Alex Ritman makes a short film for the 48 Hour Film Project competition – and finds out it's not so easy.
Even for a tiny film, 48 hours proves a challenge
It's about half past five in the afternoon and the sun is rapidly disappearing over the horizon somewhere near Emirates Road. Things are not looking good. My colleague Chris is covered head-to-toe in black bin bags with a metal colander over his face. The entire outfit - which is pretty impressive given its budget nature - is held together by sticky tape. Beside him stands another Chris, not quite so bizarrely dressed but still looking rather peculiar thanks to a large mop he's clutching.
There are worried looks on at least two of our three faces (who knows what's going on behind the colander?). But it's not the bin bags or cleaning tools that are causing the worry. The major concern is that at the rate darkness is advancing, we're not going to be able to shoot the most important scene in daylight.
Confused? So were we. Fewer than 24 hours earlier, we had been at the Pavilion in Downtown Dubai for the start of the 48 Hour Film Project. The competition, held all over the world, gives a team just two days to produce a short video. As with much of life, however, it's never that simple. To make things a little more interesting, the organisers provide a character, a prop and a line of dialogue that must be used in the film. Even more troublesome is the fact that each team is given a different genre, which is pulled out of a hat for dramatic effect.
With "romance", "superhero", "Western musical" and numerous others already selected, we stepped up with a fair degree of trepidation to discover our fate. We could probably have handled superhero or maybe even Western musical (Oklahoma set in Al Ain?), but anything with a female role was going to prove tricky given that we were just three guys. Thankfully, we didn't have to worry. Well, not too much.
Right. This was going to be interesting. We'd approached the whole competition without a great deal of seriousness, a good job considering we barely had any experience using a video camera and our knowledge of editing extended to turning iMovies on the day before to check it worked. But I did have a little Panasonic camcorder I'd liberated from a gadget magazine I used to work for, so we were pretty much good to go.
That evening, we sat down to discuss. For some time, myself and Chris (bin bag) had thought it'd be funny to make a promotional video for the emirate of Ajman. We'd envisaged cheesy voice-overs bellowing "Ajman" over sweeping shots of dusty roadsides and italicised pink lettering rolling across the screen. But how could we incorporate this into a science-fiction? How about some sort of Blair Witch-style "lost footage" affair, involving a film crew (making a promotional video) and a terrifying creature from outer space (that'll be the sci-fi part)? And yes, we could even call the monster "The Ajman"! It had success written all over it. Better still, because this "lost footage" would have been unedited and probably still with the boom in shot (hence the mop), it would make up for our distinctly amateur production skills.
The next day we were off, scouring Ajman for suitable promotional shots and trying to figure out which buttons did what on the camera. The monster scenes we saved for later in the day. Too late, in fact. And it was only as the sun started disappearing that we started shooting the most important scene, where The Ajman first appears. Thankfully, we got it done before darkness arrived and gave ourselves the evening off to celebrate. This was perhaps our undoing.
Editing all the clips proved to be a mammoth task. Most of it was pretty rubbish. Some of it was funny. Almost all of it was ridiculous. But fitting the random pieces together into something that could possibly be called a short film was something that took us well into the evening. We got there in the end, but as a team concluded that our 4.33 minutes-long sci-fi thriller Ajman was so confusing that it was unlikely anybody else would understand what was going on.
We didn't really need to be overly concerned, though. By the time we returned to the pavilion with our creation on a hastily found USB stick, we'd already missed the deadline by a good half-hour. Never mind. Ajman, it seemed, wouldn't be winning any prizes. Well, at least not this year.
UPDATE: Unfortunately for the film world, Ajman didn't make it past the compulsory government screenings, the only one of 37 shorts from the first 48 Hour Film Project Dubai to be banned. Apparently we should have kept our filming within Dubai. Oh dear. Premiere screenings for all the submitted films will take place at Shelter Dubai this Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Check www.48hourfilm.com/dubai for more details.