This Competition Wants to Help You Make a Film in 72 Hours

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Photo Source: Asian American Film Lab

Indie film is already about making the most possible use of your time on set, keeping costs low, and keeping crews efficient, but how about if you only had three days to start and complete a film? That’s what Asian American Film Lab’s 72 Hour Shootout challenges filmmakers to do each year, and success could mean a major leveling up in the industry. The organization, a nonprofit that provides support for gender and ethnic diversity in film and television, already implements programming all year to that end. The Shootout has the support of networks like ABC and NBC and film festivals like the Asian American International Film Festival to reward winners with real world mentorship, networking, and exposure to help marginalized voices be heard. Film Lab president Jennifer Betit Yen, who’s also an actor, oversees many operations at the lab and spoke with Backstage about what the competition can do for you, how the film lab helps budding filmmakers, and how Backstage can be key to filmmaking success during the Shootout.

What is the 72 Hour shootout? Why 72 hours?
The 72 Hour Shootout is an annual global filmmaking competition designed to give exposure and mentorship opportunities to faces, voices, and stories too often ignored or stereotyped in the mainstream media. 72 hours allows filmmakers to have enough time to make a really solid microfilm but not so much that it becomes an burden on anyone’s schedule.

What type of content creators are you looking to enter the shootout? What type of projects are created?
All kinds of original content creators who want to create diverse content and movers and shakers who want to show particularly women and people of color in powerful roles. We use the hashtag #BeTheChangeYouSeek because people are constantly pointing out the myriad racist and sexist issues with a lot of mainstream content. This is their opportunity to make the content they want to see.

What should people know before entering the competition?
They need to be really organized and they need to read the rules! So many great films get disqualified for failure to follow the rules. Read the FAQs on our website and make sure you’re familiar with the rules and registration forms before the 72 hours start. Also, make sure you do everything you can beforehand like putting your crew together, making sure you have a location or locations to film in, and having some actors holding the dates in advance. Also, edit in real time during the 72 hours. Have your editors there taking footage as it’s created and editing away to help save as much time as possible. Lastly, back everything up! I have horror stories about teams accidentally losing all their footage moments before their films were due.

READ: How to Make an Indie Film

Give an overview of how the 72 hours go.
All of the films must be five minutes or shorter and based on a common theme. The theme is announced online for competitors around the globe at 8 p.m. on the first Thursday of June. As soon as the theme is announced, the clock starts ticking and the competitors have 72 hours to make their films. Most people already have their teams put together (a “team” can be as small as one person or as big as you can imagine) already. As soon as the theme is announced, the writers go to work and usually write all night. The teams then spend Friday writing and filming, Saturday to film, for pick ups, and to begin editing. Sunday is usually spent editing and scoring and then the films must be emailed in by 8 p.m. on Sunday.

What should people prepare before going into their 72 hours?
People in NYC should take advantage of all Film Lab’s live networking events to meet people and build their teams. People not convenient to NYC should take advantage of all the free online workshops on AAFL TV to hone their skills and should also use Twitter and Facebook to network as well.

How does casting work during the 72 hours? What should actors who want to participate know about the competition?
NYC filmmakers should attend our live events to meet more actors to add to their teams. I also encourage actors to create their own teams. That being said, one of the reasons Film Lab is so thrilled to partner with Backstage this year to provide free casting resources for our filmmakers is that many of our filmmakers come from outside of NYC and most of them, in New York or otherwise, come to us and say they need help with casting. Backstage’s partnership allows our filmmakers to utilize professional casting services for free and ensure a really polished, well-performed, professional film. If filmmakers would like to use union actors, they must contact SAG-AFTRA directly to find out how to become a signatory. It’s important filmmakers not use union actors without express permission directly from the union.

Why is a platform like Backstage good to use when casting a film with a quick turnaround?
Casting is incredibly hard work! That’s why there are casting directors and good ones are paid very handsomely. To try to cast a film can be overwhelming when you are also worried about writing, staffing, and a whole host of other things. Backstage offers a streamlined, efficient, helpful casting service that normally would cost for free to Shootout competitors to help support them in telling their stories.

How does one prepare their actors for a role created on such short notice?
By having really good actors, a good director, and a good writer! Basically, you need helpful, constructive team members willing to work collaboratively and think outside the box. There’s no time for ego.

READ: Why Indie Film Sets Are the Best for Actors

What can the 72 Hour Shootout add to a filmmaker’s skills?
The Shootout gives filmmakers the needed push to stop procrastinating and actually make a film. For newbies and emerging filmmakers, it’s an invaluable opportunity to get their feet wet and gain experience and training without the stakes being too high—it’s only 3 days, after all. For more experienced filmmakers, it’s a chance to hone and practice their craft, keep things fresh, and meet new people. For everyone, it provides a valuable opportunity for exhibition, network TV mentorships, networking, and support.

What advice do you give filmmakers to prepare them for success, especially with such a quick turnaround.
Relax. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Tell your story and find your voice. The judges know you only have 72 hours. They’ll forgive a few technical flubs for a great story.

What are a couple of the most memorable performances or examples of great filmmaking you’ve seen from those competing in the 72 Hour Shootout? What made them so great?
One of my favorite films was one in which two Asian American actors played the equivalent of today’s ICE officers out to grab and deport illegal immigrants in America. The illegals were all Caucasians being deported to places like Norway and Sweden. It was done very cleverly and humorously, using comedy to illustrate serious social points about immigration and xenophobia. A second favorite was a film in which an American of Korean descent is sent by his employer to Korea to take over an office run by a Korean of European descent because the office thinks the American is more appropriate given his descent, however, the American can’t even speak Korean and knows nothing about Korean culture. The nationalities of the two people end up being more important to the successful running of the business than their race in the end. It’s a fun tale examining the fallacies of immediate stereotyping of people based on their race. Finally, a third film I love was one which the people on the team didn’t know too many people and used the Film Lab’s social media pages to network with each other and create their team. A writer in one country wrote the story based on the theme and emailed it to the actors and directors (who she’d never met in person) in the U.S. They shot the film here in NYC and emailed the files to an editor they’d also never met in person in yet another country. A person from a fourth country scored it and submitted it just in time. It was wonderful to see all these people of different nationalities working together, sight unseen, to make a film.

What are the advantages of taking part in this event? What happens if you win? What kind of visibility can creators potentially earn from participating?
The networking, experience, and educational opportunities presented by the Shootout are wonderful. It forces you to be independent, creative, and get the job done. Then, if you take home a prize, the benefits are often enough to launch people’s careers to a new level. Depending on the prize, you can get entry to various film festivals, one on one mentorships with network executives, access to professional filmmaker networks, and more.

Why is the 72 Hour Shootout valuable to an organization like AAFL?
The Lab’s goal is to promote and support diverse filmmakers and content. This is the perfect opportunity to identify promising filmmakers and actors and give them an opportunity for exhibition and promotion of their content across multiple platforms. The fact we enjoy the support of incredible judges, like ABC’s Executive Director of Casting Marci Phillips, really helps ensure that exposure. People like NBC’s Grace Moss and Jandiz Cardoso, who provide mentorships to many of the winning filmmakers, further ensure that this competition isn’t just a fun time; it’s a way to actually launch your career and take yourself to the next level.

Register for the 72 Hour Shootout by May 31 right here. The competition will run during the first week in June. 

Browse the Backstage talent database!

Author Headshot
Elyse Roth
Elyse is a senior editor at Backstage, where she oversees all casting news and features content, including her weekly casting director Q&A series, In the Room. She came to New York from Ohio by way of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism, and now lives in Brooklyn. She might see and write about awards-worthy films, but Elyse still thinks “Legally Blonde” is a perfect movie and on any given night is probably taking in some kind of entertainment, whether it’s comedy, theater, ballet, or figuring out what show to binge next.
See full bio and articles here!

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