Local teams compete in 48 Hour Film Project

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

A physical therapist, a beer columnist and an art director walk into Ant Hall in Hamtramck. It’s Friday night and the instructions to come will determine how they’ll spend their next 48 hours of movie making in Detroit.

Edward Dworkin uses a clapboard at the beginning of the next scene.

Soon, they learn their mission: their short films, seven minutes or less, will need to include at least one prop, a postcard, a line of dialogue — “maybe, just maybe, it will happen again” — and a fictitious author named Jaren or Jalynne Draybeck. Then they were given two genres and had to choose between them.

The project is called the 48 Hour Film Project, an experience participants say is as rewarding as it is challenging. Some 49 other local teams are also fighting for the top spot in Detroit for the chance to earn international recognition and $5,000.

The choice for physical therapist, columnist and art director — team Play Nice — was between comedy and biography; the group chose comedy, and will produce a film called “Slapjacket,” about the hijinks that ensue when a group of office workers who are assigned a project on Friday and not allowed to leave until the work is done.

Unlike the team depicted in Slapjacket, on team Play Nice “the days go long, though smoothly,” said team leader Sherry McLaughlin, the physical therapist and owner of the Michigan Institute for Human Performance in Troy.

With a core formed by McLaughlin, Hour Detroit beer columnist Gerald Blakeslee and art director Tom Gurisko, the team is in its fourth summer of competing. The group has won honors along the way, but never the top spot.

After four years, the group has expanded.

“Some people always want to work with us, and friends of friends come on board,” including 10 actors this year, McLaughlin said Sunday. “We wrote a great story. Considering that people are not necessarily seasoned actors, they pulled off some really good performances.”

Confidence levels are high on Play Nice, but the competition is stiff. Competing again this year is Who Shot First Productions, which took second place last year with a drama called “My Way Out,” about a man whose family and friends try to help with his mental health issues while he battles voices in his head.

This year, Who Shot First chose action/adventure and is producing a film called “Roadmap.”

“Roadmap, ” co-directed by Allie Romero and Heather Irvine, is about an author whose father has died. The woman travels to several locations special to both of them. As she prepares to spread his ashes, her father’s voice inspires her to keep going. She does, writing a book called “Roadmap.”

The requirements: choosing the genre from a list of dozens that includes silent film, time travel and mockumentary, and the line of dialogue that must be part of the dialogue, the fictitious author and the postcard, mean that even the most organized of groups must adjust.

Eddie Fritz, city producer for the Detroit leg of the 48 Hour Film Project, explained that while “all crews can secure equipment, team members and locations before the event, part of the fun is not knowing what film you're going to make.”

The random elements force filmmakers to “rely on their instincts and trust their judgments.”

“For our team leaders, it is that creative troubleshooting that reflects in the final film,” Fritz said Sunday.

Last year, things seemed to go smoothly for Who Shot First Productions, Romero said. This year, “genre was the first challenge,” which threw writers for a loop and ruled out a location the team had in mind.

“We were trying to force it, but it didn’t work out,” so the team changed directions, said Romero, 24. She believes that bit of ‘creative troubleshooting’ pushed the group to a new level of creativity.

Entries were due at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. The teams were split into four groups, A through D, and their films will be screened on July 25 and July 26 at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, with two groups showing per day at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

The winner of Best Film among the Detroit entries, based on technical and artistic merit, and adherence to the assigned challenge, will be screened at Filmapalooza 2018. The team voted the best film of 2017 at Filmapalooza will earn $5,000 and a trophy. The top 12 films will be screened at Cannes International Film Festival in Cannes, France.

Top 3 winners locally also receive prizes.

As the weekend of filmmaking neared conclusion, Chin Yang of Clean Slate Productions was light on sleep — 5 hours only since leaving Ant Hall — but high on hope and enthusiasm. A guarded Yang declined to go into details about his team’s project beyond its genre: buddy films.

“It’s about two really good friends,” Yang said, simply.

Yang, 33, was sorry to see the Michigan Film Incentive all but go away in recent years, but still hopes to be able to support himself full-time as a filmmaker one day. He hopes success in the 48 Hour Film Project helps open doors.

“Being an independent filmmaker, all you want to do is make great films. To make films you’ve always wanted to make. To make films you’ve written,” Yang said.

Win or lose, realizing their vision through film and having that film screen before a live audience makes the experience worth the time and the troubleshooting, McLaughlin said.