June 26, 2008 | Myrna Anderson

48 Hour Film Festival
A closer look inside this years 48 hour film festival.

They had tried “Romance.” They had tried “Comedy.” They had tried "Science Fiction.” So when Calvin senior Mike Rohlfing saw that his filmmaking associate of four years, Calvin sophomore Alex Docekal, had drawn a bingo ball labeled “Spy,” he cheered out loud.

"I’ve made spy movies before, and I love James Bond,” Rohlfing offered. “So that’s kind of my expertise, if it can be called that.”

Rohlfing and Docekal drew the bingo ball that sealed their filmic fate—for the succeeding two days anyway—on June 6 at the Winifred Moore Auditorium at Webster University in St. Louis. By Sunday, June 8, the duo would have to film, edit and deliver their spy flick. The result, Wiped, would win awards in four categories.

The bingo drawing was the official St. Louis launch of the 48 Hour Film Project, a cinematic challenge to filmmakers in 70 U.S. cities. 

There were 15 film genres—Comedy; Drama; Fantasy; Romance; Historical Fiction/ Period Piece; Film de Femme; Horror; Spy; Musical or Western; Holiday Film; Road Movie; Sci-Fi; Detective/Cop and Thriller/Suspense—up for grabs and 72 teams doing the grabbing. “Good luck making a historical fiction movie in two days,” Rohlfing commented on the choices.

The filmmaking teams operated under a few pre-arranged constraints. Each film from every genre had to include the same prop—a magnet—a chairperson of the board named Earl or Ellen Frickle and the immortal line, “I’ve been there. You don’t want to go.”

“Everybody had to use those in some way in the movie,” Rohlfing said. “If you didn’t have it in there or it wasn’t clear enough, you were disqualified.”

Rohlfing and Docekal, both media production majors and St. Louis natives, headed up a 30-person crew with the moniker Anonymous Productions. “A lot of friends and family … they just really want to help out,” Rohlfing said. “And it’s really hard to make a movie without a whole lot of help.” 

The duo split the major filmmaking chores. Rohlfing directed and edited and Docekal produced “Wiped,” a tale of corporate piracy. “I try to let Mike handle … the creative stuff, and I handle the stuff he needs to get the creative stuff done,” Docekal said. 

The producer’s “stuff,” he explained, encompasses all manner of logistics: gathering actors and props, nailing down locations, synchronizing schedules, filing paperwork: “My phone rings a lot during the production because people need to know what’s going on, where we’re going, what we’re doing,” Docekal said.

The filming of “Wiped” proceeded without major hiccups, despite a few last-minute cancellations. The duo’s shared knowledge from three previous experiences with the competition helped the entire team to prepare, Rohlfing said: “We pretty much have the whole routine down of 48 Hour Film Project: How long we give ourselves to write, how long we give ourselves to film and how much time we need to leave to edit.”

The Anonymous Productions writers began work on the screenplay at 7 p.m. the evening of the June 6 drawing, and they finished the script at midnight. “The challenge was making sure we were done with filming in time so that there was plenty of time to edit,” Rohlfing said. The team also kept locations to a minimum. “Like, we shot almost the whole thing in one place, though you can’t tell. You don’t want to waste hours packing up equipment and moving to new locations,” he said. 

Rohlfing and Docekal handed in their film 45 minutes before the 7:30 p.m., June 8 deadline at the Schlafly Brewery and Tap Room in downtown St. Louis. Late entries—even those turned in one second too late—were disqualified, he explained. (Disqualified films were screened at the competition but were ineligible for awards.) 
“There are people who come running in with laptops, still burning their DVD. And there’s people who come in five seconds late,” Rohlfing said. “Alex and I handed it in, and we had time to eat dinner before the time was up… . We had time to go back to the room for the countdown to watch people come in late.”

All 72 films were screened in groups at the Tivoli Theatre in downtown St. Louis the week following the deadline. “You’re there with all the other filmmakers and everyone cheering for each other. It’s a fun atmosphere,” Rohlfing said. “You start to recognize people, and you’re seeing some of the same teams over and over again, and you see how they’ve improved. Rivalries begin to form, sort of,” he said, laughing.

The field of 72 was narrowed to 15. Eight of those films won awards. Wiped earned nods for “Audience Choice,” “Best Use of Prop,” “Best Soundtrack” and “Best Editing.” 

“It’s really just the bragging rights. That’s all it is,” Rohlfing said. “You get, like, a little plaque. You get a certificate and get recognized. My mom is going to frame them for me.” He was most gratified by the editing honor, Rohlfing said, because editing is his specialty.

Rohlfing plans to spend the fall of 2008 on Calvin’s Chicago Semester, interning in some form of film production. After that, he said, he hopes to continue working on films. “I’m not intent on going to Los Angeles. I wouldn’t mind ending up in Chicago,” he said. “The more you can put on your reel and your resume, the better it is.”

Docekal has a few years left to complete his major and ponder his post-Calvin plans. A political science minor, he’s interested in making documentaries, which he calls serious filmmaking. “I don’t specifically see myself going into political films,” Docekal said, “but if you look out there and see which films are politically charged, you end up with all of them.”

As far as next year’s 48 Hour Film Project, right now the duo is uncommitted. “Mike will be graduating,” Docekal said, “so that might change what’s going on.”

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