Stuart Black (Induction , Matter of Fact ) is a veteran of the Sci Fi London 48hr Film Challenge and co-writer/director of 2016 winner No Guarantee. He discusses with Exit 6 the hallucinogenic adrenaline rush of devising, shooting and editing an award-winning short film in 2 days.
You will drink gallons of coffee, you will pull muscles you forgot you had, you will have tantrums like a five year old child – but you will also have a fully finished film and a glowing sense of satisfaction. And if you're lucky (like we were this time) you may even get a place on the podium.
That is the rough and the smooth of a 48 hour film challenge. Be warned: it's basically a whole film school course packed into one weekend.
This was our second year tackling the Sci-Fi London 48 Hour Film Challenge - first made famous by Gareth Edwards who won in 2008 and is now making Star Wars: Rogue One. Having made the Top Ten last year with Matter Of Fact we decided to get the band back together for another shot at the title.
Our team assembled at Peckham's Bussey Building on the morning of 2 April where we'd secured the location of a derelict house for the weekend. Everyone had a job: one they could do well and one they enjoyed doing. This was an important lesson we’d learned from last year – when one of the writers had ended up recording the sound and panicking every five seconds because he wasn't sure he'd pressed the right button.
In fact, we went for belt as braces this time – with two directors (myself and Nick Mather) and two DOPs (Romain Kedochim & Chris Mavridis) – which sounds like a mad strategy but somehow worked out. Since the whole process was such a rush we could literally be in two places at once. Luckily, me and Nick have been friends since the age of 11, so we had a solid history to lean on when tempers occasionally frayed. "Oh no, they're having another domestic," was one crew members nicely dismissive take on one of our tiffs about where a light should go.
But before we get to all that, I should explain how the competition works. On Saturday morning you’re given a title, some dialogue, a prop and an idea, then you have to stitch these together into a film no longer than five minutes. There was no shortage of ideas, but trying to cram a sci-fi concept and a human story into such a short time-span is a serious brain-stretcher.
In the end, we mashed together three ideas to create a doomed love story set in a future London that’s falling apart, and where the only escape is to upload your brain into the cloud. The uncertainty of crossing over to “Life 2.0” seemed to fit nicely with the title we’d got: No Guarantee. It was then a case of getting the actors ready (which was easy with Alice Henley and Justin Marosa as they are super-talented) and nailing the props, make-up and costumes (also easy: we were lucky to have some seriously visionary Lindsay Chong and Olivia Leppard on the team).
The fact that it’s frantic is what makes it fun, but also more challenging than an average shoot. We managed to get some terrific moments in the can, but then got cocky and lost an hour trying to set fire to one prop because we wanted the perfect blast of smoke. There’s really no time to be precious like that: our attempts to make cinematic fug ended up being a fifth of all the footage we shot and set us back on the first day so we didn’t wrap until late in the morning.
Post-production on Sunday then turned into an all-nighter despite our best efforts to watch the clock, with the tech team jacked up on bottomless cups of joe, trying not to go out of their minds as they added special effects, music, colour and sound design.
We did go out of our minds with some minor meltdowns and a few hallucinations but by some miracle (and a great producer, Ioanna Karavela, keeping us on track) we managed to get the film in on by the Monday morning deadline.
Making it into the Top Ten a few weeks later was a huge thrill as it meant we'd get to see the film on the big screen at Stratford Picturehouse – a sweet way to celebrate all the magic and the mayhem. Waiting for the results on the big night however was pure agony - especially as the process was interrupted by an explanation about something going wrong with the online audience vote.
Apparently, one of the other teams had used an AI computer to write their script and it had gone haywire afterwards - voting for itself til it won. That prize was scrapped but the more human judging section was not - and thankfully the name they finally read out in the first place position was ours! So second time lucky then. It still hasn't quite sunk in - when it does I'll try and say something insightful.
Would we do it again? Well it's tempting to quit while your ahead but the point is that you learn so much making a film in such a short space of time (and we still have loads to learn) that it feels silly not to go back for more.
There are a fair few competitions like this one, some shorter some longer but all really useful as a way of progressing your skills as a filmmaker – there’s quite simply no substitute for experience when it comes to teaching you what works and what doesn’t. And since there’s hardly any budget and no-one expects this to be your best ever work, you can experiment freely and not worry if it all goes wrong.
And who knows - it might somehow all just go right.
Let us know your experiences of taking part in similar film challenges, or if it's something you like the sound of giving a go!
Follow Stuart and his latest projects by following him on Twitter: @stublackesquire