Two Las Vegas Brothers Share What It Takes To Make Multiple Award-Winning 48sWednesday, September 23, 2020
Jerry & Mike Thompson accept awards at the Las Vegas 48HFP (photos from Lightforge Studios Facebook page)
Jerry and Mike Thompson from Lightforge Studios in Las Vegas have won the Las Vegas 48HFP four times, and have produced multiple other film projects including two feature films. We caught up with them to learn a little more about their own background in filmmaking, and how it is that they're able to consistently make award-winning 48HFP films.
48: When did you do your first 48?
Jerry Thompson: After the 48HFP first came to Vegas, UNLV did a campus copycat thing. So, our first 48 experience was that one, and we won it two years in a row. Then we did the real one a couple times. I remember reading a story in a magazine about the original weekend in DC. It sounded really fun. We won three or four awards both times but didn't win best film. We were young and still pretty green.
We took a few years off, shot our first feature and started our own business. It's great that the 48 is open to the public but we weren't really quite ready to compete with the pros yet.
In 2011, I looked around our little fledgling studio and got the bug to do the Las Vegas 48HFP again. It's not all about winning or losing, but I'll be honest, at the time I sort of wanted our name on the list of people who'd won the 48. We'd gotten a lot better and I felt like we'd do more impressive work. So we did a short called “The Wrong Taco Shop” and won.
Then, I looked at the list of winners in Vegas and realized nobody had ever won it twice. So I thought maybe I wanted to try to be the first on that list. Then we did it again the next year and won again.
Then I thought, “man if we win three in a row, everybody will hate us.” We did it again and came in third and I was sort of glad. We haven't done it every year since but we've done it a lot. We've done the official, original 48 hour film project 8 times. We've won four times.
Watch the Las Vegas 48HFP Best Film winner from 2011, "The Wrong Taco Shop"
48: One of the hallmarks of your 48HFP films is the great dialogue. What's your secret?
Jerry: Sometimes the actors ad lib a little but it's mostly pretty scripted. We have a pretty tight knit team. We learned the first couple years not to invite too many people to the writing part. It just makes it weird.
But we have a pretty solid routine down. We stay up Friday night until we have a script we like. We sleep and then get up and get shooting. The goal is always to be shooting at 9 but we never get any shots off until noon or 1 if we're lucky. We have to gather props and all that. We try to be done shooting by 8 but sometimes we go until 10.
We've never shot anything on Sunday. We're pretty good about knowing what's doable. We stop shooting Saturday night. We always have three or four people edit. I personally get pretty useless at around midnight. I'd rather get up at 5am than stay up until 3am. My brothers, Mike and Scott, and our buddy Todd are all night owls so they stay up cutting a couple minutes each until we have a pretty solid cut done Saturday night.
Then I roll on Sunday morning to stitch the pieces together, if they haven't already, and give it a pair of fresh eyes and a little trim. I don't usually have to do a whole lot. I color correct it while we hand it off to our buddy Benton, who is a great audio post guy.
Good audio is so important, and it's something that almost never gets done on a 48. We've had our friends Eric and Jackson make custom music for the last few we've done too. They need time for that so we try really hard to have a picture lock by Sunday morning. We've done it the last three or four times.
48: Describe how you work together. How do you divide the work?
Jerry: We both direct. We both write. Some years it was sort of my idea we went with so I sort of take the lead on the writing, Other years it's more of Mike's idea so he does. Some years it's a real casserole of the whole room throwing stuff out there.
But once we're shooting Mike and I both direct. We both give thoughts and direction to the actors, but between shots, I DP and tend to sort of take charge of the lighting crew, and Mike minds the shot list, lets us all know what the next setups will be, and drives the day's schedule. So that works very well for us, and it's how our non-48 shoots end up, too.
48: Tell us about working with Piff the Magic Dragon's show in Vegas. How did that come about?
Jerry: We made a feature a few years ago where we ended up making friends with some pretty prominent comedy performers who were the hosts of Absinthe, a great show at Caesars Palace. They started introducing us around to a lot of really funny performers in Vegas. Lots of the clowns from Cirque de Soleil shows. Then one of those performers was in Piff's show at the Flamingo, and he introduced us.
So, we shot Piff's show a few times and did a few sizzle videos for him. He made a comedy special and we did a little supplemental shooting for that, too. Then when the TBS show Tournament of Laughs started he called us. Each week he had to win to stay in competition, and as soon as he found out he'd won we had only had a few days to make another video. So the 48 hour skills we'd developed really served us well. I think we delivered some pretty good work really fast.
48: How did the Tournament of Laughs work?
Jerry: It was a bracketed comedy competition, set up like a sporting event. Comedians had to make a video each week and then the audience voted one through. It was a single elimination thing.
The finals had a panel of judges. So the last round wasn't voted on by the public. The winner was chosen by a panel of comedians who'd competed. Piff (and our video) ended up winning the whole thing.
48: Explain how participating in the 48 has helped you as a filmmaker, and what tips would you give to filmmakers participating in the 48?
Jerry: The 48 really is incredible and has made us a lot better and more decisive. I love how it forces you to just shut up and make a movie. We've been saying "let's get started next month" on our own things for like ten years now.
Any tips I might have are all about time management. Stay up Friday until you have a script and then execute that script. Don't keep thinking about it. make a plan and execute it. Write something manageable that you can shoot in 8 or 9 hours, and stop shooting Saturday night with enough time to edit that night. And when you're writing you absolutely can't have more than two locations.
Anybody pitching something requiring lots of company moves needs to be politely told "that's a good idea but not a 48 idea." And then stop pursuing it in the writing part of the process. Shut ideas like that down.
But my main piece of advice, and I think maybe the thing that really has helped us do so well, is don't underestimate the editing time. I think most amateurs think making a movie is 'shooting a movie'. The editing is so important and it's where most people really fall down. You use all your time to shoot a thing and then one poor bleary eyed person hunched over a laptop is expected to slap it all together in a few hours Sunday afternoon.
My advice is have two or three people split up the editing so they each only have to cut two or three minutes. Then you have most of Sunday to work on sound and color and finish up any effects. You have to do that if you want a film that is polished.
48: What's your next project?
Jerry: We have two or three features we've been planning on doing. We're going to start one very soon. We have half a dozen shorts actively percolating too. We've been doing a lot of work for hire for other people, but Mike and I are really ready to do our own thing again.
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