Updated: Feb 9
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Intro: All right, welcome to the successful screenwriter podcast, where we are dedicated to anything and everything screenwriting. Here, we interview successful screenwriters and filmmakers to discover just what it takes to make it in the industry.
Geoffrey: Welcome to the podcast, we have an awesome guest on today. Emmy award-winning producer and director of the Michigan 48-hour Film Fest, Jennifer Gentner. Jennifer, thanks for being on with us.
Jennifer: Thanks for having me, this is awesome!
Geoffrey: I wanted to bring you on and discuss the 48-hour Film Fest. I think it’s really cool for screenwriters to do to dip their toes into the process and see all facets of filmmaking. Before we really dive into that, I want to get Jennifer’s origin story.
Jennifer: So how it all began? Okay, let’s see. Filmmaking has been something I’ve wanted to do forever; I just wasn’t really sure that I could. I actually worked in childcare for a decade and I did it because I was a single mom and it helped pay for everything. When I was working with kids and everyone would go down for a nap, I would always have a screenwriting book with me. When the kids were asleep, there’d be a little bit of light coming through, and I’d be holding my book up, trying to read and learn about how to write screenplays. This was a long time ago, that was probably 15 years ago or more. Then eventually, as my Dad got older, I decided to go back to school. I went to Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor and I studied digital video production. I went back to school with the intention of becoming [a filmmaker]. I was really interested in directing and writing, but then I really fell into producing. I learned a lot about producing. I started competing in the 48 [hour film fest] while going to school there. I was a competitor for about 8 years and I really learned how to produce, being on that team. That’s really where I learned how to do all of it. Eventually, I went back to school, to full-scale university, and got my bachelor’s degree.
Geoffrey: Wow, look at you. You really fell into it. You had the bug early.
Jennifer: I did.
Geoffrey: Going into the 48 as a screenwriter, what was your intent. Because I’ve done a 48 and I guess we should cover, real quick, the rules of a 48, in case anybody listening hasn’t really had the opportunity to be baptized in fire.
Geoffrey: Let’s go through the 48 film hours, first. Of course, you have 48 hours to shoot and complete a short film, but just walk us through the process real quick.
Jennifer: Usually, the Friday night before it all starts, we have a kick-off event where everyone will actually pull a genre. You don’t even know what genre you’re going to get; it could be anything from comedy to horror to fish out of water story to a political film. It just really ranges all over. You get a genre to write for, then we give you three elements: a character you have to use, a prop, and a line of dialogue. That’s how we know you’ve done it in two days. That’s how we get you. Then you go off and write everything, you shoot everything, and edit everything in two days, over that weekend. It’s intense.
Geoffrey: And you have people going to the wire, right? Editing while walking through the door about to turn it in.
Geoffrey: It’s intense. Luckily, on my end, I came in as a writer. A friend reached out and said, “Hey, let’s do this,” and I was like, “Sure, hell yeah! Why not? Sounds fun, I’ve always wanted to do a 48.” I was just on the writing end. I came in, we had our prop, we got drawn with a paranormal/witch horror film [genre], we had our line and the line didn’t make sense, so we had to fit that into the film. We got everything at 7 [p.m.] and we were up until 3 [a.m.] writing this thing. Everybody got up at 5 [a.m.] the next day and we were immediately shooting.
Jennifer: Absolutely, that’s actually a good schedule to be on. I’ve done it so many times, in my head, I had come up with this perfect schedule of how it would all go. Of course, I don’t think it ever worked out that way. But that would’ve been good, if you’re shooting by 5 [a.m.], that’s awesome.
Geoffrey: I don’t know, I was in bed. 48s are great and I recommend them to writers, other than getting baptized in that kind of a deadline, it’s great. When you are a writer, when you do pick up a gig, you are on a deadline. You are on someone else’s dime. With a 48, if you can prove yourself and do that, you should. The other thing is, you’re getting something made.
Jennifer: Oh my gosh, absolutely! That was actually one of my favorite things about it is you have something to show for it. There were a couple years over the last ten where, sometimes, the 48 was maybe the only thing I was able to make that year. But I felt good because it’s done, it’s complete. Sometimes people can work on their films/scripts, all of it, and it can take years.
Geoffrey: That’s the thing, I know writers that are just dying to get something made. They want to see their words spoken by an actor onscreen, and 48 is a great way to do it. It happens, you’ve got it, it’s on your resume, heck you even get the IMDb credit for it. Your work can even go on an international fest run if it’s good enough.
Jennifer: Absolutely! The cool part about 48 is we screen all the films, too, which is awesome. How many times do you get to write something and actually see it on the big screen? We always screen all the films that get turned in and then we have an awards ceremony: Best Screenwriting, Best Directing, Best Acting, we do it all. Then we have our Top 3 Films, but our Top Film will actually go onto Filmapalooza. The top films from the 130 cities that participate in the 48 will compete, then we take 10-15 films to the Cannes Film Festival in their Short Film division. It’s awesome, there’s potential to really have your stuff seen.
Geoffrey: With the Cannes trip, if you were involved as the writer or director, can you get a ticket to go?
Jennifer: Absolutely, yes.
Geoffrey: That’s amazing.
Jennifer: It’s great, anybody that wants to go can go. They can see their film shown in France, that’s amazing.
Geoffrey: I think it’s such a great tool for a screenwriter to take advantage of. The community alone, 48-hour people are beautiful people. They’re all sleepless, they’re all food deprived, they should be crabby and cranky, but they’re the sweetest people around. I was thinking, “How are these people so nice?” We’re all stressed out and everybody’s cheering for each other’s films. It is a really cool community, as a screenwriter, to infiltrate. One thing I do think, though, that is helpful is if you’re a screenwriter-director, it’s probably a little bit easier to get involved in the 48-hour community. You can get out there and start working both of those chops, and networking. It’s definitely something I recommend people get involved in. It’s all over the country, right?
Jennifer: All over the world. There are teams literally all over the world, in just about every continent. I don’t think there’s a 48 in Antarctica, not yet.
Geoffrey: You’ll start it.
Jennifer: I did go to Filmapalooza in 2019, it took place in Orlando, and I got the opportunity to meet a lot of the filmmakers and the other producers. I’m a little embarrassed to say, but I met people from countries I didn’t even know existed. I didn’t feel bad because they were like, “Where’s Detroit?” and I’m holding up my hand like they know what I’m even talking about. There’s a very small city in the Caribbean in Florida, we went down in March, and it was 60 degrees [Fahrenheit] in Florida. Here in Michigan, I had just left snow and 20-degree weather, so it was amazing. But [the people from the Caribbean city] are freezing because it was 90 degrees [Fahrenheit] where they’re from. I’m trying to explain where I’m from and they’re like, “No, we never want to go there.”
Geoffrey: That’s hilarious. When I went down to Florida, I was in my hoodie and thick jeans, and everybody else was in short crop pants and bright shirts. I was like, “Yep, I definitely stick out.” That’s funny, it’s very true. What kind of tips would you have for somebody going into a 48 if it was their first time?
Jennifer: My biggest thing that I tell everybody is just keep it as simple as possible. It’s very easy to get elaborate and you just don’t have the time. But some of the best stories take place just by keeping the story and location simple. I wouldn’t even do more than two locations, if possible. One of the best 48 films I saw took place inside a dumpster and it was hilarious. It just took place inside this dumpster and it was about a guy who was stuck in this dumpster with a dead man, but it was a dark comedy, and it was fantastic. I thought they really just utilized what they had, they just worked with it, and it was great. Definitely try to steer clear of too many elaborate locations and scenes. You don’t need too many people to even make this movie. I’ve been on teams where we had 40 people on the team.
Geoffrey: Wow, that’s a lot of people! That’s like a full crew.
Jennifer: It was a full crew. I think it was the first time I had been given the opportunity to really produce. It was a good experience for me to try to work with everybody, but I don’t always advise that for 48 teams. Focus on the story. The films that are winning are really story focused. Not to say they don’t have great cinematography, music, and costumes, I think those are great things to come along with it. But I feel like the ones that just have these really great stories, I would definitely say just keep it simple. For writers, especially. With the 48, although everything is done in two days’ time, you are allowed to do certain things beforehand: getting your locations, getting your actors, you can do that beforehand. Tell the writers, “We can film here, here, and here,” get them some pictures so they get an idea, and then have a list of your actors; what they look like, their ages; and that way you can actually write for what you have. Don’t start writing for things that are just not possible to get during that weekend.
Geoffrey: I want to touch on production value, for a second. One thing I noticed, when I was doing my festival/contest run, is you can have a script/film where the story maybe didn’t make sense; maybe the dialogue was a little bit dry; but the production value was through the roof and the cinematography was sharp. It was taking home awards when you were like, “These people didn’t even read their dialogue.” With a 48, it sounds a bit different, it sounds like just because you have a nice shot and production value, it doesn’t necessarily get rewarded. That’s nice.
Jennifer: We do love to see those things but, like I said, just use what you have. Some of these films have been shot on iPhones. You don’t have to have the best camera out there. A lot of people think, “I can’t afford to do this,” and that’s not the case at all. I think if it is very story driven, you use the equipment that you have. A lot of people are using DSLRs because they’re affordable. I think very rarely do we have extremely expensive cameras shooting these things.
Geoffrey: There you go, you’re hearing it from a director, if you’ve got to shoot it on an iPhone, shoot it on an iPhone. I actually saw one shot on an iPhone, and it was pretty decent, I was impressed. I didn’t know it, at first. … I saw a short 48 script I thought was fascinating, it’s about a guy laying in bed next to his girlfriend talking about how much he loves her. It’s two minutes of dialogue, then he pans over and she’s dead. … Then he goes to this photo album, shows all these pictures of all these girls, and he talks about he’s going to go find the next one he loves. I was disturbed by that, I remember driving home thinking, “Oh my god, how do you even go there, as a writer, in 48 hours and think, ‘I’m just going to write it this way’?” That got me thinking, have you had anybody prep a story ahead of time and try to fit it in in post after they get their genre and line drawn?
Jennifer: I have no doubt. Honestly, I think a lot of teams do that, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. How do you stop an idea from popping up? When I was competing, it would be all done, the weekend would be over, and I would swear for two weeks that I’m never doing another one because I’m exhausted. This happened every year. Two weeks, it was always “Never again! Never again!” Then someone would call and ask how it went and I’d respond, “It was fine, but I’m done. I’m out!” Then two weeks would pass, and I’d go, “What if we did it this way? What if we could’ve done that? We should’ve done that.” Then a year passes, you forget the pain, then you do it again.
Geoffrey: Sounds like childbirth.
Jennifer: I compare it to childbirth all the time! It’s so funny because that’s what I do. You forget about that, you have a baby, the time passes, and you forget what it’s like. Then you’re like, “Oh I’m having another baby!” then it’s, “UGH! I forgot about this part!” and you swear you’re never having another one.
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Jennifer: You can’t, after doing them for a while, think, “What about this idea or this idea?” You can’t control that. It’s very easy to come to the table with your writing partner, if you have a writing team during the 48, or if it’s just you, it’s hard not to think about some of those ideas you have beforehand.
Geoffrey: You drive stories mentally, but you’re not writing down 30 different scripts ahead of time, with different genres.
Jennifer: I would hope not. I think a lot of the fun of this is getting with your team and coming up with something fresh when working together. Because you just don’t know what you can think of. Maybe even by the genre, I hear a lot of team tell me, “That genre I got completely took me out of my comfort zone.” That’s the best thing that could’ve happened. Sometimes you get those genres, or you get those elements or a specific character, and you can’t help [but change your idea]. Even if you come in with an idea, I don’t think you can help but change that idea up and come up with something completely fresh by the time you’re done.
Geoffrey: I preach all the time to get out of your comfort zone, because that’s what forces you to grow as a writer, artist, or craftsman. This sounds like a perfect example of it, to just go in there, press your luck, and see what happens.
Geoffrey: It’ll force you to learn how to work with people. Obviously, it’s going to teach you how to take notes and collaborate. I don’t see anything bad coming out of it sans no sleep and more stress than you ever thought you could handle. You run the 48-hour in Michigan, there’s only one 48-hour in Michigan, you are the sole heir, you are royalty, madam.
Jennifer: It is me, it is only me!
Geoffrey: You’re doing a hell of a job.
Jennifer: Thank you.
Geoffrey: I’ve got to say, I think it’s great. This year, you adapted to COVID, which is not easy but we’ve all had to do it.
Jennifer: It’s true.
Geoffrey: You did a drive-in, right?
Jennifer: Yes, we did. We connected with Royal Starr Film Festival and we got to kick off their event by having our event. It was wonderful, I couldn’t have asked for better. It was fun!
Geoffrey: That’s great! The Royal Starr guys are awesome, they’re good people.
Jennifer: They really are, they’re absolutely wonderful. They were a huge help to me this year, and every year. We’ve always worked together since I became a producer, in one way or another, so they’re awesome.
Geoffrey: That’s good and I’m glad to see the 48 in Michigan is really thriving and you are driving that. That’s wonderful.
Jennifer: Thank you!
Geoffrey: With the 48, there’s obviously tons of benefits: getting your IMDb credit, getting collaboration, and possibly getting an award. Heck, you could even go to Cannes. I’m not seeing a lot of a downside. I run Script Summit, we have some sore losers here and there. In general, we have a strong community that cheers everybody on, and it moves my heart. Is the 48 pretty similar to that?
Jennifer: Yeah, I would say so. Most everyone is happy. When I took the position on, I talked with the last producer, who actually happened to be the guy that I learned how to produce from. He was our team leader when I was competing as a 48-er, Eddie Fritz. It just so happened to work out that way, and he talked to me about it and said there’s always a team who’s not really happy. I have found that each time I have one team who’s really really not happy.
Geoffrey: There’s always that one.
Jennifer: I get the brunt of it, of course, but I get it. It can be super disappointing because you put so much work into it, you work so hard, and you really feel like this is the one. It’s just hard because the competition is nuts. It’s so good, it’s blowing up. Not to say that there weren’t great competitors when I was doing it, I’m just saying it has improved immensely.
Geoffrey: That’s par for the course. With Script Summit, we had some good scripts coming in every year, and then this last year we had people winning by 0.1% It’s just insane, people are getting better. As your reach expands, you bring in more talent. It’s just how it happens.
Jennifer: It is.
Geoffrey: With that in mind though, it sounds like 48s are a great networking opportunity.
Jennifer: Absolutely! I think a wonderful example of that is, I’m doing projects of my own, I’m producing projects today that I am working with people I met on the 48. I met them doing the 48. I was doing a web series for quite a while and I teamed up with a girl I met when I was a location manager, and she was working props. We just got along really well, and before you knew it, we were producing a web series together. I am currently doing a podcast, myself, now.
Geoffrey: Oh, look at you! That’s awesome.
Jennifer: The guy that I’m doing it with, we met on my first 48 and he was our actor in just about every 48 after that. You never know who you’re going to meet when you’re working with someone on the 48. You just click with somebody and you’re off doing bigger things.
Geoffrey: I think that’s great. One thing I find with screenwriters is we tend to be a little introverted, so it can be hard for us to network. That’s a great opportunity to get in with the community, go and join a 48. If you can’t do it as a writer, because there happens to be a writer-director, then be a props guy and get on the team.
Jennifer: Absolutely! When I started doing this, that’s how people would [get involved], they just jumped on. “If I can help PA for a little bit, or if I can do props or location stuff.” Before you know it, you work your way up like you would anything else.
Geoffrey: You’ve done some shows. You were talking about your baking show, is that what you were talking about, the show you had started?
Jennifer: No, that is actually new, which I still have in the works. COVID has put a slight damper on a web series I created called The Adventures of Pammy Van Patton – Adult Child Pageant Star.
Geoffrey: That’s a great title!
Jennifer: Say that five times fast. We’d started filming that, we’d been working on that for a couple years, and it’ll be happening. The baking show, it’s called Improv Baking, it’s happening because of COVID. It’s me and my friend who is also an improv actress, Dorianne Jentzen, we do a show on Mondays at 5 o’clock where we go live.
Geoffrey: On Facebook?
Jennifer: On Facebook.
Geoffrey: Incredibly brave.
Jennifer: Right? Which is funny because she’s the actress and I am the behind-the-scenes person, so to be the sidekick on a live TV show is nothing I ever expected, but here we are.
Geoffrey: I know, being an Emmy award-winning producer, I love the fact that you’re out there making stuff. You’ve got a paranormal show going on, right?
Jennifer: I do, yes. I’m also currently working on a paranormal investigation show. We are working on a documentary that we’d like to lead into doing more series called Afterlife Encounters, where we are actually ghost hunting. It’s been a lot of fun, I’m not going to lie, it’s a little scary. Maybe a lot of scary.
Geoffrey: I can only imagine. Do you have all the gear, like the EVP?
Jennifer: I do, I have my digital recorders and my spirit box to communicate.
Geoffrey: Do you have a Proton Pack?
Jennifer: Absolutely, I’ve got my suit, too.
Geoffrey: That’s cool, what is it called, again?
Jennifer: Afterlife Encounters, and we’re currently working on the documentary.
Geoffrey: Do you have any final tips for 48-hours, going into screenwriting or anything like that?
Jennifer: Definitely, next year, sign up to be part of a team! That’s my number one tip. If you can’t quite find a team, and you just want to be a part of one, we have a Facebook group called The Detroit 48-Hour Film Project for cast and crew. If you are an actor/actress or writer, anybody is welcome to join the Facebook group. People can connect that way, Normally, when COVID is not happening, we do like to have mixers and meet-and-greets so people can connect that way with teams. Hopefully, next year it will be better, and we can get back to that. But this is a good way, you can still be at home, it’s safe and you can still network and connect with people. I encourage people to do that now, even though the competition isn’t until next summer, why not work and start meeting people? Do that now.
Geoffrey: There’s going to be people listening to this from all over the place, so when somebody wants to go into a 48, and they don’t have the connections, can they go on a website and get added into the shuffle where they could potentially get added onto a team?
Jennifer: You have to be part of a team before registering.
Geoffrey: That’s good to know.
Jennifer: Yes, so it is best. Honestly, once again, you don’t have to have a ton of people. I’ve been a part of a 40-person team, but I’ve also honestly done my best working on a three-person team. You don’t need too many people; it can be completely done even if it’s just you and a couple friends. If you want to register, our website is 48hourfilm.com, ours is 48hourfilm.com/Detroit. You can register and get more info that way, too. We’ve got a ton of info and it will tell you more. We’ve got the Facebook page for the 48-hour Detroit, which you can look up, specifically. If you’re looking to connect with people right now, in this time of COVID, the Facebook group for cast and crew is probably best.
Geoffrey: Sounds like that’s where it is. Get on that group, start mingling, and make those connections. Then you can whip out your guerilla-style 48-hour film with all of your “filming permits.” Well Jennifer, I’ve got to tell you thank you so much for being on. I was so excited to have you from the 48 on here.
Jennifer: Thank you so much for having me! This has been great.
Geoffrey: You have a good one!
Jennifer: Thanks, you do the same!
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