Peter Cornish gets down with Ross Stewart’s event that will leave film buffs’ heads spinning. Photos by Vinh Dao.

Vietnam’s biggest filmmaking competition returned with a vengeance in June, challenging teams to another wild and sleepless weekend in which they have just 48 hours to write, shoot and edit a film.

48 Hour Film Project was brought to Vietnam in 2010 by Australian Event Producer, Mr Ross Stewart. Since then, it has grown to be one of Vietnam’s largest and most challenging creative competitions to date, and has launched several amateur Vietnamese filmmakers into their professional careers.

The hectic weekend is an opportunity for amateur, student and professional teams across the country to come together to make a short film of 4-7 minutes. All films have a common character, prop and line of dialogue, but teams randomly chose the genre of their film at the launch event on Friday evening.

Once done, the clock starts ticking and teams head off into the night before the wild dash on Sunday evening to ensure their film is submitted on time at the drop-off event. The tight deadline of just forty-eight hours demands creativity and teamwork from the film makers. I caught up with some of the teams to learn about their experiences.

Team Rau – Genre: Silent or Sci Fi
I met up with Duke Dinh from Team Rau early Saturday afternoon whilst the rest of the team caught up on sleep after a hectic night of script writing. As an experienced filmmaker, this is the second time Dinh had entered 48HFP, winning the Audience Award in 2014 after being disqualified for the main awards for submitting his film just 15 minutes late.

Daunted by the prospect of scripting, and finding props and costumes for a Sci Fi film, Team Rau opted for the Silent genre, choosing tracks from the latest The Kanonos album as backing for their film. They had been loaned a GH5 by competition sponsor, Panasonic, to shoot with, which was a bonus but also a learning experience. “I spent half of Friday night trying to work out the best settings to use for the colour I want!” Dinh laughed.

With a team of ten, much of Friday night was spent thrashing out ideas for the script and ensuring everyone was on the same page. As a 48HFP veteran, Dinh was familiar with the curve balls the competition can throw, and the constant need to stay on his toes whilst dealing with the stress and challenges the director faces. Working on a budget of almost zero, things can go wrong at any time.

“I’m about entertainment, I don’t want to bore my audience. If you can be entertained by my piece, a chuckle or a thought, I’ve done my job. But ultimately, it’s about playing to the judges, whatever that’s perceived to be. That’s what we’re playing to.” Dinh confided as we finished our chat.

Team Dreaming Turtle – Genre: Mystery or Road
I caught up with Gabriel Villalobos and Oji Valencia from Team Dreaming Turtle at a central café early Saturday evening, looking tired and huddled around laptops going through script changes. Saturday’s rain had delayed their filming and there were still four locations to shoot at before they could start editing and production.

The previous evening had been spent deciding where to take the script and storyboarding the film with the support of some liquid creativity. Although both bring professional experience to the table, this is the first time entering 48HFP. Despite a stressful start, some solid ideas were taking shape and confidence was growing. The challenges they faced were getting everything done in the allotted time frame.

Valencia has a background in film production. “I saw 48HFP as an opportunity to add to my portfolio, try to make a narrative of a film with a real story, not just a commercial shoot.” he shared with me. This is something that all teams I spoke to shared. Many budding filmmakers spend time thinking about making movies but lack the motivation to get up and do it. 48HFP provides the needed impetus.

“The choice between doing the project and having a normal weekend was a difficult decision, but it’s an opportunity lost if you don’t grab it. Not many people realise you can accomplish a lot in 48 hours – a film is already made in just two days.” Valencia explained.

Team Bowl of Rice – Genre: Drama or Music
It was well into Saturday night when I met up with Jane Vo and Max Murta from Team Bowl of Rice and the air of calm confidence was impressionable. Murta is an experienced filmmaker and another 48HFP veteran, having entered twice previously. It was evident they knew what they were doing.

Taking lessons from previous years, their team had spent Saturday night script writing, planning to shoot on Saturday and edit on Sunday. Their approach was methodical and simple – writing a script with only one scene, one location and a couple of actors. Their only mistake on a weekend of severe weather was basing it outside. Even at the late hours of Saturday night, they feel there is still time to start again if need be.

As a professional film maker based in Saigon, Murta is enthusiastic about 48HFP and the community that’s been built around it. “I’m really happy 48HFP is back, it’s a fantastic opportunity. One of the hardest things about being a filmmaker is making a film without the motivation to actually get up and do it. 48HFP spurs you on. It’s a great place to start out or give a jump to your career. Experienced or amateur or professional, mature or teenage, anyone can win.” Murta told me.

Team Dragon_O – Genre: Drama or Music
I met up with Vissay from Team Dragon_O late Sunday afternoon. Filming had been completed, the team had dispersed for rest and recuperation, apart from the production team huddled round the computer making finishing touches to their film.

Vissay is no novice to filmmaking, with almost two decades spent in front of the camera as an actor, but this is his first entry in 48HFP and his first time directing a film. The team’s initial storyline had been ambitious, calling for multiple actors and scenes filmed in five locations, but logistics and terrible weather called for a rethink. “We realised we need to be smart, simplify the story and film in one location.” Vissay shared.

Despite the initial delay, the team gelled well under Vissay’s direction. “I wanted to take on a role with more responsibility without becoming a dictatorial director. Everyone in the team has an equally important role, from the stylist to the make-up, actors and producers and although there were disagreements we came together as a team, proud of what we achieved together.” Vissay told me.