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The 48 Hour Film Project in Portland
Now that's entertainment
by Mark Anderson

f a line down the block from Portland's Hollywood Theater last month provides any indication, the 48 Hour Film Project is becoming an international hit.

The annual contest, begun in 2001 in Washington, D.C., has spread to 21 cities around the globe. A winning film from each city moves into worldwide competition. The clock started ticking for the first time in Portland on Aug. 20.

Portland's first year: Click to visit the project's Web site.

The premise is simple: Pick a genre out of a hat on Friday at 7 p.m. Submit a four-to-eight-minute film – made totally from scratch – by the same time on Sunday. Don't be a minute late.

Less than a week later there was a surreal quality to the Thursday-night line at the Hollywood.

After all, the creative work of 12 teams was about to appear, larger than life, up there on the silver screen. Two dozen films had already been shown – either earlier that night or the night before.

Sure, many of those in line were members of the 36 teams. In that way, the founders have ingeniously created a built-in audience. But there were plenty of curiosity seekers, too. And there was an undeniable buzz.

Lights, camera, action: Total strangers worked as if they'd been making films together for years.

Indeed, the results differed wildly by any measure.

But every production had merits. And the real charge came from the fact that the overall entertainment value was surprisingly high. Judging by the buzz that continued as moviegoers spilled back out into the street after the screenings, everyone found something to like.

I'd first heard of the project a week prior. A filmmaking friend reasoned that, since I'd been in bands for half a lifetime, I'd qualify as a soundman. I was somewhat skeptical at first, but the idea clearly seemed intriguing. Besides, good or bad, the project would be over in the space of 48 little hours.

At 6:30 Friday evening, I showed up at the team's warehouse-space headquarters. A half-hour later, our team leader phoned from the site of the drawing.

Water works: A climactic rooftop scene calls for some creative headgear.

Our genre: action/adventure. Every Portland team was assigned the same prop (a hooded sweatshirt) and a line of dialogue ("maybe I did and maybe I didn't"). Each film had to include a retired race-car-driving character named W. Winston and an iconic image of Portland.

The brainstorming began.

Several rounds of ideas later, the team settled on using the warehouse as a setting for a hospital where five patients of dubious mental stability were planning a breakout.

The meeting was over a few hours later. A core group of writers was left to create the storyboard and script.

It's a wrap: cast and crew after 13 hours of fliming.

By 8 a.m. on Saturday, 16 volunteers returned to the warehouse to begin filming. A small troupe of Portland sketch actors, The 3rd Floor, came armed with a mountain of costumes, props and inspiring enthusiasm.

The production team, working under the name of Flux Films, included two directors, a pair of lighting designers, a camerawoman and a creative variety of others willing to do anything and everything on either side of the camera.

Things came together in fits and starts.

One of the project's many virtues is how everyone – total strangers in many cases – worked as if we'd been making films together for years. A lot of ideas that seemed great on Friday were scrapped as better ideas replaced them. Innovative energy was a constant.

Plan? What plan?: A team member's oversized posters showed up in time for the Hollywood Theater premiere.

I held a mic boom for most of the day and appeared in three scenes as an extra. Suddenly it was 9 p.m.

That's when the knob-twisting members of the crew took over and, roughly 22 hours later, they'd finish a tight little film complete with sharp edits, flashbacks, an original soundtrack, scrolling credits and laugh-out-loud humor.

We reconvened at a bar that following Thursday evening for a pre-screening party.

A strong sense of camaraderie remained. Most of us had not yet seen the film. One team member had created movie posters in time for the premiere.

The finished product is far better than I'd have ever imagined.

Now, here I sit at my keyboard exactly one week later, already missing it, still telling the story to anyone who'll listen and anxious for my own copy – coming soon to a living room near me – in the form of a DVD.

I'm also thinking that the 48 Hour Film Project should probably happen several times a year.

"The Best of the Portland 48 Hour Film Project" and an awards presentation is scheduled for Sept. 14 at the Hollywood Theater, 4122 N.E. Sandy Boulevard (note change of date).

E-mail Mark at andersonenterprises@hotmail.com, and see more tripewriter.

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