Some constructive criticism for Madison’s 48 Hour Film Project

Four reasonable ways to improve Madison’s criminally slept-on event

UPDATED 09-06-2015: Madison’s 48 Hour Film Project producer Sierra Shea has responded on Facebook

The 48 Hour Film Project, an annual grassroots competition that assigns filmmaking teams random, requisite criteria and then challenges them to whip up a short over one weekend, is my favorite event to cover in Madison. The creativity, humor, improvisation and enthusiasm for the craft are so clearly on display in every group’s project — and regardless of if they’re a full-fledged production company looking for a break from cutting commercials or a bored couple looking for an interesting weekend.

It’s a strange feeling then that, on the day teams are set to “premiere” their projects in two separate screenings at Sundance Hilldale, I’m anxious and a little annoyed. See, I’m a little uncertain about the details, which, as a repeat attendee, has me worried for turnout. The 48 Hour Film Project never has an issue getting participants to come root for their finished products up on the big screen. But what about the rest of Madison? Does anyone else know this is happening tonight?

As my colleagues at Tone Madison and Madison Film Forum have written about at length, Madison’s arts scene could stand to change a few things. It’s time to add the 48 Hour Film Project to the list. After hours of searching for ticket information and shaking the feeling that I’m doing more to promote an event I’m not in charge of, it’s time to let Madison know how great the 48 Hour Film Project is. (Okay, with a few favorite past films thrown in for kicks.)

1. Step up your promotion

Each city’s 48 Hour Film festivities are coordinated by a producer, and that producer is in charge of well, everything really. Jared Stepp, the producer for Milwaukee’s 48 Hour Film Project, explained via Facebook chat that it’s his job to “recruit teams, find prize and project sponsors, book venues, hire volunteers, make sure events run smoothly, find judges, count votes for audience choice winners, and present awards.” That’s a lot of responsibility for one person.

As for slaying that terrible beast that is putting butts in the seats, it can get tricky. The Madison 48 Hour’s presence on social media is in a sorry state of affairs At least 50% of the official Facebook page is filled with cute memes and enthusiastic comments about how “awesome” a given year’s awesome teams are.

As for helpful information, short of two hours ago, the most current Facebook post was two days old:

48 facebook

That changed at about 1:00p today. Or you know, the day of the event. Don’t even ask about a Twitter account for the city’s annual competition. I threw in the towel on successfully signing up for the newsletter a year ago.

Look, we’ve traveled down the treacherous path of iffy social media practices before. In the 48 Hour Film Project’s case, it doesn’t matter if you’re sending out email blasts, covering your Instagram account with pictures of teams exhausted from sprinting to make the submission deadline or stapling leaflets to your own forehead. Just do something.

2. Ship up your venue or shape out

When I started writing this morning, I had no answers to the following:

  • How much is admission?
  • Is it cash only?
  • Can I purchase tickets online?

Some kind soul eventually got back to me at lunch (and then quickly updated their web content), but I shouldn’t have to privately message someone for that information. I certainly shouldn’t have to get on the phone with Sundance, although they had yet to answer their box office extension when I called half a dozen times today.

Calling a theater about ticket prices hasn’t been okay since the 90s. To reiterate, there are two separate screenings of 48 Hour Film Projects tonight at Sundance Hilldale. Two. Not that you would know from looking at Sundance’s online showtimes. Nor would you know from subscribing to Sundance’s weekly newsletter. And save for the retweeting of one enterprising participant, you wouldn’t know this looking at Sundance’s social media feed. What is Sundance’s role in this? And what number do I call to get an answer on that?

3. Discourage the assholes who leave early

The ditchers. Anyone who’s attended a 48 Hour premiere screening knows who I’m talking about. A short film will end and 17 people will stand up and not-so-subtly exit the theater. Gee, I wonder which film they submitted? You don’t want to watch more films? Great. I don’t want to see the side of your head.

There are ways of addressing this. Stick an usher or volunteer at the door to discourage en masse exits. If an entire row gets up to leave the theater, it’s a good bet they’re not watching each other pee. Or keep track of which film just played and disqualify that entry from awards. The latter would make for an easy way of improving the inherent flaws in the Audience Favorite award, which can be oh-so-easily exploited as a popularity contest if you bring enough people. In the off chance Madison’s 48 Hour producer is cool with the “come and go” philosophy, take the premiere out of the theater and into a wider public space, one that exposes projects to a larger audience and is actually conducive to people leaving every eight minutes.

4. Highlight team projects

That aforementioned enthusiasm on Facebook is undoubtedly genuine — why else would you be donating your time if you didn’t like this stuff? — but let’s follow a simple filmmaking principle here: Show, don’t tell. Firmament Films’s win for Game Day last year was exciting because I knew some of the team members and had watched their short film. To someone who doesn’t cover this stuff though, none of that information means anything in a Facebook post. Promote YouTube clips. Share information about team members that have day jobs at local studios. 48 Hour producers already have a means of contact information from the teams that register, so it couldn’t possibly be this hard to copy-paste a URL.

I’ve spent more time than I care to admit executing random Google searches and trawling through Vimeo profile pages. But the average Madisonian shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to find out their city has talented artists. I mean, isn’t that the point of the damn thing?

  • You can catch Madison’s 48 Hour Film Projects on Wed, Aug 26 at Sundance Hilldale in two separate screenings. Admission is $12 for each screening. A subsequent Awards Show at 5:00p at the High Noon Saloon will announce audience and judge awards and screen the winners.