jump in and participate in the production weekend if they find out about it that late.

    Which brings me back to: what is the story? If the story is the making of the films, then that is less time dependent and could come much later. For example, I participated in a 12-hour Film Festival in Milwaukee years ago (shoot 16mm in morning, process in afternoon, edit for screening that evening), and a writer did your suggested follow-a-team story by following us. Obviously, the story was printed well after the whole event was over, but the story was about what people had done recently, not a preview of an upcoming event. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how many local outlets still do “here’s what you missed” coverage, outside of concert reviews. Also, I don’t know how helpful post-event coverage is for a smaller annual event.

    If the story is the screening, with the hopes of getting people to see the screening, the angles are limited. I’m not sure if it would be in the spirit of the event to fully review the shorts before the screening, but as I mentioned above that would be very unlikely with the Isthmus publication deadlines, anyway. The angle would probably be “local folks doing good,” but you would have to provide some resources (information, interviews) before the 48 Hour weekend.

    My point with all this: a publicity strategy for a relatively complicated two-stage event like this would have to be more complex than sending out press releases with who/what/where/when/why. Ideally, when would the Festival want the coverage to appear, and what would be the story? Logistically, what would have to happen at a given publication for that to be possible? And can the Festival provide the publication with the resources to make that coverage a possibility?