Emily Thomas, Dominique van Olm and Nathaniel Chiang are working set design and sound for the 24 Hour Film Race in Calgary.
Michael Grondin/the Gauntlet

How to make a movie in 24 hours

Calgary team races to produce four-minute film for competition

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Many filmmakers dream of a chance to make it big, to be in a position where they have the money, equipment and time to make anything their hearts desire. But sometimes, having limited time and resources can be just as useful — limitation often breeds creativity. Discovering what can be accomplished in only a day is the idea behind the 24 Hour Film Race, which challenges filmmakers around the world to write, shoot and edit a film in a 24-hour period.

Organized by NYC Midnight Movie Making Madness, Film Racing began in 2002 as a way to challenge filmmakers and promote emerging artists. Film Racing has inspired over 2,000 films since it started and in the last five years has awarded filmmakers over $200,000.

This year’s 24 Hour Film Race started on the evening of May 17 at 8:00 p.m. in Calgary, when teams were emailed a theme, an action and a prop that were required to be used in their short film. This year’s theme was time travel, the action was crumpling a piece of paper and the prop was an egg. The films had to be under four minutes long and submitted on time the next evening. With such little time, teams needed to work under pressure.

“You have to go with your instinct,” Dominique van Olm says, the director for one of two Calgary teams participating in this year’s race. “You have to settle on something and just go with it. Make something work. You adapt around an idea. Being forced into a situation like this is a really interesting way to realize you can make something from nothing.”

The winner of an audience choice award at the 2011 24 Hour Film Race, van Olm and her team, The Ides, already had experience working under the contest’s constraints and knew what to expect going into this year’s competition.

“The biggest challenge is getting through the brainstorming stage and working the theme that they gave you into your own unique idea,” explains the team’s assistant director, Emily Thomas. “As soon as you are able to manipulate the theme into your own scenario that is when the project rockets off and the rest of the work is much smoother.”

“You have to be as organized as you can before you do it,” van Olm says. “Creating a schedule you can stick to is the only way to get everything done that you need.”

While there will not be a screening in Calgary this year, the top 24 films will be featured online and the winning teams will be invited to a gala in New York City. There, prizes will be awarded for the five best films selected by a panel of judges. However, fame and fortune are not the only reasons filmmakers participate in the 24 Hour Film Race — the experience and opportunities offered through this challenge are also invaluable. 

“I think it’s a great creative outlet that most people don’t get to have regularly,” Nathaniel Chiang says, one of the producers on van Olm’s team. “It doesn’t matter if you make art regularly or if you just do it from time to time — this is a great way to jump in and let your creative juices flow. You build confidence in yourself, giving yourself the freedom to express what you choose.”

For van Olm and her team it was also a way of motivating themselves.

“We entered it as a way to force ourselves to work on something,” van Olm says. “It was difficult, but we could do it, which is cool.”