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Surviving a 48-Hour Film Contest

The 48-hour film competition is no easy feat, even for an experienced filmmaker. On this page, we have collected some solid advice – and a bit of fun – to help you rise to the challenge.


  • Start with the Locations
  • Find a Composer & Sound Designer
  • Test Your Production Pipeline
  • Brainstorm Right
  • Cut Down Your Script
  • Define Roles and Responsibilities
  • Think Like a Parent
  • Remember Close Ups
  • Get Some Sleep
  • Have fun!
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1. Start with the Locations

The pre-production of a 48-hour film is best kicked off by securing locations. Make sure you have access to a few different indoor and outdoor spaces, which can be used both daytime and nighttime and possibly altered with lighting / set decoration to suit different genres. Even without knowing the genre or having a script, you can do preliminary location recce to scope out possible issues with sound recording or blocking – for example loud fridges that can’t be turned off or furniture that is bolted to the floor.

Yes – this means that you will have to write the story to fit the location(s) available. That’s not a bad thing – imagining the location can often spark ideas for the story.

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2. Find a Composer & Sound Designer

You will probably want to use music in your film and when you do, you need the legal rights to it. The easiest way to achieve this is to have a composer in your team, who creates the soundtrack before / during the competition and signs the release forms.

48-hour films are often plagued with bad sound. Make sure you have all the right people to do post production sound. Not everyone who plays the guitar can also record music or do the sound mixing. You will probably need a Sound Designer – AND you need to make sure they have time to do their job after the picture lock.

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3. Test Your Production Pipeline

The only way to really know how your gear will perform during the competition is to test it by creating a video from start to finish using the exact same setup. Remember that rendering 20 seconds is not the same as rendering 7 minutes. You should essentially create a video of the same length, with the same amount of effects etc. Even so, it’s best to schedule in 1-2 extra hours for unforeseen complications.

Don’t forget to test / plan for the delivery of the finished film. Some 48-hour contests accept online delivery, others require you to physically hand in a memory stick or a DVD. Read the instructions!

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4. Brainstorm Right

When the competition kicks off and you have your genre and compulsory elements, it’s time to sit down with your team and brainstorm. Start by defining the rules:

  1. How long will you spend on generating ideas? (this is the period in which there should be no criticism or analysis, just ideas)
  2. How you will decide on which idea to go with?
  3. After the initial idea generation, are you going to keep brainstorming the story with the same group or send the writers to work on it?

By having a clear idea of what they are participating in, your team members is less likely to end up confused or disappointed after their pet idea gets dropped in favour of something else.

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5. Cut Down Your Script

When the script is finished, the urge to run out and start shooting is nearly insurmountable. Fight it. Force the creative team at it for one last time. Read it through and cut everything that isn’t essential to the story. Be ruthless. This is particularly important if the length of your script is close to 7 minutes.

Consider whether any of the scenes, or even characters, are serving the same purpose and could be combined. If you have multiple locations, ask yourself if any of these can be dropped by shooting the scene in another room / outside of another location you’re using.

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6. Define Roles and Responsibilities

Many 48-hour teams comprise only a handful of people who all wear different hats throughout the weekend, all taking part in the creative work. This can be fun, but can also cause confusion.

Even within a small team, you should clarify who is responsible for the organising, logistics and communication, especially when plans change on the go. Regards to the creative process, decide who has the final say should disagreements arise. Having a clear understanding of everyone’s roles and responsibilities can save you from many needless arguments and time-wasting.

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7. Think Like a Parent

Those with children know that you should never leave the house without the necessarily supplies. Even if you haven’t started a family, this is the time to think like a parent. You may rely on your wallet and takeaways for the big meals but running on a tight schedule, the gaps between meals can easily stretch. Carry water bottles and healthy snacks to keep everyone hydrated and blood sugar levels in check. Pack extra clothing and blankets for outdoor (or unheated indoor) locations. And always have a roll of toilet paper for… you know.

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8. Remember Close Ups

Close-ups are often the last ones on your shot list. Once you’ve got solid performances out of your cast and the producer is dangling a ticking clock before your eyes, it may be tempting to skip them and move on. Keep in mind though, that as you were watching the actors, you may have missed something you later on would like to cut away from – like a boom poking in or the sound of a car. More shots you have, more choice you have.

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9. Get Some Sleep

Despite the challenging time limit, the 48-hour film contest is not about testing the filmmakers’ ability to pull all-nighters. Filmmaking is a team sport. By rotating night shifts, you can all get some sleep and perform – if not optimally, at least adequately – throughout the weekend. According to research, sleep enhances creative problem solving. This is why it’s best to review the first pass of a cut after a bit of shut-eye.

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10. Have fun!

The 48-hours film competitions have helped launch many careers, so you may feel like the stakes are high. However, this is not what you should focus on beforehand or during the competition. The best way to look at the whole experience is to see it as an exercise in creativity and teamwork – valuable on its own regardless of the outcome. This way, you can relax and let go of any preconceived ideas of what you’re going to dazzle the jury with. Let the film be what ever it wants to be – you might even surprise yourself. And most of all, have fun making it!