How to Survive a Timed Filmmaking Competition


Hayley DerryberryThis past weekend, I completed my seventh timed filmmaking competition. If you have not had the pleasure of competing in one, please allow me to summarize. You enter as a team. You are given a set amount of time to write, shoot, and edit your film. All of the competitions I’ve done in the past have either been 48 or 72 hours. To ensure that you adhere to the rules, you will not know what type of film you are going to make until the competition begins, then you are given elements of your movie such as genre, character name and occupation, a prop, and a line of dialogue. Then once the time is up, all of the teams who got their films entered on time, will be judged and prizes will be given out for various categories.

Sounds fun, right? It is very fun and stressful, but no matter what, you end up with a movie at the end of a weekend, which is pretty cool. These competitions are great tools for starting out filmmakers and veterans alike. They really help you hone your skills and work on a strict deadline. If you’ve never done one, I suggest you search for one coming to a city near you and sign up (The ones I’ve done in the past are the 48 Hour Film Project and the National Film Challenge.) Once you’ve signed up, be sure to follow this advice from what I’ve learned in my years of experience, and you might just make it through one of the hardest and most rewarding weekends of your life!

Don’t do it alone:

Put together a team of real filmmakers who really know what they’re doing. The most import roles you’ll need to fill will be an editor, a DP/camera operator, and a sound mixer/boom operator. Time will make you its Bi-otch, and no matter how great your script and actors are, if you get down to editing time and the picture or sound need fixing you’re going to have to make a decision between turning in something sub-par or being late and thus disqualified. And find a good editor who is experienced and fast. He or she can start editing while you’re still shooting and if you try to do it yourself, you’re going to risk your health and sanity.


Just because you can’t do any of the creative stuff before the competition starts doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do everything but beforehand. In the week or so leading up to your shoot, read and re-read the rules of the competition, print any and all paperwork that you’ll need, gather your team, rent or plan to borrow equipment, and secure one or two location possibilities. Some other things that you can do that might help your movie are: talk to anyone you know in a band and ask if you can have permission to use their music, get the actors and director together to do some scenes and acting exercises so they feel more comfortable with each other, or compile a comprehensive list from everyone on your team naming what specialty props, costumes, cars, and/or locations that they have for you to use. Knowing all of this ahead of time will help you write.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep:

We have made the mistake in the past of trying to get a group of actors together ahead of time for the shoot. The problem with that is that you may end up with a script that only calls for one or two actors, and someone’s feelings might get really hurt if they don’t have a part or if their part is really small. If you do want to secure actors ahead of time, it’s very important that you let them know that they may not get a part. This year, I just emailed a few actors to see if they might be available for the weekend. Another good idea is to bring on crew who are also actors that way your grip can double as your love interest if the script calls for it.

Make a schedule and stick to it:

You’ll need to split up your time into three sections: writing, shooting, and editing. Make sure you leave some time in between for sleep. It is really crazy to try to do this without stopping for a 2 hour snooze here and there. Remember if you have a good team, some of these areas can overlap. While your writers are brainstorming and compiling the script, your DP can be out shooting a sunset for a transition shot. And while you’re still shooting, someone can run footage to the editor so that he can start compositing scenes, and there’s no reason that your composer can’t be putting together some music samples as soon as you know your genre and general story. Set deadlines for editing. Keep in mind that you need time to render, export, and transfer so it is very smart that a few hours before the deadline you go ahead and export a back-up copy of the movie just in case. The worse thing is not making it on time and getting disqualified leaving your whole team feeling that they worked really hard for nothing. In all 7 of my past timed competitions, one did not make it in on time. It was heartbreaking.


Plan to spend money:

Even when your cast and crew are volunteer, shooting a movie costs money. If you have 20 people on your team, you need to plan to feed all 20 people 3 square meals a day, have snacks on hand, and plenty of coffee and energy drinks to keep everyone going. I was once on a team with 130 cast and crew. They broke the world record! Our production manager went around a couple days ahead of time and got some local restaurants to donate food for us. We still had to make sure there was water, coffee, and snacks all day though. You might also need to spend money on things like equipment or kit rentals and location insurance. And of course, most of the competitions have an entry fee. Some people do a kickstarter or take a collection from everyone on the team. Just remember, take care of your team and they’ll take care of you. They might even be crazy enough to compete with you again next year!

If you have experience doing these types of competitions, please leave your words of wisdom in the comments section below. Thanks for reading, and happy filmmaking!

Below is the 48 second trailer for “Making Time,” our entry into this year’s 48 Hour Film Festival!