Need for speed: Students, alumni compete to create short film in twenty-four hours

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Friday, Jan. 24, the 16th-annual student and alumni 24-hour Speed Filmmaking Competitions began at 7 p.m. Twenty-three student teams and 10 alumni teams are competing this year, to produce a three-minute short film in 24 hours. The student 24 Speed Films will be screened at the Kimball Theatre Wednesday, Jan. 29, at 8 p.m., while the alumni films will be shown in St. George Tucker Theater Saturday, Feb. 1, at 10:15 p.m.

The 24-hour film competition was conceived 16 years ago.

“It was started by some students, a faculty member, Sharon Zuber and I think one alum was in the mix there,” Head of Media Services Troy Davis said. “Essentially, it was just an extracurricular to do, that would allow students to get some experience making a short film. The idea was to do it in 24 hours and have some kind of restraints involved as well.”

Each film must comply with the set requirements. Those include featuring a selected line of dialogue, using an assigned prop as well as incorporating a genre chosen from the Moving Image Genre-Form Guide from the Library of Congress. Davis and the Reeder Media Center staff collaboratively decide on the line of dialogue and prop that the films must contain. Each team is randomly presented with a choice of two genres from which they can select their preferred category. Despite being assigned the same piece of dialogue and prop, Davis said that it is exciting to view the variety and scope of films that the teams produce.

“Every film must have a line of dialogue, and a few years ago we decided to use the previous year’s winning film as a source for that line of dialogue,” Davis said. “We go back and watch last year’s winning film and pull out a line of dialogue for that. It is sort of this homage to the previous year’s student film winner. Then there is the genre. … Somebody could get, for example, ‘singing cowboy’ and ‘opera’ and have to decide which genre to use. We try to be upfront about the interpretation of those genres. … Part of the creativity of the contest is how students interpret those genres. There are definitions that they can look at; they can play around with it. … And then they get a prop. We try to connect it to some topical stuff, so for example, this year the prop was an ‘I voted today’ sticker. Since we are in an election year, we thought that might be appropriate. Every film must have those three things. What is cool, is having the same things in every film, but you still have the diversity of products.”

The 24 Speed competition was not always linked to the College’s annual Global Film Festival. But now, Davis said the screening of the films produced during the competition serves as the unofficial beginning of the film festival’s schedule.

“It merged with the Global Film Festival as a way to kick off the festival,” Davis said. “So, for example, the screening of 24 Speed this Wednesday is, I would say an unofficial, but informal kickoff to the Global Film Festival. Part of it was to just having to kind of connect it to the Global Film Festival did raise its profile a little bit and made people think about it as a festival-related event. And now it is ingrained into the festival and it is in the festival program now as a thing. We really enjoy that relationship with the Global Film Festival, and it seems to work for the Global Film Festival and for 24 Speed.”

A group of faculty members from the Film and Media Studies department and other staff members from the College, such as librarians, judge the film submissions. Davis said that he also tries to engage some alumni who visit for the Global Film Festival to contribute as judges.

The student teams can request equipment from the media center’s resources for filming and editing purposes. The alumni who participate in the competition provide their own equipment and often come from media studies backgrounds. However, Davis said that the quality of the student films has increasingly rivaled that of the alumni teams in recent years.

“A fair amount of the alumni who are participating are working in the field of media making,” Davis said. “So, they have their own equipment; they have been on the planet longer, so they pull off some really good stuff because of that. I think it is interesting to note that in the past couple years that gap seems to be closing in terms of the quality of the student films and the quality of the alumni films. But then again, this year there is an alumna who has been working as a cinematographer for over a decade now, and I cannot wait to see what she does.”

Corey Bridges ’21 acted in a couple of the films in last year’s competition but is officially participating as part of a student team this year. Bridges is competing on a team comprised of Media Center employees.

“This year I was like ‘I want to do this on an actual team, where I am giving more input,” Bridges said. “I want to win, because I want to be able to say that I am an award-winning filmmaker.”

Bridges said that the competition is a unique way for students from different academic backgrounds to exercise their creative talents.

“It’s an opportunity for students to showcase their perspective and their talents,” Bridges said. “I know that film and media studies is a program just for people who are interested in that for a career path, but this gives an opportunity for all students to showcase what they have and what they have to offer, and be a part of something that is cool and in the Global Film Festival.”

Barrett Smith ’23 is competing in 24 Speed for the first time on a student team and is interested in contributing to the script writing process and acting in the film. Smith said he is excited to produce a film in such a condensed period with a group of friends.

“I’ve obviously seen some of the older videos and it has really interested me,” Smith said. “I had really no interest in joining, I am not that much of a film guy, but I still think that the idea of writing something and filming it with a bunch of friends is still pretty cool, so that’s why I am doing it.”

Smith said the 24 Speed is a great way to gain experience using film equipment, and that the competition fosters campus community.

“Not only does it gives you experience in the future if you want to work in film or media, but it also helps promote community engagement,” Smith said. “It is just another thing to bring William and Mary together, I think.”

Davis said that the competition offers a chance for those who may not otherwise be exposed to the film production process to participate in a creative, fun space with the reward of seeing their worked presented on the big screen.

“One reason I think it is valuable is because it introduces students who may not otherwise be interested, so maybe they are not film studies majors or maybe they are not interested in film production; it introduces them into that process of making something,” Davis said. “It is low stakes, it is not for a grade, it’s fun, they can work with their friends. It’s just a way for students to do something in a 24-hour period that is kind of fun, that is creative, and most importantly, I think, it is collaborative too; it has students working collaboratively together on something. And then they get to see it on the big screen, and it is a really cool process. … We don’t really give prizes for this … street cred is what they get.”

The film submissions from the past 16 years of the competition are archived on the William and Mary Libraries YouTube page. Davis views the 24 Speed Filmmaking Competition as a valuable community tradition and relishes in the large crowd drawn by the annual screening.

“I am always really enthusiastically jazzed about going to the screening and seeing the Kimball Theatre packed, literally packed with students to see their films,” Davis said. “It is such a great community building thing to do. I am always amazed at the creativity and the amazing things students come up with in a 24-hour period, it’s really amazing. If you cruise some of the YouTube videos, you’ll see, they are just really amazing works of art.”