Lessons Learned from Timed Film Competitions
November 17, 2017
By Michelle Maslanka • Producer

Film competitions are increasingly popular, especially in the independent filmmaking community. These online contests allow for indie filmmakers around the world to create and showcase their works in the company of their global creative peers. Subcategories have splintered out, including timed film competitions: the premise that, within a given timeframe (48 hours being the most popular), a team will write, shoot, and edit a short film. A few members of the Motion Source team recently participated in a 77-hour film competition and came away with not only a completed short film, "The Golden Lion," but with lessons that can be applied to future productions.

Craig Bass, Writer/Director of "The Golden Lion"

Craig Bass, Writer/Director of "The Golden Lion"

Crew size is important.

Perhaps the most important aspect to actually getting a timed film completed is to have your cast and crew in place well in advance. This means that you are going to need to be making decisions, early on, that are based on very limited information. Do you need a 2-person crew or a 15-person crew? "Well, what are we shooting?" would be most people's answer. Unfortunately, you do not have the luxury of knowing this upfront, so you need to establish crew composition based off of what allows for your best chances of success. Therefore, I would tend to err on the side of a larger crew (if you can even convince enough artists and technicians to undertake this herculean, glory-light task). However, keep in mind that if you do collect a larger crew, and then the project tends to be small scale, it would be bad form to simply cut people--you are going to need to accommodate the extra weight. 


Keep casting simple.

The size and type of cast is an even harder nut to crack. Without your assigned elements, you have absolutely no idea the type of story that you need to write; and, consequently, how many actors you need, as well as what ages and sexes would be ideal. Though I have seen some wonderful films in competition with very large casts--I have zero idea on how the filmmakers pulled this off--my recommendation would be to go with a very small cast. You can easily tell a story with two people, whether these two people are lovers, enemies, or family members. Truly, you can tell a story with one person, just don't expect there to be much dialogue unless they have multiple personalities. The magic number in my mind is two: one male and one female, around the same age range. This opens up a lot of potential relationships: husband and wife, brother and sister, employee and employer, etc.*

*Spoiler alert: We ended up with three males for our short, and it worked out just fine!

Steven Brown, Writer/Producer of "The Golden Lion"

Steven Brown, Writer/Producer of "The Golden Lion"

Don't be too precious with any of your concepts or final script. 

Because of the nature of the harsh deadline, I believe it is important to roll with the punches during these timed challenges. Things will need to move fairly quickly and it’s important to remember that, especially with so many people collaborating, things may need spontaneous changes to be successful. Additionally, these types of competitions are usually volunteer-based, and it’s important to keep in mind that people not only want to be there, but they want to feel like they are contributing to the finished product.


Keep it fun.

If your objective is to make a great film, these competitions may not be the route to go. It’s entirely possible that you could craft a masterpiece during the timeframe given, but more than likely that won't be your experience. These competitions are intended to be more of an exercise in rapid filmmaking than anything else, and it’s important to keep that in mind. You will be spending a lot of time (in a short period) with your cast and crew and it will be a much more grueling experience for everyone involved if you’re taking yourself and the project too seriously. Everyone can still be working hard and doing their best, but ultimately this should be a fun experience.

Michelle Maslanka, Assistant Director of "The Golden Lion"

Michelle Maslanka, Assistant Director of "The Golden Lion"

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

This goes without saying but communication is key on any production, and especially when time is of the essence. Plans can change frequently on set, so keeping the cast and crew informed will expedite quick thinking and doing. Communication will also keep everyone feeling involved and collaboration can help solve any issues that arise. 


Manage your time.

The whole point of a timed competition is to willingly put yourself up against the clock. That means that every hour (every minute!) counts. Deadlines and schedules are a necessary evil to keep everyone on track. Luckily, everyone understands that this is part of the game and is generally cognizant of working efficiently. Now, that doesn't mean all fun and joking is banned on set. Even in the eleventh hour (literally) we were having some good laughs. To Steve's point, this is supposed to be a fun experience! That being said, someone does need to keep on the clock and rein in the crew to stay on schedule. Everyone will thank you later for aiding in the on-time completion of the project.

See below for our final submitted short film, "The Golden Lion."