Miami 48 Hour Film Project Tests Filmmakers' Creative Limits

Jun 16, 2015

Screenshot from Paul-Vincent Alexander's film "Tempo." It won the top prize at the 48 Hour Film Project competition in 2014.

Paul-Vincent Alexander’s first foray into filmmaking was unusual even by Hollywood standards.

In 2012, the former actor produced and directed his first film – in 48 hours.

“It puts me in a position where you’re forced to make a movie,” he says.

This past weekend, Alexander, 30, competed for the fourth time at the annual Miami 48 Hour Film Project (48HFP), where filmmakers have 48 hours to create three-to-seven-minute short films.

Alexander’s latest film, titled “Club Omicron,” is a science-fiction comedy. It tells the story of a bounty hunter looking for someone in an alien-filled nightclub.

Last year, Alexander won the best film award for “Tempo.” It was also recognized for best sound design, cinematography, editing, writing and best use of prop. 

The roughly five-minute film, inspired by an Oscar Wilde quote, tells the story of a woman atop a high-rise.

Cathleen Dean, producer of Miami’s 48HFP, says “Tempo” stood out because it had “all the makings of a good short film.”

“It had a great story. The camera work was brilliant. Colored lovely. Great score and great cast of actors,” says Dean, who became 48HFP’s producer in 2010 after she made her first 48HFP film in 2009.

To win big at 48HFP, filmmakers must weave in three creative constraints into their finished products: a certain character, prop and line of dialogue. This year’s assignment was a character named Uncle George or Aunt Georgia, a souvenir as the prop and “OK. Let’s go” for the dialogue.

A panel of producers, actors, and other filmmakers judges the films for their artistic merit, technical merit and adherence to the assignment.

And to top it off, participants don’t know the film’s genre until the project’s kickoff event. There, teams choose a genre out of a hat.

All creative work must only be done during the 48 hours. Production decisions, such as finding a cast and crew and a location, can be accomplished prior to the competition.

Alexander got dark comedy. He secured a real nightclub in Hallandale Beach and aimed to shoot a sci-fi film regardless of what genre he would draw on kickoff day.

“No matter what you have, you learn to write around that,” he says.

Examples of this year’s genres ranged from musicals to thrillers to dramas. Teams could choose to give up their original drawing for a wildcard genre, such as superhero or espionage film.

Tempo - Created for the 2014 48HFP Miami from Paul-Vincent Alexander on Vimeo.
 

Alexander says the trick to 48HFP is to keep the story simple. In contrast to “Tempo,” which takes place entirely in an apartment, he recalls going to multiple locations for his first 48HFP film.

While some would consider the elements limiting, Alexander says he embraces them.

“I find it easier to write having those constraints and variables,” he adds.

Films that win in any category take home prizes such as software and gift certificates for equipment. The best film from each city’s 48HFP moves on to Filmapalooza in Hollywood where the winning films are screened. The best of the best in that round then head to France for the annual Cannes Film Festival.

Alexander attended Filmapalooza for the 2014 season but did not move on to the next round. He says the European teams had larger crews with more than 50 people and were sponsored by big camera companies.

“I have to win again. I have to go to Cannes,” he says.

Born in the Dominican Republic, Alexander did not grow up imagining film as a career path. He spent part of his childhood in Miami before moving to Tucson. 

At 18 years old, he joined the U.S. Navy and was stationed in the Connecticut naval base for four years.

After the Navy, Alexander returned to Miami and hopped between jobs in hospitality and architectural firms. In 2011, he began to study acting at the Miami Acting Studio but was always itching for more creative control than just memorizing lines and being directed by someone else.

Alexander initially got involved with 48HFP when he agreed to act in a friend’s team. They soon had a falling out, and Alexander was left without a team.

But he didn’t give up. He rallied some of his acting buddies, bought a camera and taught himself how to use it.

According to Dean, Alexander’s story repeats itself. Time and time again, 48HFP serves as “an incubator for creatives in the film industry in Miami.”

This year marks 48HFP’s 10th anniversary. Dean, the project’s producer, expanded its reach to Broward and Palm Beach counties, added two drop-off locations – one in Miami and the other in Broward.

All the 48HFP films will premiere June 17 and 18 at the Little Haiti Cultural Center. To purchase tickets, visit 48hourfilm.com/en/Miami.