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Preview: Filmapalooza

Alex Woodward on the annual 48 Hour Film Fest in New Orleans

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With only 48 hours to write, shoot and edit a short film, filmmaker Andrew Bryan's first order of business was pizza. "The method I like is brainstorming with a group of people," he says. "Get in a room, order a pizza and spit some ideas out."

The team (named 7th & Constance) then started working on its entry in the 2013 48 Hour Film Project in New Orleans. The Wand — a four-minute film starring Bryan's wife Chelsea and daughter Adriana — took top honors at the event, one of dozens of 48 Hour Film Project competitions held in cities worldwide. The Wand moved on to compete in this year's Filmapalooza, the international 48 Hour Film Project competition held in New Orleans March 6-9. More than 100 films — representing 85 cities worldwide, from Buffalo, N.Y. and Brisbane, Australia to Osaka, Japan and Seoul, S. Korea, and, of course, New Orleans — are screened, and a closing night awards ceremony honors the international best of last year's entries.

The Wand's 7th & Constance was among the 61 teams and 1,000 filmmakers from across the South in last year's New Orleans event. The New Orleans chapter began hosting the annual competition in 2007.

"We want to help the filmmaker find the next step in their career, or help network them with people getting started," says New Orleans organizer Alex Garcia. "We have people who have been in the business for years, film students and hobbyists."

Liz Langston and Mark Ruppert founded The 48 Hour Film Project in 2001 in Washington, D.C. The pair invited friends to a small competition to make a movie over a weekend. During the last decade, the project attracted more filmmakers and cities — there are 112 cities worldwide with 48 Hour film events.

Here's how it works. Filmmakers have one weekend to make their film. On a Friday night, they randomly pick from a hat one of 13 genres — from comedy to mockumentary (and a new inclusion, "animal"). Filmmakers also are assigned a character, a prop and line of dialogue they have to incorporate into the film. These added elements ensure everyone is starting from scratch. "It forces everyone to do writing, shooting, editing in 48 hours," Langston says. Then the challenge begins — filmmaking teams must deliver a completed film by 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

"They have to get there on the dot or they're disqualified," Langston says. "That deadline really, really works."

A few days later, the competing films are screened at a local theater, and a panel of three judges determines the best film, as well as best cinematography, best editing, actor and actress, among other categories. The best film winner then competes against other cities' entries in the international Filmapalooza competition. In 2013, the 48 Hour Film Project hosted the event at Hollywood's TCL Chinese Theatre. The 2014 Filmapalooza events begin with the Welcome to NOLA event at The Joy Theater, which screens The Wand and other entries, followed by an opening night party at Little Gem Saloon. Seven more screenings are held Friday, Saturday and Sunday at The Joy.

Bryan and his crew received the following prompts for their entry: the genre must be fantasy, one character must be an event planner, a line of dialogue must include "It's my first time," and a cellphone must be used as a prop. The crew held a pizza meeting and split into pairs for a 15-minute brainstorming session. Bryan and his writing partner Mark Williams stayed up all night drafting a script. "It wasn't until 4 in the morning that we put anything on the page," Bryan says.

The Wand follows a young girl given a magic wand by her father. The girl — now an adult — narrates her childhood and adulthood with and without the wand. (Chelsea stars as the narrator, and daughter Adriana plays the narrator's younger self.) It's a simple premise with effective storytelling and in-camera effects.

The crew shot in Houma — Chelsea's hometown, where the filmmakers had plenty of locations at their disposal, including the ballroom where Andrew and Chelsea had their wedding reception. (It also made it easy to work in a requisite "event planner" character.)

"I like the idea of 48 hours — it strips everything out of it and makes you do it, go out and shoot," Bryan says. "If it turns out not good, it's no big deal. It's a one-weekend thing. If it does turn out well, it's encouraging. It shows you what you can do in that time, in those limitations. Imagine what we can do with more at our disposal."

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