“I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.”
— Duke Ellington
I woke up at 3:15am on a Saturday morning, stumbled into clothing and biked 30 minutes across town from East to South London. Zombie-like and bloodshot, dodging broken glass and other remnants of a Friday night, I cursed myself.
Why the hell did I agree to this?
A few months ago my friend Lucio asked if I’d like to participate in something called 48HFP, an annual film competition where teams are given a genre, character, line, prop, and 48 hours to make a short film. Lucio was forming an all-star team of students and friends in London.
Having recently committed to my 100 Day Mission (100 tasks experimenting with video and film), his offer came at a perfect time. I said yes.
I walked into a tiny flat crammed with Red Bull cans, empty potato chip bags, scattered post-its, and sleep-deprived students around a tiny table.
Lucio introduced me. “This is Matt. Our writer.”
Luckily I was joined by two other writers who were both there from the start. And thank goodness, because they had more scriptwriting experience than me (zero). And ultimately this was their project. They’d already developed a rough storyline, so I hoped to ask good questions, challenge the story, and help strengthen it.
The film was due Sunday night at 7:30pm. Shooting needed to start by midday Saturday. Which meant we had less than 6 hours to build a story and cobble together a script.
Time was ticking.
After early fits and starts, terrible dialogue and shaky plot points, we did it. We had a 6-page script.
I cycled back home and fell into a 5-hour nap. The rotating group of 20 or so people pressed onward, casting actors, fitting costumes, filming scenes, and editing film. Hours before the deadline I received word that the group wrapped and submitted the film. 48 hours is an impossible amount of time to make a film. But they did it.
Will it win any awards?
Will it be any good?
Might it even be terrible?
At the time of writing, I had no idea. I hadn’t seen the finished product yet. But I know this much: It’s done. It’s watchable. And everyone learned a ton.
I think there are four lessons here:
1. Duke Ellington is right.
We need a deadline.
2. The deadline needs to be hard.
Do or die works wonders.
3. Mass creates momentum.
The more people contributing to the deadline, the more likely the follow through. Had there not been 20 some people all pushing this forward, they might have given up. No one gave each other a chance to give up.
4. You don’t have to be good.
This was a first time experience for most people involved. Their mission was learning and growth. Similarly with me and the 100 Day Mission: we don’t need to win awards. We don’t have to be good.
We just need to set a deadline and put in the work.