How to win the Sci-Fi London 48 Hour Challenge

left to right alice henley (actor), justin marosa (actor), stuart black (writer-director), nick mather (writer-director), romain kedochim (dop). photo by paul bence and daniel lipinski

Writer-director Stuart Black spills the secrets

May 4th is said to be a lucky day for Star Wars fans, but for me and my team it was a day for gnawing fingernails right down to the knuckles. Having got into the top ten of the Sci-Fi London 48 Hour Film Challenge, we were impatiently waiting to see whether we’d managed to get a podium place for No Guarantee, the short film we’d made over the course of a weekend back at the beginning of April:

May 4th is said to be a lucky day for Star Wars fans, but for me and my team it was a day for gnawing fingernails right down to the knuckles. Having got into the top ten of the Sci-Fi London 48 Hour Film Challenge, we were impatiently waiting to see whether we’d managed to get a podium place for No Guarantee, the short film we’d made over the course of a weekend back at the beginning of April:

At around 9:30pm, having watched all the best entries at Stratford Picturehouse, we finally found out we’d won and ran down to shake our chewed-up hands with the head of the judging panel Frank Spotnitz (producer of The X-Files and The Man In The High Castle).

It’s taken a few days to recover from the shellshock of winning (and the hangover caused by the party that followed). But now that I can type properly again, it’s as good a time as any to try and figure out where it all went right. So here are seven things I believe helped us get our mitts on the trophy.

  1. Experience: This was our second run at the competition, the team having come together last year to make a film about racists taking over London called Matter Of Fact https://vimeo.com/124813790 That one made the shortlist but missed out on a top three place – which was disappointing at the time, but really it was that experience that proved to be our most valuable asset this time round. It meant we knew full well how little sleep we’d get and what mistakes were likely to might set us back. That said, we still made a whole bunch of different mistakes – but they were less obvious in comparison.
  2. Gareth Edwards: We found that continually invoking this director’s name, since he won the competition in 2008, was a good way to gee up the team: “Guys, if we win this we will be making the next Star Wars movie, okay?” We are now waiting for JJ to call – we have a pretty cool idea for Rogue Two.
  3. Not Cheating: Of course everyone goes into the competition with ideas swirling around in their heads (you’d be braindead not to), but since you get given a title, props and dialogue as part of the contest, it does pay to be able to respond to these. On a side note, this year was hit by a bizarre cheating scandal when one team, whose script was written by a computer, was disqualified from the audience prize after programming the machine to be able to vote for itself, which it did 10,000 times. O-kay. This led to the unfortunate scrapping of the audience vote.
  4. Location: We’d learned from watching previous year’s winners that securing a cinematic space to film in gave you a legitimate head-start. So we decided to put what little cash we had into renting a tumbledown old house near Peckham’s Bussey Building. And voila: instant production values.
  5. Feeling the pain: We absolutely love our brilliant and dedicated actors, but since the story we came up with called for them to be caught in a doomed romance, we needed to see real suffering. Luckily, Justin Marosa was allergic to the dust in the house while Alice Henley was allergic to her costume (we made her a corset out of fibre glass tape – oops).
  6. Coffee: The post-production process was supposed to be wrapped up by midnight on Sunday, but perhaps inevitably it turned into a desperate all-nighter. This meant me and my co-writer/director Nick Mather were basically on espresso duty way into the smallest hours as we tried to keep the team from collapsing at their keyboards. It has to be said, this was the hardest part of the weekend to get through. As someone wise probably once said: Tiredness leads to sensitivity. Sensitivity leads to temper tantrums. Temper tantrums lead to the dark side.
  7. Guerilla-ism: Finally, we have to give serious props to Chris Jones since the core of our team first met at his Guerilla Filmmaking course a few years ago. In all honesty, it was the fact that Chris hypnotised us into thinking we could make a film that kick-started our first attempt. That said, he’s not getting us to walk over red hot coals – ever.

Stuart Black// Fillmmaker

Filmmaker (LivingSpiritGroup.com), screenwriter, author of the Guerilla Filmmakers Handbooks (GuerillaFilm.com), founder of Create50.com, CEO of The London Screenwriters' Festival (LondonSWF.com) and certified firewalk instructor.

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