My First 48 Hour Film Festival

The camera rig

The camera rig

Last weekend was my first time doing the 48 Hour Film Festival, an event where teams sign up to create short films over a two-day rush. I had been recruited to be the sound guy by James Daniels of team Puzzle in Motion. I was to be at the location texted to me by 7 a.m.

I was running on adrenaline pretty much from the moment I got up.

[jump] When I arrived at the film site, a private residence, I found a few of the team members already inside talking to the owners. While the home was compact, there was still plenty of space, and it even had an unfinished living area downstairs that we planned to use as one of our locales.

The first task we had was moving everything out of that room. Everything had to go. Usually something like this would take longer, but we were on a tight schedule for shooting. Before I knew it, members of the cast and crew were coming in to start building the set.

Until that time, I really had no idea what the film was going to be about. All I knew was that we had drawn the genre of "comedy," had to find a way to use a wire coat hanger as a prop, and there was a line of dialogue we had to fit into the story. As the set slowly came to life, I realized the short was going to involve Magic: The Gathering.

I was given the sound equipment I was going to use by producer Jonathan Patridge. We had worked together on a 10-second film a few weeks before in order to get the workflow down. We weren't able to use the microphone from workflow exercise, but we had a ZOOM recorder and an MXL 770 Cardioid (usually used to record vocals, as it's very sensitive).

Two actors work through their lines

Two actors work through their lines

I set up right away so there wouldn't be any delays, but for a while I had no sound. Not a good feeling right off the bat. The only time I could hear anything was when I tapped my index finger against the microphone, and even then the recorder barely registered that it was picking anything up. It was one of those 'you had one job' moments. Despite actually going to a school for audio engineering (The Institute of Production and Recording), I ended up just pushing buttons until I got it to work. As I calmed down and wiped the sweat from my brow, it was time to start shooting. 

In order to be more efficient, the team was broken up into separate parts. There were musicians waiting to get the call on what to record at some other location; the first unit was downstairs, directed by Justin Vudy with Brad Demay as the videographer; and then the second unit was upstairs, which would later turn into a makeshift editing room.

I was first needed upstairs for a scene at the dining room table. Erin Denman was playing the wife, who was a hardcore conservative Christian who didn't believe in dinosaurs, and Craig Ruhland played the husband, a huge dinosaur fan. Like I said, it's a comedy.

Jeremy Dunbar, the director and videographer of that scene, was making sure everything was set up right while the two actors were running through the lines and beats of the scene. I was getting my equipment in order, which consisted of the 770 being connected to a mic stand that was operating as makeshift boom pole. With everything running properly, we were getting ready to film when I heard a big buzzing sound through my headphones.

Time for more troubleshooting.

I notified Jeremy of the the problem, and we proceeded to try various things. At one point it seemed as if the buzzing went away, but as soon as we started filming it was back. It got to the point where we couldn't delay any longer, so we ended up hooking the recorder itself to the pole with one of its detachable mics that seemed to pick up everything just as good as the 770. It recorded in stereo sound, and we used it for the rest of filming that day.

After a handful of takes from the dining room scene, I went downstairs where I spent most of the remainder of the shoot, and Jeremy went with the actors to film a short scene outside.

In all honesty, my job was pretty easy. It consisted of a lot of me holding the pole out above the actors, making sure it was out of the camera view, making sure I pressed "record," and saying "speed" after the director said "sound." There was also a good amount of hurry up and wait as they adjusted the cameras, lights (set up by Dusty Rhodes), and, every now and then, my position.

We did, at a point, break for lunch, and even that was on a timer. We had a hard half hour. 

While shooting was going on, both James and Jeremy were at the dining room table going through footage. Every once in a while they'd come downstairs to retrieve memory cards from my recorder and the camera. No time could be wasted.

There was also a lot of making things up on the spot. Not exactly improv, but figuring out the best way to do something. Whether it was a certain reaction they were trying to portray, like a suppressed laugh, or figuring out a way to make it look like one of the characters literally pulled a guitar out of the heavens.

My last task was around 5:30 p.m. After driving a team member home, I went and collapsed on my couch for several hours.

James and Jeremy were editing long after we left the location. After Jeremy completed the rough cut, the final cut was in James's hands. He turned it in at the Crooked Pint the next day with time to spare.

As of this writing, I haven't seen the final cut. But from the rough cut I saw, I know we made something special. Making a movie is a team effort. Just because you're not on camera or in the director's chair doesn't mean you're not an integral part of the process. It's definitely a process I hope to go through again.


James Daniels hands the film in on time, 48 hours later.

James Daniels hands the film in on time, 48 hours later.

48 Hour Film Project Premiere Screenings


7 and 9 p.m. nightly

Riverview Theater

3800 42nd Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612-729-7369

Now through Thursday

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