The 48-Hour Film Project

To try something completely different, this weekend I will be joining my friends D2 and Curt as part of the 48-Hour Film Project. It is pretty much what it sounds like: you and a group of suitably equipped creative people write and produce a film within 48 hours. Why on Earth would a technical writer participate in such madness? Read on!

Creative Expression

I’ve noted before that I have an occasional creative “itch” that requires occasional scratching: the opportunity to work on something for myself rather than other people. This is slightly different, as I’d be part of a team of actors, techies, etc., working toward a shared goal, but the principle is the same. And while there’s an esoteric goal of winning prizes, the real reward is just to get the project accomplished proficiently and on time–goals a technical writer can appreciate all too well.


It’s actually nonsense to say that a movie is the product of one person. You have the writer(s) who created the story; the director who sets out the vision and ensures that the film remains true to that vision; the actors and actresses who bring the characters to life; and the technical people handling the cameras, lighting, scenery, makeup, sound, music, and other elements. Film is akin to engineering in that you’re often working with bright, creative people–albeit with different skill sets and often much different personalities. In a similar way, many proposals and technical writing projects require not just a writer but subject-matter experts, graphic designers, and budget people. The 48-Hour Film Project is just a new ways to contribute individually within a group while producing a concrete product.

Working Within Constraints

The film has a lot of constraints to keep things interesting, such as the following required elements:

Required Line

The required line of dialogue must be heard or seen – it may be written. It may be in a foreign language; however if it is not clear that this is the required line, it should be translated.

Required Character

The required character does not have to be the star, but we must actually see him/her on the screen. Name tags, etc. are not necessary so long as the audience can infer who he/she is.

Required Prop

The required prop must be seen, and it should be used in your film in some way.

Adherence to Assignment

Did you know judges base part of their scores on a film’s adherence to assignment? This refers to the genre and required elements.

Elements in Credits Do Not Count

The required elements must appear in the story of your film. Use of the elements only in the end credits will NOT fulfill the requirement.

Additionally, the story must be four to seven minutes long. You can’t just prepare a script and have it ready before the 48 hours begins–again, everything has to be done within the 48-hour time slot–you can plan general stories, but you won’t know until the day you begin what genre of story you have to tell: science fiction, film noir, romance, comedy, what have you.

A Chance to Do Something Different

I produce corporate classroom scripts and engineering documents for a living. And while I do find those interesting, I used to be a “theater jock” in high school, and that opportunity to do something entertaining has a certain appeal. Obviously I’ll try to participate in the writing, but it’s not my usual type of work–dramatic, not instructional or technical. Plus, I might end up in the film, or working behind the scenes on the techie side. Anything’s possible, which is part of the fun, however exhausting it turns out to be. Plus, like a vacation, an outside activity is an opportunity for me to think differently about work, life, and so forth.


Honestly, who couldn’t use some fun? I’ll be among creative people, doing an activity that is bound to get a little stressful and ludicrous, but it’s a self-imposed bit of madness, not something upon which our careers depend (everyone is a volunteer). I might be a little stupid on Monday, but I will follow up on this experience by Thursday.

Meanwhile…what are you doing to mix things up in your life?

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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2 Responses to The 48-Hour Film Project

  1. d2rector13 says:

    We do it for the Perks’n’Benes:
    Into each life some craft services must fall – all the “finest” junk carbs (chocolate donut holes, Twizzlers, M&Ms) and ….pizza.

  2. Pingback: The 48-Hour Film Project: Thoughts After the Fact | Heroic Technical Writing: Advice and Insights on the Business of Technical Communication

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