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September 6 at 8:47am

James Fair On The 72-Hour Movie Project – The Aims & Objectives (Pt. 1 of 5)

By Ted Hope

By James Fair

One month ago I led a team of filmmakers (of varying experience) into shooting and editing a feature length movie upon RED in 72 hours, and then screening it to a festival audience at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) in Australia. The purpose was to demystify the filmmaking process and illustrate that it could be done differently. The film ‘The Ballad of Des & Mo’ has been deemed a success by those involved as it successfully played to a sell-out audience at the Australian Centre for Moving Image and made it into the Top Ten Audience Favourites of the entire festival. This is no small feat considering we only screened once, with only a fraction of the budget of the other films, and filmed within three days of our screening. Over five posts for Truly Free Film, I want to share some of my findings from the process.

Let me provide you with some context. I first found myself making a feature in three days at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2008, after I had made a drunken bet with a producer in Dublin that it was possible. Once that film was successfully completed, we screened it out-of-competition at Berlinale in February 2009 and whilst there, MIFF invited us to repeat the feat in Melbourne. As micro-budget filmmakers we didn’t feel that we could turn the opportunity down, despite the fact that making a film on the other side of the world with no money is pretty hard.

From the very outset, producer Gary Hoctor and I roughly organised certain aims and objectives that would infuse the culture of the project:

Do as much production through freeware as possible.

  • Communication will take place through Skype.
  • The script will be written and drafted in Celtx.
  • We’ll share documents through Google Docs.

Make a quality film.

  • Shoot on RED at 4K resolution.
  • Try and get star power.

Be transparent about the process.
• Develop a website (built by www.pointblank.ie) that is content heavy with our tweets and vlogs.
• Develop a Facebook fan page where we will post news and interact directly with supporters.
• Write guest blogs for various established sites (TFF included) that will help channel new audiences to us, whilst offering the chance to get our ideas across.

Exploit the project more than before.

  • We needed more publicity in order for the project to have value outside of Melbourne. ‘Watching & Waiting’ was a success but had little impact outside of Galway.

These objectives were our guiding lights throughout. You’ll notice that there isn’t a great deal about the film in there, other than ‘shoot on RED’ and ‘try to get star power’! It seems a little ludicrous to write an aim like ‘make a quality film’, as if anyone writes ‘make a bad film’. It was a general assumption that we wanted to make a good film, but these two objectives were things that we felt identified a tangible barometer of our success. I don’t actually believe that ‘quality’ can be defined by the image resolution of the picture or the 7.1 sound mix. I think this is a misunderstanding with a lot of filmmakers – they believe ‘quality’ can be translated as ‘good production’, ‘neat finishing’ or ‘smooth camera movement’. Quality is an attribute assigned by the audience, not something that can be bought by the producer. I decide whether I think something is quality or not, not the packaging of the product that I buy. I think has film has been quality if I feel like my $20 ticket was worth it.

I digress. These aims and objectives were essential to us because they became points of reference throughout the production. When problems occurred (and they always do) we had a set of common goals that we could refer to. Interestingly enough, I can identify one textbook mistake with our aims and objectives that are causing headaches now – we never had an exit strategy with what to do with the film once done. And now we are faced with the same predicaments of regular filmmaking; ‘where do we go from here?’ In our defence, it felt like a probable jinx to plan a future for the film beyond the production as it could have gone horribly wrong, but it seems a little stupid to hide behind superstition in something otherwise so methodical.

Aims and objectives are a critical part of the scientific method. I have become increasingly attracted to this approach to filmmaking as we delve deeper into the paradigm shift of the digital evolution. I believe the rules are changing within the film industry and therefore I see great value in identifying a hypothesis and then working towards it through trial and error. Otherwise I believe it is difficult to establish effective results, and we find ourselves trying to draw conclusions from examples that don’t necessarily present the whole picture.

Let me give you a clearer example. My motivation was to prove a feature film could be made in 72 hours, and I identified ways of fulfilling it through the redesign of organisational structure. But let’s say your hypothesis was to make a film that made a clear and demonstrable profit of 125%. How would you do it? Can it be done? I believe it can, because I believe anything is possible. But can it be repeatable? Can it be done so that I can do it and you can do it too? That is harder, right?

Well I’m sure that people have these personal aims in their mind. But do they have the objectives: the ways of achieving it? Do they approach the movie with the 125% as their starting point? Or do they start with the assumption that the only way they are going to make that profit if they start with a good script? My point here is about process. We always use pretty much the same process regardless of our aims or objectives.

Revisit our objectives for the 72 Hour Movie project. Where did we ever write that we wanted a good script? That was the first hurdle that we came across when it came to getting funding for the project, because everyone wanted to fund a film, not a process. I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow.

James Fair is a lecturer in Film Technology at Staffordshire University, UK. He has directed two features in 72 hours. The first film, ‘Watching & Waiting’, was shot in Galway, Ireland, as part of the 20th Film Fleadh in July 2008. The second film, ‘The Ballad of Des & Mo’, was shot in Melbourne, Australia, as part of the 59th International Film Festival in 2010.

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5 Comments

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  1. Dave / Sep 6 at 8:47am

    The 48 Hour Film Project has been going strong since 2001. Just sayin'.

  2. James Fair / Sep 6 at 8:47am

    Isn't that a short film competition Dave?

  3. Jon Raymond / Sep 6 at 8:47am

    It's absurd to self impose restrictions like deadlines. It's hard enough to deal with restrictions that are externally imposed. This is an exercise in masochism. Having said that, I see the value in working under pressure to make decisions hard and fast. The lesson to be learned is not to gain an ability to make a feature in three days, but to gain an ability to make good decisions and stick to them.

    One of the biggest failures of filmmakers, I think, is to procrastinate and flip flop on decisions. In any endeavor as complex as filmmaking, you do best to come up with a solid plan and then stick to it.

    And yes, the fallacy of quality production as quality filmmaking is ubiquitous in the industry, especially in festivals. That's why filmmakers who think they make good films don't get distributed. No one wants to see crap no matter how fine it is.

    This is analogous to the advent of HD and the makeup problem. With HD we now can see every pore and blemish on an actor's face. This is unreal. In real life, we don't look at people in that fine of detail. Do you walk up to people and examine their faces with a magnifying glass? Yet that is exactly what we do when we shoot a close up in HD and put it up on a big screen. The trick here is to know the difference between polish and quality. Look at the raw quality of the actors in The Kids are Alright. No make up (or if there was it was deliberately done to tone down a made up look). The only film I can think of that would require polish would be something like Surrogates, where the actors play robots made to look like perfect humans with no flaws.

  4. kevin / Sep 6 at 8:47am

    I like where you are going but one point. I think you analogy to the scientific process is a little bit flawed. A hypothesis is a question, not a goal. So your hypothesis would not be ” to make a film that is 125% profitable” the hypothesis would be “is it possible to make a film that is 125% profitable.” or, since that question is somewhat useless “is it possible to make a film that is 125% profitable given xyz”

  5. James Fair / Sep 6 at 8:47am

    I completely agree with you. Thanks for the correction

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