Here's a mathematical quandary: What do you get when you take 35 groups of local filmmakers, add a four- to seven-minute-long film they must make in 48 hours, factor in the 7 percent chance of each team getting any one of 15 possible genres, and subtract eight hours of sleep per night?
The numbers game is what drives the 48 Hour Film Project, which made its second appearance in Richmond last weekend.
It "brings together the entire Richmond film community -- from professional filmmakers to recent high school graduates," says Ellie St. John, the producer of Richmond's version of the project, which began in Washington, D.C., in 2001.
It has challenged filmmakers in more than 100 cities worldwide to write, shoot, edit and score a film -- all in one weekend.
Teams also must draw a genre out of a hat -- as wide-ranging as "Drama," "Romance," "Holiday" and the dreaded "Musical/Western" -- and all teams must incorporate the same assigned character, prop and line of dialogue. This year, that meant a classical musician named Sylvester or Sylvia Barlow, something with feathers and the line "Tell me -- what's the difference?"ÿ
After the teams have turned in their finished products -- and not all make the 48-hour deadline -- a panel of judges views them and then presents awards to the teams it thinks made the best films. But then, they have the luxury of looking at the completed project. For us, it was a matter of watching three teams as they worked and guessing at the results as they were weakened by the weekend.
Team: LionHeart FilmWorks
Their thing: Mainly historical films.
Advantages: Second-year players, know where to get corsets and/or breeches.ÿ
Disadvantages: For better or worse, they're filming in a warehouse.
Predicted Film: "The Blair Witch Project" starring mimes.
Kevin Hershberger and Baron Blakley's production company was one of the veteran teams in the competition. Last year, its time-traveling sci-fi film "Fury" won several awards, including Best Cinematography and Best Costumes.
Unlike many of the teams, Hershberger already knows exactly where they'll be shooting the next day. "We've got this old abandoned VDOT warehouse," he says. "It's really creepy!"
Once the teams begin drawing genres, however, Hershberger's enthusiasm quickly wanes; Blakley has chosen "Comedy," the one category they didn't want. Strange echoes of last year's competition, in which the team used a "John Adams" backlot and was set on doing a historical piece regardless of genre.ÿ
After a quick discussion, the pair decides to use the wild card option, which allows a team to discard its original genre and draw again from another set of more difficult categories. And this time around, luck is on their side -- they draw "Silent Film."
Hershberger's response: "Great! We don't have to edit any sound!"
By the following day, his team is making a horror movie about three ghost-hunters and has incorporated the silent-film aspect into the plot -- the characters cannot speak because the ghost will be able to find them.
"We're really excited about it," he says. "I think it's going to work out great."
Team: Hand Turkey Studios
Their thing: Creating an animated short.
Advantages: Ambitious concept, no actors to feed.
Disadvantages: Big scattered team, connection speed, Argentina.
Predicted Film: "WALL-E" minus the fat people.
The atmosphere at Hand Turkey Studios, on the other hand, is a little different. Rather than working at a picturesque location with expensive cameras and film equipment, Jason van Gumster and a dozen of his team members spend the weekend holed up in a cramped apartment that seems to hold more computers than a college campus.
"Our team is a bit unique in that we're trying to complete a 3-D animation," says van Gumster, a recent Virginia Commonwealth University grad whose team has drawn the "Fantasy" genre and is making a dark comedy about robots.
Working only on computers gives Hand Turkey an unusual advantage -- several of its team members are located across the world, in places as far away as Buenos Aires and the Hague.
"One of our guys, he's actually with an orchestra in Santa Fe," van Gumster says. "So he's sending us stuff every time he comes offstage."ÿ
But the team suffers a series of setbacks.
"This morning, the Internet went out. And now, our render farms [computer clusters used to render computer-generated imagery] are both down, so everything's taking a really long time," he says Saturday evening.
Team: Trestle Bridge Films
Their thing: Veteran actors, horses with SAG cards.
Advantages: Picturesque setting, good concept.
Disadvantages: Substandard facilities.
Predicted Film: "Sex, Lies and Horse Whispering"ÿ
Trestle Bridge Films, competing in its first year, is also having a successful Saturday. The team, headed by Mark Remes of local production company BES, has also drawn "Comedy," but is satisfied with the genre.
"Our film is about couples' therapy," Remes says, smiling, "but it takes place on a horse ranch."
Neither the animals nor the actors in Trestle Bridge's film are strangers to show business -- the horses have appeared onscreen in the "John Adams" HBO series, and the cast includes actors Jan Guarino, Joe Inscoe and Raynor Scheine.
Filming on a farm in northern Hanover County has its disadvantages, though.
"We don't have any bathrooms!" Guarino exclaims.
"No, any team that has bathrooms -- they're sissies," another group member chimes in.
By Sunday night, 32 teams have met the 7:30 deadline. Trestle Bridge is one of the first to have its film in, and LionHeart also finishes within the time limit.
Further technical difficulties, however, prevent Hand Turkey from meeting the finish line. "The problems we had really hit us hard," van Gumster says, "both in a practical sense and morale-wise."
Nevertheless, he seems in good spirits: "We're just making a 72-hour film, not a 48-hour one." S
The films submitted for the 48 Hour Film Project will be shown to the public Saturday, July 26, at The Byrd Theatre. Screenings are 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Tickets are $7 per screening or $12 for an all-day pass. Tickets available at the door. Call 353-9911 or visit www.48hourfilm.com/richmond.