Rain didn't stop auteurs in the 48 Hour Film Project challenge

Behind the scenes of last weekend's filmmaking spree.

click to enlarge Sunshine Syndicate team member John C. Jones, right, reaches for his genre as 48 Hour Film Project Producer Joel Bates holds the choices. - Kimberly DeFalco
Kimberly DeFalco
Sunshine Syndicate team member John C. Jones, right, reaches for his genre as 48 Hour Film Project Producer Joel Bates holds the choices.

Sunday evening, zombies invaded the Ybor City Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Company on 15th Street.

Forty-eight hours earlier at the same location, the “zombies” were fresh, energetic, film enthusiasts psyched to participate in the 48 Hour Film Project.

The event is billed as a wild and sleepless weekend where teams of filmmakers and would-be filmmakers, most new to each other, create a movie, four to seven minutes long. In 48 hours, teams, which usually consist of anywhere from seven to 20 members write, shoot, cast, score and edit a movie.

The rewards: An opportunity to have their films screened locally, and winners of Best Film in each participating city advance to 48 Hour Film Project Filmapalooza Feb. 1, 2016, in Los Angeles. All that's been submitted, including late entries, will be shown at the Premiere Screening Aug. 9 at the HCC Theatre Arts Building Main Stage Theatre and eligible for he Audience Award, which is determined by ballot. Group A will be shown at 3 p.m. and Group B at 5 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at 48hourfilm.com/tampa-fl.

Twelve winners of Filmapalooza are then granted the opportunity to have their film shown at the Cannes Film Festival.

According to first-year Tampa/St. Petersburg 48 Hour Film Project Producer Joel Bates, the rewards are multi-dimensional.

click to enlarge Rain didn't stop auteurs in the 48 Hour Film Project challenge (2) - kimberly defalco
kimberly defalco
Rain didn't stop auteurs in the 48 Hour Film Project challenge (2)
“For most it’s the overall experience and gratification of knowing they can produce a film in 48 hours,” Bates said. “It’s a chance to create art and have the opportunity to see it on the big screen, which is a first for many,”

Billed as the world’s largest and oldest filmmaking competition, the 48 Hour Film Project originated in 2001 with D.C. residents Mark Ruppert and Liz Langston, creators of short films. A eureka moment led them to create the project.

Fourteen years later, the project has expanded globally to 130 cities on six continents, including faraway places like Vietnam, South Africa and India. Over 30,000 short films have been made by 390,000-plus filmmakers. More than $800,000 in cash and prizes are awarded to filmmakers.

The premise for the competition is simple. Team captains select blindly from a vessel containing 14 genres ranging from romance to horror. If team members are dissatisfied with their selection, they are afforded the opportunity to select from eight corporate-generated wildcard genres.

Of the 27 participating teams, eight chose the wildcard options.

Teams are then given uniform “elements” which include a prop, a character and a line of dialogue that must be included in each film. The team’s prop was a pair of pliers. The line of dialogue: “Nothing can stop me.” and the character either Myra or Michael Jillerson, investigator.

Kenny Strawn, team captain of Sunshine Syndicate and team members opted for their original random selection of romance.

Upon receiving their selection, teams bolted from the coffee shop and raced to write their scripts..

John C. Jones, who along with Strawn and other team members on Sunshine Syndicate wrote until 3 a.m., with Strawn continuing until 7 a.m.  Jones, who also co-directed with Strawn and orchestrated cinematography, along with several team members bolted home for a quick nap. 

Many chose to hunker down at the Davis Islands residence of Nick Martinez, Durango’s uncle.

For the following 48 hours, Martinez’s spacious home was transformed into a production studio. As anticipated in any film production, issues and complications arose. Like the water from torrential rains pummeling the Bay area for weeks.

Around 3 p.m. Saturday, Martinez’s home was flooded. Without panic, the writing team incorporated the flooding into their film and then helped towel up the imposing water.

“Our film is based upon water and a shower scene so it seemed apropos to incorporate it,” Durango said. “We just rolled with it.”

Production assistant and EMT Nathan Fons decided to go with the flow also. Attemping to leave the island to retrieve his cell phone, Fons found himself unable to navigate his car through the rising waters upon his return to Davis Island. He offered $20 to some kayaking kids to row him to the film location.

Relying on 15-minute power naps, coffee and the occasional 5-Hour Energy Drink, the 20 member team worked around the clock.

“Basically, we had two hours sleep Friday and then no sleep through Saturday night into Sunday,” Jones said.

As proprietor of Sanity Films Inc., Jones is accustomed to long hours of video production.

Participating in his fifth 48 Hour Film Project and a handful of 72-hour projects and one 24-hour film project, Jones said excitement is his fuel.

click to enlarge Eric Coughlin, co-director of photography, right, and Immersion co-director John C. Jones review footage. - KIMBERLY DEFALCO
Eric Coughlin, co-director of photography, right, and Immersion co-director John C. Jones review footage.
Strawn, Proprietor of SunStream Video Productions, and Jones directed throughout the day, each occasionally taking a brief power nap while other team members continued re-writing , acting and directing. 

“We just had to trust the process and each other,” Durango said. “We’ve all worked together on different projects before so things flowed rather effortlessly.”

Chief lighting technician Tyler Morris and co-director of photography Eric Coughlin of Two Sense Films worked around the ever-changing scripts as did principal actors Matt Valena, Durango, Ashlie Stevens and Brian Greathouse.

With the exception of three flashbacks the team wanted to incorporate, shooting finished around 10 a.m Sunday.

Editing began immediately and continued through the mad dash to Ybor City to meet the 7:30 p.m. deadline. Under the manipulative, strategic driving of Uncle Nick, Immersion was delivered to Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Company and the hands of Joel Bates at 7:29 p.m - one minute to spare the strict deadline.

Of the 27 teams, 22 teams met the strict 7:30 p.m. deadline. Four were late — one by 14 minutes and one by 18.

One team didn’t submit due to complications.

Best of Screening and prizes for the winning film and other awards including Best Acting, Best Cinematography, Best Directing, Best Editing, Best Musical Score, Sound Design, Use of Speical Effects, Use of Character, Use of Prop and Line and Best Writing will be presented Aug. 25; 6:30 p.m.. at the HCC Theatre Arts Building Main Stage Theatre. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at 48hourfilm.com/tampa-fl.

HCC/Ybor City and its Theater Arts Department and Film and Television School are sponsors of the event.

Judges for the 2015 48 Hour Tampa/St. Petersburg Film Project: Michael Roark; actor (Grey’s Anatomy, Vampire Diaries, Finding Carter, Dolphin Tale, Magic Mike); Former 48 Hour Film Project Tampa/St. Petersburg Producers Bryan Coward and Monica Kisinski-Varner (Currently Executive Director of the Gasparilla Film Fest); Darcy Britton-Kant (Talent Agent with Level Talent Group).

An international panel of judges will select the Best Film of 2015 from among the best film of each city. The winner will be announced at our Awards Ceremony at Filmapalooza 2016 and they will receive:The Grand Prize Trophy, 5000 USD Cash Prize, Cannes Film Festival, Court Métrage

Additionally, the top 10 films of the year from around the world will be screened at the Short Film Corner at Cannes 2016.


Since 1988, CL Tampa Bay has served as the free, independent voice of Tampa Bay, and we want to keep it that way.

Becoming a CL Tampa Bay Supporter for as little as $5 a month allows us to continue offering readers access to our coverage of local news, food, nightlife, events, and culture with no paywalls.

Join today because you love us, too.

Scroll to read more Local Arts articles

Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.