At 24-hour film festivals, it's the veterans that are a bundle of nerves, not the rookies, because they know what lies ahead. Writing, directing and editing a short film in a day is a rite of passage for film students and cineastes, a no-holds-barred panic of colliding visions, clashing egos and a deadline looming overhead like a guillotine blade.

At the opening ceremonies of the 24 Hour Orlando Film Festival, more than 50 filmmaking teams pack into a theater at Premiere Cinemas awaiting their marching orders. They'll be given a docket that tells them what genre they'll be working within, a line of dialogue they must work into the script and several props that must be visible in the film to ensure nobody works ahead of time. The films must come in at no less than three minutes, an eternity in shooting time. The cut-off time is 9 a.m. the following morning.

One of these teams calls itself Peace of Mind Films, and they live up to the name. Comprised of high-school sophomores and juniors, they begin their daylong crucible with level heads and affable familiarity. After grabbing their packet — it's comedy for them — they return to the Edgewater home of 17-year-old Jacob Bailes, plop themselves on a couch and throw out ideas at a mile a minute. Team leader Sam Link, only 15, is the most assertive of the bunch, and he eventually lands on an idea that revolves around a series of unfortunate events. But is it a comedy?

"I know exactly how to make this funny," smiles Gage Degeus, 17, an Ashton Kutcher doppelgänger who wants to be a writer. "The guy has no pants!" They run with it.

Bailes, a soft-spoken brooder who devours classic films the way other teenagers put away pizza, suggests flashy camera shots like a push-pull and the chest-mounted Snorri-cam Darren Aronofsky utilized in Requiem for a Dream. This is before the plot is even finished.

Ambitious locations earn a place on the day's shooting schedule: an airport, a bus station, possibly Amway Arena. By 11 a.m. they have a general idea of what the film will be and they take to the phones to notify their friends that they're now actors.

It's 5 p.m. — the "magic hour" just before sunset that every film production waits all day to take advantage of — and the guys have finagled their way onto the grounds of Showalter Flying Service, a nearby airplane maintenance company, to steal shots. Amazingly, they got their airport, or at least a close facsimile. They pack up, brazenly leaving a good 15-20 minutes of magic hour unfilmed. "We want to get an early jump on editing."

An hour later, they have one more shot to capture but the light has nearly completely faded. They hustle to a bus station but one of the actors gets lost. He arrives and then a train comes by, preventing audio recording. Daylight is gone.

Midnight. Thanks to a software snag, they haven't even begun importing footage into the computer to edit. At 1 a.m. they're ready to import and the computer says it will take about an hour. It gives the same estimation an hour later. Time is running out, but they remain confident, talking amongst themselves about the short films of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí. They have no idea how far ahead of the filmmaking game they are: shooting homemade films on weekends, competing in a filmmaking challenge without so much as a raised voice. Three more years of this and they'll be sleepwalking through these exercises.

For now, however, reality sinks in. They finish the short, and it's actually kind of funny, but it clocks in at two minutes, 30 seconds. They concede defeat, but not before discussing the plot of their next project, a film they're submitting to the Central Florida Film Festival in September.

"They'll go for that, right?" asks Link.


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