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Published: Jul 03, 2017
Updated: Nov 13, 2018

Secret tips to help you succeed at an AT&T Create-a-thon

Author: Ed Donahue

create-a-thon tipsThis year, the AT&T Entertainment Group launched a new community event series: AT&T Create-a-thons. An AT&T Create-a-thon challenges teams to shoot, edit, and produce a short film or video during a weekend. On Friday, we host the event kick-off. Teams come together to decide what film they will be creating and how each team member will work on the project. On Saturday and Sunday, teams film on-location, wherever that may be, and edit it all together. Sunday afternoon everyone comes back together to screen all of the films. Our judging panel discusses the submissions and awards prizes to the top films.

So far this year, we have run the AT&T Create-a-thons across the U.S. and have met some amazing people. Just like a hackathon, there are some unique challenges that participates face when trying to complete a short over a weekend. To help future participants plan for how they’ll approach filming a short at one of these events, we’ve asked some of the teams that submitted winning films to an AT&T Create-a-thon for this best tips to help you succeed. Here are tips for what you’ll encounter at the event:

 

Planning for the Weekend

Be ready for a long (but fun) 24 hours. Also, the weather will not always be in your favor, so check it in advance and make a plan B, C, D, etc. – Carlos DesChamps, Love Cycle

Before leaving the event on the first day we all agreed on a schedule and stuck to it. One day for filming. The next day for editing. When we wrapped up filming, we would not go back for pick up shots or redoing anything in the film. What we had was what we got and we would have to fix anything in post-production/editing. Luckily, the project was simple so there were no major issues or re-shoots needed. – Franky, Conversations

Try to meet as many people as you can on the first day. As an introvert, I forced myself to meet directors, actors, and crew. (Don’t avoid anyone or burn bridges.)  – Carlos DesChamps, Love Cycle

Set realistic expectation and focus on filming something manageable. – Michelle Ng, Fresh Check

Concept/Script Writing

Don’t overwhelm yourself with ideas. Make it short, sweet, and simple. Use a life moment as the driving force of the film. If you are a director and are stuck, don’t be scared to ask for help or input. Also, due to the time limit, don’t be afraid to make script changes. Let that creativity out! – Carlos DesChamps, Love Cycle

The best movies are the ones that people can relate to. – Brian Lamcchia, Drones

We began with a concept for what we wanted in the film. For our project, we agreed it would be indoors, and that the actor should not move from his space for the sake of lighting and mic requirements and finally, we knew it had to involve a phone. Defining our space helped us make sure we didn’t get carried away with an overly complicated plot and difficult demands for lights, camera, and sound. After defining our setting, movement, and props the dialogue followed. – Franky, Conversations

Similar to team formation, I found that having a concept before Create-a-thon allowed for more time to write the screenplay, storyboard, shoot, and edit. When moving on to screenwriting, a great (and free) website is writerduet.com, which automatically formats your screenplay and allows peer editing. No need to drop hundreds on screenwriting software. Make sure your story is, in fact, a story. Have your characters undergo some sort of development (this can be a bit intimidating with a ten-minute runtime limit, but it’s perfectly doable). – Zain Karim, A Night To Remember

 

Pre-Production

After writing the script, we set up our lights and figured out every angle we wanted to shoot. We didn’t do a storyboard because of time constraints. Rather, we had the actor stay on set in his starting position and found the best angles while the audio engineer worked on mics, and the gaffer figured out the best lights to use for the film. By the time each element was set up the actor had memorized his lines and blocking which transitioned right over into shooting the film seamlessly. – Franky, Conversations

Come up with a filming schedule and stick to it. We filmed 80% of the scenes only after we committed ourselves to an aggressive timeline at 7PM on Saturday! – Michelle Ng

In prior experience, I’ve found that compiling, at the very least, a simple schedule/outline goes a very long way. Having a schedule ensures increased time efficiency. In your schedule, be sure to include ample time to write, shoot, edit, etc., but also remember the restraint on time; you only have 46 hours. Unfortunately, the A Night To Remember group didn’t really adhere to a schedule. Because of this, we were forced to edit very late into the night. Additionally, conducting a table read and making sure all the actors know their lines saves a lot of time during shoots, as does having a storyboard. – Zain Karim, A Night To Remember

 

Team Interaction/Team Dynamics

We all clearly defined each of our roles and did not try to interfere with anyone’s job. Each of us specialized in a field (sound, directing, writing, editing, lighting, cinematography, and acting) and implicitly trusted everyone to carry their weight in their respective job. Too easily someone’s helpful suggestion can be taken as criticism. This leads to unnecessary animosity. More importantly we also never forgot that we were having fun and would keep the mood light with jokes about phone calls. Essentially we stayed in our lane and laughed the entire time. – Franky, Conversations

In my experience, I feel that it was advantageous to have a team formed prior to arriving at the Create-a-thon so that the group doesn’t run into too many issues with being able to work with each other. However, no matter how well the team gets along before the production, someone will almost always disagree with someone else. Be prepared to mediate or compromise. – Zain Karim, A Night To Remember

Show up and don’t quit on your teammates who count on you. Work as a team. Our group worked together on every step – writing, filming, and editing. – Michelle Ng

Teamwork and lack of ego was ultimately what bought us success. Each of us tried to the best of our ability to help out and each of us brought everything we had to the table, ultimately helping to create Fresh Check. – Gloria Chow, Fresh Check

Don’t be afraid to share your ideas, let everyone hear it. Just don’t let your ego take over and say things such as “this will be the best film ever, it will get first place.” Making those kinds of statements will set you up for failure and might even lose you some credibility as a director/writer. Instead, keep your strong comment to yourself and listen to feedback. – Carlos DesChamps, Love Cycle

 

Filming on Location

We focused on simplicity above all and minimized locations down to one spot in one room. This limitation allowed us, believe it or not, a lot of flexibility to play with things like lighting, costuming, sound, and cinematography. Once you know everything about the location that you’re using, you’re free to go crazy with creativity. – Franky, Conversations

Cameo strangers. They say the darnedest things. – Brian Lamcchia, Drones

Refer to your storyboard. You made it for a reason. I’ve made the unfortunate mistake of trying to “wing” shots many times. Sometimes it works out fine, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry, especially with this type of time restriction. However, don’t be afraid to take some risks here and there; the stakes aren’t too high, and if it doesn’t work out, you’ll learn from it. – Zain Karim, A Night To Remember

Location can be a stairwell and it works. Don’t overthink it.  – Brian Lamcchia, Drones

 

Editing on a Short Timeline

The timeline forced us to keep our film simple, which made the editing easier and manageable. – Franky, Conversations

Our secret weapon was a collaborative team.  Everyone helped with the story idea and when it was edited, we had a marathon conference call where we made real-time updates over Google hangouts, watched the film together, and added music.  Our secret weapon was also an incredible editor who helped us tell the story. – Gloria Chow, Fresh Check

Finish on time. Stay up all night if you have to. Time will evaporate. – Brian Lamcchia, Drones

Creative people have an innate desire to take their sweet time to craft their best work. This is good, but unfortunately the purpose of the Create-a-thon is to make something in one weekend. This is a creative challenge. So, fight against your desire and embrace the constraint. – Michelle Ng

Write down all important information of a take: scene, take number, timecode (if possible), description, etc. Doing this makes organizing your files a lot easier during the post production process. You should also organize all of your video and audio files before starting the editing process. – Zain Karim, A Night To Remember

Don’t give up. We didn’t finish Fresh Check until few minutes before submission deadline 🙂 – Michelle Ng

 

Recommended Equipment

Have a tripod. A tripod can lend itself to a multitude of purposes, most notably a steady shot. Additionally, a tripod can help you achieve dynamic shots (pan, tilt, etc.). Having a tripod provides a means of properly framing your shot, which can make or break good visuals. – Zain Karim, A Night To Remember

Too often lighting and sound are underappreciated in a film. People get caught up in camera, script, and acting, and they forget that without good lighting editing becomes a nightmare. A film can’t be very compelling if you can’t hear the plot unfolding due to a shoddy mic. Invest in audio and lightning. You can fix too much lighting in post, not the reverse. You can lower the volume if the actor is too loud on the mic, but you can’t raise their voice if the mic isn’t working. As to cameras, we used the iPhone 6S on its 4K setting. – Franky, Conversations

Basically you need a drive to succeed (and a flash drive ha ha!) – Elaine, A Night to Remember

 

General Advice

Participate. Get out there and do something awesome. At worst your friends will think you have a life.  – Brian Lamcchia, Drones

Have fun. It’s a weekend where you make a film! It’s not an everyday opportunity, so enjoy yourself and don’t let your doubts stop you from making the best film possible. – Franky, Conversations

There are major peaks and valleys to the Create-a-thon weekend. Keep the faith and don’t give up! Even when it seems like you’re not going to finish, lean on your team and trust in yourself and the team that you can do it. – Gloria Chow, Fresh Check

A finished but imperfect short film is better than a perfect but unfinished short film. – Michelle Ng

Reverse engineer an idea. In other words, look at what resources you have (actors, locations, etc) and come up with an idea that you can actually carry out in a somewhat competent manner. But don’t sacrifice originality. You can be as skilled with a camera as the best guy, but if you don’t have a compelling original and creative story to tell, your technical acumen doesn’t matter much. – Marquis Austin

It was such an adrenaline rush! If you’re debating on whether or not to join a competition like this, do it. It’s so rewarding in so many ways. – Elaine, A Night to Remember 

This is really important: Don’t think about the prizes or rewards, just focus on the joy of filmmaking and having a good time. Keep smiling and make sure that you and your crew are having fun. From my personal observations of other film groups, those who took it too seriously ended up struggling a lot with their cast and crew, which also harmed their film. – Carlos DesChamps, Love Cycle

Be active on social media. It’s rewarding.  – Brian Lamcchia, Drones

Want to learn more about Create-a-thons and hear luminary speakers share their thoughts on filmmaking? Come to SHAPE, which is happening July 14 and 15, 2017 in Los Angeles, California, at Warner Bros. Studios.


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