Student Filmmakers Rush to Make Films in 52 Hours

Photo by Michael Pacheco

More than seven teams of students armed with cameras and audio equipment roamed Ramapo last weekend as contestants in this semester’s 52 Hour Film Challenge, a twice-yearly event held by RCTV. The competition pitches groups of student filmmakers against one another in friendly rivalry, as each team rushes to complete a short film over the course of nearly three days.

The film challenge, which has taken place at the College for several years, sets few rules in place. Entrants need only incorporate two elements – a line and a prop – into their film while staying within the parameters of a predetermined genre.

A spray bottle and ‘horror’ were chosen as this semester’s prop and genre, while the line was selected by digital filmmaking professor Rowlett “Neel” Scott, who suggested the phrase, “I can’t believe this is happening again.” Participants were emailed the criteria at 8:00 p.m. Friday, with instructions to submit their completed projects to RCTV by midnight Sunday.

“There’s some repeated lines in film that come back again and again. Another example would be, ‘he’s right behind you,’ or ‘she’s right behind you,’” Scott said, explaining his choice, which he provided to the president of RCTV, Nick D’Ambrosia, for distribution to participants.

“It’s sort of a cliché line,” Scott continued, “but I gave it to Nick on purpose, just with the idea of seeing how people could play with a conventional, clichéd line.”

In an interview conducted two days before the onset of the contest, D’Ambrosia – a senior and digital filmmaking major with a minor in theater – described how RCTV’s approach to the 52 Hour Film Challenge has changed in recent years.

“At first, during my first few challenges, the president himself would just come up with it and release it, and he would not participate,” D’Ambrosia said, referring to the contest’s stipulations.

“What I did when I took over last fall, is I asked alumni. I asked three different alumni for each individual criteria, or item, and they all sent them to me an hour before I was to release it, so I only had an hour of advance knowledge,” he continued. “This year, I’m going to ask film professors here, each for an individual set of criteria.”

When asked if students have ever questioned the fairness of the challenge – D’Ambrosia and other RCTV e-board members participate in the contest – the president shook his head.

“No, because what we do as an e-board is, we make our own group and are not eligible to win,” he said. “So we do it, because we love the fun of it.”

Seven teams participated in this year’s challenge, making it the largest one yet under D’Ambrosia’s direction. He highlighted RCTV’s efforts to increase student participation:

“This year we’re looking at a great turnout, I think we had five films last year, and this year we’re shooting for seven,” he said, “Our prize is usually a $100 Amazon gift card for the group that wins, but this year we said, ‘if we get seven groups to submit in addition to the e-board, we’re going to up the prize.’ We’ll double it to $200 for the winning group – just an incentive to keep spreading the word for everyone.”

Scott, who has regularly judged the challenge over the course of his professorship at Ramapo, says competitions like RCTV’s were virtually nonexistent in the relatively recent past, due to prohibitive costs.

“When I was a film student, it was back in the mid to late ‘90s, and then also the early 2000s in grad school, we were shooting on 16-millimeter back then, where the cost to shoot and develop a three-minute roll of film was about $50,” Scott said, “But with the expanded availability and the lower cost of technology, they’re something that are much more doable. You can do this on your iPhone; your iPhone shoots full HD video…there’s a much lower barrier to entry.”

RCTV will screen the completed submissions at 10:00 p.m. on Oct. 6, in the H Wing. The winning film will be announced on Oct. 13 by the club, after they have been judged by Scott and other faculty members.

“I always love the challenge, and I’m glad they’re doing it again. I look forward to watching the entries,” said Scott.