Free 48 Hour Film Challenge Tips and Tricks


Even if you’ve never tried a time based filmmaking challenge, or even if you’ve never made a short film before, this guide will give you the tips you need to do your best work.

TIP 01 … The MORE people, the BETTER!
Being short handed can really eat up time. Assemble as many people as you can manage to help out, even if they don’t have any film skills. Aside from the usual suspects (Editor, Director, Writer(s), Cinematographer, LOTS of Actors to choose from) you’ll also NEED someone to handle sound (and maybe a boom pole), and someone for lights. We also recommend a continuity person (to watch for errors), a driver (to fetch stuff), a caterer (ask mom to make sandwiches), and an assistant (to take notes). Some people can do double duty, but it’s handy to have too many people, rather than not enough.

TIP 02 … Test ALL of the equipment beforehand!
Testing and fixing equipment on the day of the competition can cripple a team.

  • Know what mobile device you are going to use and be familiar with all of their functions.
  • Test your editing setup! Is it up to date? Can you export ok?
  • Have extension cords, extra bulbs, a boom pole (or a broom handle) ready.
  • Test your mic!
  • Test your lights!

TIP 03 … Actors
Since you don’t know what your writer(s) will come up with before the competition actually starts, it’s helpful to have access to LOTS of actors so any role imagined can be filled. Try to find people of different height, race, sex, and age, some with facial hair some without (clean shaven and bald is great for makeup fx and wigs!). Post on, Facebook, Craigslist, and Kijiji, and you’re sure to get lots of inquiries. 

TIP 04 … Required Elements & Playing Fair
Remember that EVERY film MUST be in the genre specified but you can genre mash (horror-comedy, scifi-romance, action-drama as long as the provided genre/theme is incorporated), and MUST feature ALL of the required elements that we will be providing you (prop, line of dialogue). If your missing even one, you will not be eligible for prizes.

If it seems like you CHEATED and made ANY part of your film before the start of the competition (including writing ANYTHING like scenes, ideas, characters, etc.) you will be disqualified and you will not be eligible for prizes or a refund.

  • DON’T brainstorm your film ahead of time, or write anything.
  • DON’T make costumes or props ahead of time.
  • DON’T shoot anything you plan to use.
  • DO PLAY FAIR! It’s more fun for everyone.

TIP 05 … Sound can make or break a film
LOT of 48 hours films can be completely ruined by bad sound. It is CRITICAL to test the sound in every location to make sure there is NOT unusable background noise like the hum of a refrigerator, air conditioner, or highway.

  • Try to prevent background noise by unplugging things and checking each location by shooting 30 secs of video and listening with headphones.
  • If you can’t get rid of noise, try noise reduction in your editing software
  • Make sure people aren’t talking on set, and phones are off. Move people to another area away from the shot if you aren’t using them. Same for pets.
  • Buy or borrow the BEST microphone you can, and get it as CLOSE to the subject as possible (this is where a boom pole comes in handy), or hide it close to the actors.
  • Shooting outside when it’s windy can produce a lot of noise. Try this out before hand and make sure you’re prepared for these conditions.
  • Don’t forget to add foley to you film, a good door creak can really sell a scene.
  • Use music appropriately! The right music sets the tone for the film. It tells the viewer when they should be scared. Do NOT use copyright music, find royalty free tunes, like classical music, unsigned artists, and your friends bands instead.

TIP 06 … Storyboarding, Scheduling & Notes
The best way to make a film is to plan as much as you can! You can draw your storyboards (even as stick figures if you can’t draw) on colored index cards (from the Dollar store) and plan each shot. Then you can re-order the cards how you want to tell the story, and check each one off as you’ve completed that shot. Make a schedule that divides up the 48 hours the way you think it should be spent, that way you know when one task is taking too long. I put my phone on vibrate and set reminders for each critical task. REMEMBER: Your film is due Monday, September 19th, before 2:30pm sharp. You MUST have started the upload to youtube.

Here is a simple example schedule for the 48 hours:

  • Sat, 2:30pm – Start Writing
  • Sat, 4:30pm – Assemble Shoot Crew, discuss project
  • Sat, 5:30pm – Block scene and rehearse
  • Sat ,6:30pm – Start Shooting
  • Sun 12:00pm – Wrap Shooting
  • Sun, 1:01pm – Start Editing
  • Sun, 12am – Test export film
  • Monday, 12pm – Be ready to upload or deliver film

TIP 07 … Green Screen (Chromakey Effects)
If you plan on using green screen for effects, try it out beforehand. Green screen (or blue) requires very uniform lighting to really pull off well. There is a great tutorial at FilmRiot at 00:31 here:

TIP 08 … Find Locations
It’s okay (and highly recommended) that you find locations you can shoot at (like a park, business, home) and figure out the logistics of shooting there before the competition. Such as:

  • How are you going to get everyone to the location(s)?
  • Is there power at the location that you can access?
  • Check noise levels. Is there something nearby that makes a lot of noise that you won’t be able to do anything about? (highway, air conditioner, etc.)

TIP 09 … Costumes, Wardrobe & Props
It’s really handy to have someone on your team that can sew, craft, or otherwise build props and costumes. Failing that, a good source for these things  is: Goodwill, & Value Village. This is where a driver is handy!

TIP 10 … Food & Drinks
Almost every set I’ve been on had a craft table. This is an area where everyone can grab food and drinks to keep their energy up. A hungry person is not a helpful person. Common items you should have are:

  • Peanut Butter, Jam, & Bread
  • Apples, Oranges, Bananas
  • Cookies, Chips, Candies
  • WATER! Juice, Pop, Energy Drinks, Tea, Coffee
  •  Beer … but save it until you’ve wrapped!

TIP 11 … Learn How to Delegate!
So you’re the team leader/producer/director, and that means you’re in charge and you should oversee everything, right? WRONG! A good leader will choose people to organise tasks and let them do it. For example, you can rehearse a scene elsewhere while your set is being build/dressed/lit. That will keep the actors energy up and give you better performances that require less input. Get as many people doing something for the film at the same time, to maximize the little time you have.

TIP 12 … Improv & Camera Angles
Improv is great on set. It lets actors do what they do best, play, and can often get you better and/or more natural dialogue. Please remember however, it is harder to cut together in editing if every take you have is wildly different, especially if there are multiple angles. This can be partially solved with a two camera setup, which catches both sides of a two person conversation when improvising.

TIP 13 … Get Rest & Know When to Take a Break
Be well rested before the competition. Don’t push yourself or your team too hard during the 48 hours. If anyone (including you) starts to get frustrated, take a 15 minute break, go outside, breathe deeply, relax somewhere, have a KitKat, and/or shut your eyes for a bit. When you come back you’ll be a lot more productive and less likely to make mistakes.

Good Luck!