48 to film — behind the scenes at the 48 Hour Film Project

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By Amanda Mooney

There’s a lot that goes into producing a film, and unless you are a filmmaker you really have no idea. Writing, casting, finding a location, shooting, and editing; each step of the process can take days, months, and sometimes years to complete.

Can you imagine doing it ALL in just 48 hours?

The 48 Hour Film Project is an annual competition that takes place all over the world in various cities. According to Mike Madigan, head of the Detroit 48 Hour chapter, the city is one of the largest participating in terms of the number of teams. The competing teams go in blind as to what kind of film they will be producing, with no creative planning beyond getting a cast and crew together, Madigan explained.

“They pick a genre out of a hat, and they get a line, a prop, and a character. And they have to incorporate that within a short film, that’s usually between 4 to 7 minutes long. And they have the timeframe of doing it all within 48 hours,” said Madigan, “So all the creative process of it all has to happen within that 48 hour--writing a script, putting it together, editing--to finally turning it in Sunday night.”

52 teams of local filmmakers gathered at the Rust Belt Market in downtown Ferndale on Friday to receive their production assignments.

Metro Times chose to tag along and follow the exploits of teams Duality Films and Sum of 4 Studios during their 48 Hour adventures, following one team the first day, and the other the next. There’s history between the two, as Vivian Brooks of Sum of 4 Studios was a part of Duality in a previous year before going rogue, if you will, and now competing against her former team.



The competition officially began right at 7 p.m. as each team was given their production assignments. Duality Films received the “road movie”, a genre team member Kris Smith said they hoped they would get. After the kickoff we headed to the Duality base of operations at team member Kris Wood’s home in Redford, where I met the rest of the team: Jason Smith, Gabe Wood, and Chris Johnson. Tonight would be devoted to writing the script, which the team planned to be about seven pages.

This is Duality’s second year in 48, though they seek a sort of redemption this time after their first year film. “We just over-thought it,” said Kris Smith, “This year we’re trying to go for a simpler story.”

The jovial vibe of the Duality gang was a treat, comedy being the team’s specialty. Their both clever and immature humor creates a fun yet productive creative atmosphere.


(From left to right) Kris Wood checking lighting for a shot, Jason Smith and Kris Smith writing the script.

Entitled “S.J. Dennison Must Die,” the story is about a guy who wakes up after a concert to find a scathing post about the band’s performance by a blogger named S.J. Dennison (the character Duality was assigned). The guy and his best friend then go on a road trip to find Dennison and get revenge.

The initial scenes would be shot within Kris Wood’s house, though since this is a road movie, the majority of the film would take place in a car. For this, Duality chose to bring the road to them and utilize green screen for the driving scenes. (Green screen refers to the use of a green colored background upon which things can be digitally added in post-production, giving the effect of being on location when the scene is actually being shot in a studio.)

After an intense planning session, they’d hashed out the details. The script was finished around 10 that night, and tomorrow they would begin filming.



“You’re just in time! We’re about to crush someone in a car!” said Vivian Brooks, leading lady in the Sum of 4 Studios film, as she greeted us at the gate. As we headed further into their scrap yard location at Westgate Auto Parts in Westland, the sound of crunching metal could be heard as the vehicle was sacrificed on film. “That’s me in there!” actor Jay Roberts pointed out in jest, “This is just my ethereal form.” Sum of 4 was assigned the “dark comedy” genre, and the team’s witty and morbid humor reflected their enthusiasm for their draw.

Actress Vivian Brooks.

Entitled “Crush Hour,” the film is directed by Chris Metzner, written by his brother Jeff Metzner. It tells the story of a junkyard manager who begins literally killing off the competition by murdering his staff in order to gain more vacation days.

Actors Brian Orange (left) and Michael Landesman (right).

The team had been filming since 6 that morning before we arrived on the set that afternoon. The threatening rainclouds had broken for good by that time, though Jeff said that the weather was never really an issue.

(From left to right) Actors Michael Landesman, Joe Mumper, and Jay Roberts.

“The rain really picked up when we stopped filming for lunch, then once we got back outside it stopped. Overall it was a remarkably smooth day, despite the complex things we’re trying to shoot.” he said.

One word to describe Sum of 4 is “ambitious.” Despite having one day to shoot, their film incorporates things that would take beyond 48 hours to plan on a typical production, such as flipping a car from above to appear to fall on actors Brian Orange and Michael Landesman.

(From left to right) cinematographer Brandon Shatto, director Chris Metzner, and writer Jeff Metzner planning the car drop.

Sum of 4 wrapped up close to 6 that evening, and it was straight to editing from there.


Double Kris from Duality and Vivian Brooks from Sum of 4 showed up at the same time to M-1 Studios in Ferndale to submit their teams’ finished projects.

Kris Wood said that the rain provided a bit of an issue during filming.

“We had the road movie so we had to use the vehicles. So we had to keep pulling them in the garage, drying them off, and doing our green screen in the garage. But other than that I don’t think it really went bad at all.”

Editing was a different story. Duality experienced a hard drive failure during, causing them to lose footage and having to reedit and reshoot things. The guys persevered however and got the final product in on time.

As for Sum of 4, Brooks said that their strict separation of responsibility helped them move along.

“We kind of listened to what Mike [Madigan] said about having a plan and sticking to it. We let our writer write, the editor edit [and] we didn’t interrupt whoever’s job it was to do what.”

Exhaustion was their biggest adversary, said Brooks, as team had little to no sleep between filming and editing.

While one film from each genre is chosen by a panel of judges as the best of that genre, every submitted film was screened at the Maple Theater in Bloomfield Hills on July 22-23. The winning films will go on to compete against others from across the country and around the world at the Filmapalooza festival in New Orleans, Louisiana. According to Mike Madigan, the winning films from Detroit will be announced on August 12.


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