Levi Agee’s Screengems: Some advice from the 48 Hour guru

August 30, 2013

By Levi Agee
Sleep Deprived Test Subject

My head has been buried in the madness that is the 48 Hour Film Project, so I haven’t seen a lot of film news that’s non-48-related in a while. For me it’s been more like the 336-hour festival as I’ve been producing this thing since the kickoff more than two weeks ago. Premiere screenings began Thursday and end Saturday.

I will give you guys some tips regarding some frequently asked questions I received over the weekend and maybe some pointers to help anyone doing contests like these in the future.

My first rule of thumb in a timed contest is always to simplify. If your goal is to make a movie in a limited amount of time, the last thing you want to do is create some Paul Thomas Anderson multicharacter ensemble that happens across multiple locations and story lines. “Write what you know” is always good advice, but in this case don’t write everything you know. Whittle your story down to one conflict and one solution. Short films often work well when they are concerned with one main character and every scene moves the story forward. (Sometimes this advice works just as well in feature films and TV shows, but it’s even more important when you don’t have much time to shoot or tell your story.)

The second most important piece of advice is to give yourself plenty of time to edit and render your film, let alone drive to the drop-off. We had many teams that were late this year due to unforeseen problems in the post-production or editing process. Weird exporting errors, problems with DVD burning — a sound or music mix not being synced — can ruin a film’s chance at getting in on time.

This year the audio in a majority of the films was a lot better than in previous years but still some films needed to be normalized. Normalizing or equalizing your audio is a must if you want to have a consistent volume or sound mix. (Many programs can do this, including the free program Audacity and most nonlinear editing systems.)

A lot of the questions I got during the weekend were related to the requirements. The stipulations on how to use props, characters and dialogue are intentionally somewhat vague — that’s the nature of the project; 48 Hour has to give you rules so you don’t cheat but they have to be vague enough to not be too restrictive. In most cases trust your gut and, as I told most of the participants, be clever and entertaining. Err on the side of caution if you’re worried about doing something outside of the box. You don’t want to get disqualified because you interpreted the rules too loosely.

To recap, if you are entering a film contest, make your story simple, pace yourselves, get good audio and read all the rules.

I’ve been looking forward to the screenings and am really proud of the contestants this year. If you would like to come see the films, check out 2013-48-hour-film-project-little-rock.eventbrite.com or come to the Little Rock Marriott downtown at 7 tonight for Group B and Saturday at the same time and place for Group C. The Best of Awards Ceremony will be 7 p.m. Sept. 14 at Wildwood Park for the Arts on Denny Road in west Little Rock.

Levi Agee is a filmmaker and programmer for the Little Rock Film Festival. Right now he could probably use some sleep. Write him at:


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