Film makers take on 48-hour challenge in Portland

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On the 11th floor of the Portland House apartment building facing the Eastern Promenade, Horatio Baldwin, an animal rights activist, teeters on the balcony railing. He looks out at Portland Harbor. He looks down at the trees nearly 200 feet below his feet – and jumps.

There is a pause, a light breeze, the gravity of the occurrence sinks in, and then Marc Bartholomew, crouching behind a video camera says, “OK, cut.”  Bartholomew’s friend and production assistant, Matt Brown lowers the boom microphone and the actor playing Horatio Baldwin reappears on the balcony. Acadia Recording Company, several sound recording engineers and their musician friends, get back into position to try the scene again.

Take 25.

“We were a little worried that someone might be watching and call the police on us today, but luckily only the woman next door asked us what the heck we were doing,” Bartholomew says.

As Acadia Recording Company perfect their balcony scene, Tim Ryan, a drama instructor from Freeport High School, and his crew of teenage theater students create a war between zombies and a government militia. Jeff Day and Michael Panenka’s team, Big Appetite Films, had spent the night conjuring up their youth at Happy Wheels Skate Center until 5 a.m. Saturday. Meanwhile, Jonathan Blood and Jake Christy of Tasty Dude Films were contemplating how, with special effects, to set fire to a building on Presumpscot Street.

Twenty-eight film teams with varying degrees of expertise registered this year for Portland’s fourth annual 48 Hour Film Project. Beginning on Friday at The Empire Dine and Dance, the teams were given a character (Horatio or Holly Baldwin), a prop (fire), and a line of dialogue that must be used in their film (“That was the best ever”). The team leaders lined up on stage to pick a slip of paper with their irrevocable genre from Ben Keller’s black baseball hat.

Keller is a local filmmaker and Portland’s new city producer for the festival. In addition to his many organizing duties, he emcees the kick-off and drop-off events and eliminates films that don’t include the elements or adhere to their genre.

“Seven minutes long is the maximum film length. I haven’t done it before myself. I don’t have an entire weekend to devote right now, and you need to. They have to write a script, act, film, edit, make credits, make titles – all before 7:30 p.m. Sunday night.” Keller said. “Two of the teams got Film de Femme as their genre. That one seems tough to me, I don’t know what I’d create for that so quickly.”

“It’s an incredible exercise, these 48 hour films – amazing what you can get finished,” said Day on Saturday while hurrying back to Happy Wheels Skate Center for some extra shots. Day was part of a team that in 2009 created “A Briefcase of Love,” selected to show at the Cannes Film Festival. “It’s going to be very competitive this year, too.”

“Many of the people working on ‘A Briefcase of Love’ have branched off to make their own teams this time, so (there are) more talented and experienced people with their own films,” says Day. “My brain is going a million miles an hour right now.”

Day picks up his cell phone and calls the director of his film, Michael Panenka. “Hey Mike, I have a great idea for the opening titles. Call me back!”

The completed films were to be shown to the public Aug. 18 at Cinemagic in Westbrook. There are several different awards categories. The “City Winner” is entered in to the international 48 Hour Film Project competition, which features winners from more than 70 cities. The top 10 winners of that competition will be screened at the Cannes Film Festival 2010 Short Film Corner.

This story was corrected on Aug. 24, 2009, to reflect that Jeff Day was not a member of the filmmaking team that received a Best in City award for “Mail Boat” in 2008.

48hour_9-3.jpgMatt Fletcher of Tasty Dude Films reveals the category his team was assigned for the 48 Hour Film Project, at a kick-off for the event Friday night at the Empire Dine and Dance.

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48hour_7.2.jpgJeff Day, left, and his brother Greg Day, of Big Appetite Films, play the characters Glove and Taffy for the film team’s entry in the 48 Hour Film Project. (Natalie Conn photos)