48 Hour Film Project Greensboro Needs Some Changes

22 07 2011

Firstly, congratulations to all the winners and fellow filmmakers that produced wonderful films under such an extremely tight deadline.  I am always amazed at the level of talent located in this small Southeastern area known as the Piedmont of North Carolina.  Hopefully, one day, more producers and projects with budgets to speak of will realize the amazing potential of our local crews and locations.

Our team walked away with a couple of accolades last night, including Best Writing, but that’s not really what this blog post is about.  I don’t participate in the 48 Hour Film Project for the awards anymore; we faired well in 2007 and won for our city and went to the international competition in 2008 with a film entitled Cadence.  I participate in the project for the joy of making a film with my contemporaries and the exercise in craft.

However, this year, I am saddened with certain aspects of how the competition was run.  I will address two major concerns; one of a personal nature and one of a general nature.  For those of you not familiar with how the 48 Hour Film Project runs, I will explain.  Teams from different cities sign up and pay an entry fee to compete.  On Friday night of the weekend the project is being held, teams draw their genre, which can be a number of different things including: comedy, drama, dark comedy, thriller, suspense, musical, western, etc.  Then, all teams are given a prop, line of dialogue and a character that they must incorporate into their films verbatim.  The teams then have 48 hours to write, cast, film, edit, add visual effects, score, compress and burn a copy that must be received at the drop-off point by 7:30 p.m. Sunday night.  Films that are late are disqualified, as well as films that are missing or do not properly incorporate the given items of prop, line of dialogue and character.  Screenings are held about a week later and then a “Best of…” screening a few weeks after that, with judging done in the interim.  Awards are given at the end of the “Best of…” screening.

My personal complaint regarding our film Eat Me! is as follows: we turned in two copies of our film by 7:30 p.m. to the 48 Hour Project drop-off point.  One copy was brought about one hour before the other and included the words “Oh S%&t Copy” on the cover, meaning that this was the copy to use only if the other copy didn’t arrive on time.  This copy was most definitely a rough cut and did not include our score, proper ending credit video clip or several other sound design fixes.  Our proper copy did make it on time and was clearly labeled on the front of the copy “Preferred Copy”.  We even mentioned to our City Producer that this was the case and she said she would make sure the proper one made it at the screening.

Well, guess what?  When the screening arrived for Group C the following week, our “Oh S%&t Copy” was the one played without score, proper visuals and sound fixes.  No worries, mistakes happen.  So, we alerted our City Producer to the problem and then followed up with a series of emails from several members of our team.  She assured us that the judges would see the preferred copy and that if we made it to the “Best of…” screening, the preferred copy would also then be shown.  At last night’s “Best of…” screening, yet again, our rough copy was shown.  We alerted her to the this after the screening; she replied, “Oh, so sorry, I forgot.”

As a City Producer, it was her right to make sure that this concern was fixed.  Our composer, Jon Fredette, put a lot of time and effort into a score that no one got to hear.  Furthermore, his score at the beginning was timed to the picture to help drive the edit and create the tone for the rest of the story.  Without the score, you loose out on the fact that this is indeed a dark comedy until halfway through the film.  If you are that disorganized and aloof, then I recommend not taking on a position that requires an extreme amount of organization and stress.

Now, on to the general complaint.  For the last couple of years, there have been judges that have had conflicts of interest.  Seemingly, several people need a definition of the etymology of this concept.  A Conflict of Interest is, as defined: occurs when an individual or organization is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation for an act in the other.

The past two years have seen judges that have been former participants in the project and have either lost or won to present competitors.  Furthermore, there are several judges who are friends, co-workers and even co-owners of production companies with current participants.  I would not judge the character of these people, as I am sure they made the best of decisions and used their best judgement.  However, the fact alone that these judges have ties to participants that could be drawn into question is very disconcerting.  If they choose their friend or colleagues film as the best film and it is not, this is a problem; likewise, if they don’t choose their colleague’s film because they are worried that a backlash might ensue, this too is a problem.  The only way to have a properly judged competition is to put up a panel of judges where none of this is an issue to begin with.

Maybe everything was judged properly, and I’m sure, more than likely, it was.  However, why instill a situation that presents questions like this and leaves discomfort and bad tastes in other competitors mouths?  Don’t even let the questioning of such motives itself be raised.  Also, I think it is of the general opinion that two films this year were the best bet for representing our city’s interests in the international competition.  Neither of those films were my own and I only know the heads of those teams by name and acquaintance , so I have no reason to stand up for them on personal merit.  They were the best films, and they didn’t win.  Could poor organization and conflict of interest be a part of this?  Maybe, maybe not, but why even let the questions arise?

Out of my four years being involved in this wonderful filmmaking experience, I doubt I will return next year unless major changes are made.  Conflicts of interest, poor organization and poor management have no place in any judged competition that people pay good money to participate in.  So, until some things change for the Greensboro division, I hate to say I will not be a part of it.

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10 responses

22 07 2011
clamnebula

Well put, Matt.
-Neb

22 07 2011
iris carter

Thank you for sharing your perspective so eloquently, You make good points based on surface knowledge. I was, however, misquoted. I did not say “I forgot.” I thought the issue was rectified and didn’t think I needed to remind the editor again. You also failed to mention that the “oh Sh** copy” was a data file; the “preferred” copy is your preference, not ours because it was DVD. Rendering the final screening is easier with data which is why the editor grabbed it first. The additional writing on the disk indicating “preferred” was not clear.
I was surprised by the judges’ decisions as well. My knee-jerk reaction to being entertained by films and thinking that bells and whistles counted as “good film” was eradicated by hearing the discussion and critiques of the judges. I was enlightened to aspects that I had overlooked; I learned that while a film may “look good” it doesn’t necessarily have a solid story line; some films fail to show a story and instead, “tell” it. In some cases, the judges pointed out that aspects needing attention were ignored, while other less important aspects were given too much consideration by the filmmaker. The two judges with experience in the 48HFP were able to understand why some things worked and others didn’t based on time constraints. The third judge was able to provide input on the overall film making, not being privy to the special requirements it takes to be under a severe time constraint.
As for organization – many have given strong feedback regarding the improvements I’ve made in organizing and carrying out the event. The 48HFP states that I should only give the judges 20 films to judge. I choose to give them ALL that are qualified. What I see differs from them. I will not be a preliminary judge. It isn’t fair to those that have met the requirements.
I also am given a letter that includes the judges instructions. This form letter is created by the home office and provides the same instructions that are on the website. After giving them time to view the films, I am supposed to have a meeting with the judges, let them discuss the films and make their decisions.
I have gone a giant leap further by not only sharing this letter with the judges, but giving them additional information. I researched and suggested points to consider in the three primary judging elements of “Creativity” “Technical Merit,” and “Adherence to Assignment.” I also created score sheets so that the judges would have an organized way of keeping up with comments and levels of performance in regard to the three judging elements. I explain clearly that the letter is the “official” guidline, and that my additional information is just to aid them in keeping their thoughts organized. The feedback I’ve gotten is – it helps.
The judges were/are fully aware of potential conflicts of interest, and even discussed the potential of bending too far the other way to avoid conflict of interest. By discussing the films and getting feedback on their perceptions, as well as seeing different points of views, they were able to judge the films honestly and fairly.
The films that were popular entertainment were not necessarily good, solid films that survived the judges’ critique. Unfortunately, some participants form their opinions of the winners and if the outcome is different, they see bad judges and management instead of trying to find out why the outcome didn’t meet their expectations.
As you can see, there is so much going on behind the scenes that people are completely unaware of, in spite of my efforts to remain transparent. The comments I’ve made only graze the surface of what is involved in trying to make a successful competition for filmmakers in our area.
Thank you for the opportunity to share some of this information.
– Iris Carter
Producer of the Greensboro 48 Hour Film Project

22 07 2011
Dan A. R. Kelly

If there was ANY team that submitted a playable DVD as their official entry that was used, then there is NO EXCUSE for not using our team’s DVD.

What is unforgivable is the inability of Iris Carter to admit an error, apologize and do everything possible to rectify it. THAT is a lack of respect for the filmmakers.

23 07 2011
irisinnc

Actually, I did admit the error; I did apologize; and the correction was made for the judges’ copies. I went out of my way to make a special trip out of town to make sure the editor had the correct copy for creating the judges’ version. They still have their copies and I have a copy of it if anyone would like to see proof. When the Best of screening was created, the file was picked up from the original screening file. I was so upset when I was approached last night after the screening – I tried to convey that, but Dan, you never asked me about it or asked for an explanation, and I was unaware of your attachment to the film. Had I known, I would have included you in communications as well.

24 07 2011
Dan A. R. Kelly

You call this an apology?
“the “preferred” copy is your preference, not ours because it was DVD. ”

You do not get to determine what our official entry is. The completed film that was turned in on time is our entry. Those are the rules.

And I have a long line of emails demonstrating that I politely and discreetly notified you of the error, an error which you promised to rectify. I understand that mistakes happen, but you have a responsibility to own that mistake and do what you can to correct it.

23 07 2011
Ceil Hall

I saw “Banks of the Vltava” at ConCarolinas this year and was so blown away that I researched “Walk in the Park Productions.” On their website I saw “Cadence” and was totally blown away by it! Completely! When I saw the same actors in Eat Me, I began to wonder if this was the same company – because you people MAKE AN IMPRESSION! I definitely want to learn more about you people! I am SO SORRY that this happened to you. Please know that your film was just wonderful – even the rough cut! I don’t blame you for being upset; I think you are right – everything you said was so apt, so well said. But please, PLEASE do not refrain from entering next year! I will miss your film so much if you don’t. I’m just a fan; I am not with any of the film companies – you’re hearing from your audience. Please do come back next year!

23 07 2011
Dan A. R. Kelly

Thank you, Ceil. We appreciate your support! We will certainly continue to make films, regardless of the 48HFP.

23 07 2011
Ceil Hall

P.S. I left a suggestion about this on the Facebook Page for the 48Hr Film Project. Since this is such a fast and furious process, perhaps the only way to protect yourself from mistakes like this is to keep the Oh S&* Copy close by your side and hand it in just before the deadline if your score doesn’t get finished on time. The only trust that I have in people is that you can’t trust them. I always act accordingly. You can’t control what other people do or don’t do – but you can keep the partly-finished copy close to the vest until 5 minutes before the deadline. That’s all you can do next time to protect yourself. But please, please submit again. Or at least have a lot of public screenings of your work elsewhere – I am fast becoming one of your biggest fans. You are on my mind!

23 07 2011
larry parks

Dan, I felt like your film was in the top three despite the fact that only the “B” copy was used, so I’m totally sympathetic to your situation. What wrecked my night completely was what I consider a bizarre decision making conclusion by the judging panel. I’m not sure either of the winning films made my top ten in this 14 film final. Absolutely unbelievable and untenable! I am officially retired from the local “48” scene and don’t care about it’s future.

24 07 2011
Dan A. R. Kelly

Larry, as a perennial participant in the 48, I encourage you to send your thoughts to:
Mark@48hourfilm.com

I do appreciate your kind words. Overall, I felt the whole festival this year offered a lot of great films, and I am glad to see any one of them go on to the Internationals.

Nonetheless, questions about judging are more easily dismissed when the judges are not former participants.

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