Rain slashes sideways through the sky over Hampden. Groups of people huddle in corners of a large rowhouse in anticipation. When Caitlin Reid, a writer, finally finds Jon Bevers, the director of this group—dubbed Media Baby—amid the crowd on the porch, she says, “Did you hear that there’s a tornado warning?”
“It could be fun,” Bevers replies with a wicked grin.
“I’m excited,” Reid says. “But I don’t want anyone to die in this valiant effort.”
The valiant effort she is talking about—and the source of all this anticipation—is Media Baby’s entry in the 48 Hour Film Project, an international competition in which teams of registered filmmakers have two days to bring a film from conception to completion for a chance to win $5,000. It is 5 p.m. on a Friday in early June and at 6, the team will receive the genre of their film as well as a character, a line of dialogue, and a prop that must be used in the complete six-and-a-half-minute film that will be turned in on Sunday evening.
“I’ve worked with a lot of these people before, either as students or in another capacity,” says Bevers, a technician and adjunct professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Video and Film Arts department. “I see the 48 as a chance to really help us build a film community.”
Even without the weather, it is going to be grueling. Bevers’ schedule gives the writers until about 10 p.m. to get a script together. “Though they’ll be working all night, revising,” he adds.
In the meantime another team will get the actors in costume. Bevers projects they’ll start filming interiors at 10. “We’ll go until 2:30 or 3,” he says. “And we will film our establishing shots between 4:30 and 8 tomorrow morning. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for sleep.”
After that, of course, will be editing, scoring, and all the details of postproduction. It will be tight, but that’s the point.
With 55 teams in this year’s competition, scenes like this are unfolding all over the city. “Given the average size of teams, I think that amounts to 800 people making movies all over the city this weekend,” says Rob Hatch, who brought 48 Hour Film Project to Baltimore in 2005.
At 6:30, after a weather delay, small groups from each of the teams gather to receive their assignments in an old church in Hampden that houses an IT firm called Chesapeake Systems. The packed building has all the tension of a line of crouched runners waiting for the starting gun. But everyone is here mostly for fun. “So many people want to be filmmakers but never do it,” says Thomas Fant, the winner of Baltimore’s first 48 Hour Film Project seven years ago.
When it is time for Bevers to draw his team’s genre from a hat, he picks Drama. “That’s the only one I didn’t want,” he says, returning to his group. Each team is allowed to forgo its genre in favor of a wild card genre like time travel or road movie. “We’re going for the wild card,” Bevers says.
But first, each team is assigned three more requirements. Hatch opens an envelope and tells the teams they all must use “a character named Louis or Louise Ledbetter, a neighborhood busybody,” a dog collar, and the line of dialogue, “If you want me, you know where to find me.”
Someone from every group is frantically texting all this to their writers as the others run out the door. The only people left are those who want to go for the wildcard category. “Period piece!” Bevers says as he draws, a fortuitous choice, since his father owns Luna Blue Vintage clothing (which sells out of Avenue Antiques in Hampden).
They quickly decide to focus on the 1950s and leave the writers to work. “We got 17 actors dressed in period costumes in an hour and a half,” Bevers says later. “But with the rain they kept getting soaked. We had every blow-dryer we could find going all the time.”
Still, the time line proves hard to follow: The team doesn’t finish shooting until 1 a.m. on Sunday, and delivers what Bevers calls “an overwhelming amount of footage” to the editors around 2 a.m.
In the resulting film, “Party Games,“ the husband of neighborhood busybody Louise Ledbetter returns from war to find his wife increasingly paranoid, seeing communists everywhere. When a party starts next door, the real trouble begins.
Bevers and his crew are exhausted but ecstatic as they export it to a disc, 10 minutes before the film is due. “It’s an amazing film,” Bevers says. Then, suddenly, someone realizes that, somehow, in all the edits, the line, “If you need me, you know where to find me” did not make it into the final cut.
They rush to add the line, somewhere, anywhere. The required line reinstated, Bevers leaps into his car and speeds to Chesapeake Systems, which sponsored the event and agreed to have its Hampden location designated as a drop-off point, to turn in the film. Sweating, he runs into the building at 7:35 p.m., five minutes after the deadline.
But the judges won’t accept it. “After pleading with them, they told me that one year they didn’t accept an entry that was 30 seconds late,” Bevers says stoically.
As a result, “Party Games” is not eligible for any international prizes, but it will screen along with the rest of the local entries on June 12 and 13 at the Charles Theatre at 7 and 9:30 p.m.