Fight Scene | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Fight Scene

It took just 48 hours for local filmmakers to create entries for the Pittsburgh 48-Hour Film Project last month. It took only slightly longer for Oscar-style scraps to break out over the contest's winners.

More than 100 posts on the competition's Web site ( turned what was supposed to be a lighthearted blog into a venue for anonymous gripes directed at organizers, judges and other competitors.

From Aug. 3-5, 28 teams and more than 280 filmmakers raced to finish a four- to seven-minute short film for a chance to win "Best of Pittsburgh" and move on to compete nationally [See City Paper, "Against the Clock," Aug. 8 and "Big Winners in 48-Hour Film Festival," Aug. 16]. For the contest, each group had to pick a genre out of a hat, and filmmakers were required to use a given prop, line of dialogue and local landmark in their film.

Event producer Rick Frisco and co-producer Jay Kuntz both say the competition was a success, but according to Mathew Schmidt, a filmmaker who participated in the competition, "There were a lot of legitimate complaints."

Schmidt says he made a couple of blog posts contesting one film's adherence to genre. In an Aug. 17 e-mail to Frisco, Schmidt also included a number of other complaints about rules being broken and questions about how the event was judged.

Schmidt says Mike Productions' film, "Heart Failure," which was supposed to be a road film, didn't remotely resemble a film in that genre. ("There wasn't a single spoken reference to taking any kind of trip or traveling a great distance," one blog post griped.) Still, it won four awards and earned runner-up for "Best of Pittsburgh."

"It was just kind of insulting that they shamelessly threw in shots of cars," says Schmidt, a member of Lot25, maker of the film "Whittaker's War," which won two awards. "It just seemed like a slap in the face to everyone else who adhered to the rules."

Schmidt also questions whether "Heart Failure" was completely written and produced within the 48-hour time frame. Official contest rules state that the entire filmmaking process -- from writing the script to editing the final footage -- had to take place within 48 hours.

Michael Savisky, co-producer of Mike Productions, says his team didn't break any rules, and that the road trip was "inherent in the backbone of the film."

Savisky considers the criticism his team has received as a "funny, offhanded compliment. It seems like some other groups were surprised that we did so much in a weekend."

According to Savisky, his team prepared for the competition a few weeks before the start of the contest by picking genres out of a hat and writing scripts to meet them, much like they would have to do in the real competition.

"We were encouraged by [Frisco] in e-mails before the event to brainstorm ideas," he says.

That was news to Schmidt, who says he wasn't aware that story ideas could be devised before the start of the competition. It wasn't until after the competition that Schmidt says he received an e-mail from Frisco saying that brainstorming was acceptable.

"Where the hell did this whole 'you can write 10 scripts and then select one' shit come from?" Schmidt wrote in an e-mail to Frisco after the competition. "My mind was blown when you sent out that e-mail."

"There is nothing wrong with having ideas," says Frisco, a freelance producer and film and video teacher at West Mifflin High School. "That's just being prepared. Whenever you pick your genre, you're going to have to change the script anyway."

Frisco says there was a meet-and-greet held about two weeks before the competition, where he went over all the rules and told teams that brainstorming was allowed. He says about half of the teams showed up. He doesn't remember who he sent e-mails to, but he says they may have been sent on an individual basis before the contest started.

The judging panel was also scrutinized after Frisco announced to the awards-screening audience that one judge told him that he "was not qualified" for the position.

"Why would you tell a room full of filmmakers that they are being judged by someone who is not qualified?" asks Schmidt.

Frisco says he was just trying to convey the humility of judge Scott Burkett, an executive sales and marketing consultant for Hughie's Audio-Visual Productions.

"It just got misconstrued and turned around," he says. "[Burkett] has an extensive background in television production."

But Burkett was not, he admits, first choice for the panel. There were a few other candidates who couldn't participate because of "time constraints," Frisco says. Night of the Living Dead producer Russ Streiner and award-winning producer Amy Lamb were the two other contest judges.

Schmidt says Frisco should have searched for a more qualified judge at one of the city's film schools. "I just would've liked to see a judge that wasn't a sales executive," he says.

For some filmmakers, complaints have clouded the success of the event, and the hard work of organizers.

"I find it really ridiculous that they're criticizing [Frisco and Kuntz] when they were trying to do something good," says Ephraim Stockwell, director of Aloomination Productions. "These controversies are nit-pickings from people who didn't win."

For Frisco, who plans on producing next year's competition, 2007 was a learning experience.

"Some great ideas came out of the hoopla from the 'Best of' screening," he says. "Some complaints were really good points, some were totally off the wall. But it's the first year. You learn a lot."