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VOL. 126 | NO. 33 | Thursday, February 17, 2011

48 Hour Film Launch Aims to Inspire Movie-Makers

By Aisling Maki

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Expect lights, camera and action along the streets of South Main and the banks of the Mississippi River this weekend as veteran and aspiring filmmakers alike will attempt to create five short films in just 48 hours.

FuelFilm’s 48 Hour Film Launch, now in its second year, invites Memphians interested in all aspects of filmmaking – from screenwriting and cinematography to acting and editing – to participate in the Friday through Sunday event, headquartered at EmergeMemphis, 516 Tennessee St.

“The best way to learn how to make a film is to make a film,” said FuelFilm’s Mike Beickert, who in 2009, along with partners David Merrill and James Sposto, co-founded the nonprofit dedicated to promoting the internal growth of the city’s film industry.

All three men are unpaid volunteers who manage full-time careers. The volunteer staff also includes writers Lee Gordon and Shelby Elwood, attorney Harry Brown, filmmaker DeAra Lewis and a host of film-industry advisers.

Beickert, Merrill and Sposto all share backgrounds in both business and filmmaking, which has provided them a first-hand understanding of the importance of raising capital to make movies.

“I made a film and realized my first mistake was to not have any money thinking I could do it for cheap,” said Beickert. “I got tired of asking for volunteers. The first weekend you can get inspired volunteers, but by the 12th weekend, they’re less inspired and don’t show up. … To do it right, we feel you should have some investors and have an industry. Every film out of Memphis that succeeds helps the next one succeed.”

FuelFilm is powered by and remains under the 501(c)3 umbrella of LaunchMemphis, a business incubator that nurtures the growth of local technology startups and hosts its own annual 48 Hour Launch.

“We’re all filmmakers and know a lot of them,” Beickert said. “We all want to make films and follow the folks who make them, but we want to make them in Memphis and we didn’t see an environment here that was conducive to the business of filmmaking. Part of what inspired us was the LaunchMemphis events. They help develop an investor pool, but they help train the entrepreneurs on how to work with and pitch to and get money for startups.”

FuelFilm works with a number of organizations, including the Shelby County Film Commission.

“As far as the film commission goes, there was a lot of initiative as far as developing local talent so that we can draw outside production to come to Memphis and shoot here,” Sposto said. “That’s a certain type of economic development and it’s viable, but our goal is to change the model to be, ‘Let’s create more things that are originating here and build an actual industry here so things are starting and finishing in Memphis.’ It’s not only about being attractive to Hollywood; it’s about being our own Hollywood.”

FuelFilm’s focus is on locally originated projects made by independent filmmakers developing and producing films in the Mid-South.

In addition to forging a local infrastructure conducive to filmmaking, the organization informs potential investors regarding opportunities to finance local films and educates filmmakers in the creative, technical and business aspects of the industry, from the idea through the proposal stages.

“We’re not trying to foster any one film project or any one film production company; we’re trying to foster the industry as a whole,” Merrill said. ”The philosophy is that a rising tide will raise all boats.”

This weekend, 48 Hour Launch participants – who range in age from pre-teens to senior citizens – will be given the opportunity to pitch their story ideas to the 100-plus group, who will collectively choose five to make into completed short films by sundown Sunday.

“This is everyone’s chance to prove that they’re a good person to have on their crew,” Sposto said. ”You want to be a real team player, and check your ego at the door. Your film might be the one that gets picked, but if it’s not, be ready to support everyone else. Everyone moves forward together. It’s all very good-natured.”

The 48 Hour Film Launch is the first of 10 FuelFilm events planned for 2011. Others will focus on screenwriting, casting, creating a promotional trailer, devising a comprehensive business plan and pitching to potential investors.

“Our program is kind of a circuit one can go through, and if you follow the whole circuit and can keep up with it, by the end of it, you should ideally be able to pitch and get investment for your film,” Merrill said.

Online registration for the 48 Hour Film Launch, which costs $40 and includes beverages, an event T-shirt, space, equipment, actors, crew, make-up artists, music and everything else needed to make a film, continues through Friday evening.

Visit www.fuelfilm.org for more information.

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