Almost Famous Film Festival Challenges Phoenix Filmmakers in Its 10th Year

The crowd watches the top 20 short films made in a past A3F challenge.
The crowd watches the top 20 short films made in a past A3F challenge.
Brandon Sullivan

If you're looking to flex your filmmaking muscles or catch some of the Valley's up-and-coming movie talent, look no further than the Almost Famous Film Festival. The local nonprofit, founded by brothers Jae and Kai Staats, is celebrating its 10th year in challenging local film teams to make movies in 48 hours.

With scholarship programs and free workshops, the A3F is much more than just a bi-annual event. Jae Staats explains his favorite parts of the event, what his goals are for the organization and what he's looking forward to when teams will take the 48-hour challenge again this year from February 14 through 16.

See also: 50 Things We Learned From the 2013 Year in Movies

It all started when the Staats brothers entered a similar filmmaking competition 10 years ago. After seeing how the event was planned, run, and judged, they decided they could improve on it and six months later the Almost Famous Film Festival hosted its first event. This year, more than 70 teams from around the Southwest will have two days to completely conceptualize, script, rehearse, film, and edit their three- to seven-minute movies in hopes of gaining a spot in the top 20.

As the largest film challenge event in the area, it attracts a wide range of first-timers, professionals, and students from all different walks of life. Jae says they've had teens place in the top 20 and even grandparents and young children enter. After 10 years, 21 challenges, and more than 1,000 films made, he says his intention for A3F as an organization has shifted.

"At first it was just to put on a really good festival," he says. "My goal now is to provide challenges and events and festivals that allow filmmakers to grow and get better."

Staats believes the event accomplishes this in the time restraint, but also in the additional challenge to include a specific theme, line of dialogue, and prop in films, which also ensures teams don't start ahead of time. Past props include a piece of paper that has to be crumpled, themes like miscalculation, and dialogue like "I can't believe it worked." Staats tries to make these additional guidelines easy to incorporate in a number of styles of film without being corny.

Though this year's guidelines haven't been decided yet, the judging categories always include acting, script, technical (camerawork, etc.), use of guidelines, and entertainment value. With all this in mind, entrants then have two days to make it all work, often leading to a lot of last-minute panic as the 48 hours comes to a close.

"It's one of the craziest things I've ever seen," Staats says. "Within the last 10 minutes you have 40 to 50 people running down the street to turn their films in."

In the past, competitors have thrown discs out of moving cars to attempt to make the deadline, jerry-rigged their computers to car batteries to keep the power flowing, and even just attempted to turn in their computers with a finished film. Although the process is meant to be fun in itself, bragging rights go to the talented 20 who get to see their films screened in a real movie theater, which Staats says is his favorite part of the whole event.  

Past winners get bragging rights, but the real fun is in the challenge.
Past winners get bragging rights, but the real fun is in the challenge.
Heather Hoch

As the only event of its kind to use a real theater in its screening, Staats says the crowd's enthusiasm and the filmmakers' excitement makes the Almost Famous Film Festival a unique experience. Not to mention just knowing that 500 or 600 people making films all at once all around the state.

However, A3F isn't just about these events, which happen every February and October. Early this year, the organization awarded two local students $1,000 tuition grants for school and Staats even has his eyes on opening a media center for local filmmakers to seek guidance and access to equipment. A3F also hosts free workshops and mixers for anyone to attend, but all this is almost entirely funded by registration fees and ticket sales to the film challenge events.

Luke Hansen has participated almost every year since A3F started, garnering the most wins and becoming an audience favorite. He says he keeps coming back to the event because it allows him to use his competitive nature in filmmaking and expects this year to be especially challenging.

"We'll probably get a lot more teams this year since it's in its 10th year," Hansen says. "I think the competition will be pretty high, which will be exciting."

His advice to first-time competitors is to really focus on each element of the judging categories to present the strongest final product possible.

f you're interested in participating in the Almost Famous Film Festival challenge February 14 through 16, you can register online at the organization's website or at the launch party on February 14 at 7 p.m. You can also view what the top 20 filmmakers made in two days at the public screening event February 27 at AMC Arizona Center. For more information on both events, please visit A3F's website.

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