By Julie Lawrence Special to Published May 13, 2008 at 5:23 AM

The 48-Hour Film Project (48HFP) is, more or less, exactly what it sounds like. Last year, the international undertaking called on some 30,000 filmmakers in 55 cities to create a film on a strict 48-hour deadline. The mission of filmmaker Mark Ruppert's fast-paced project hatched in 2001: Get would-be filmmakers doing, rather than just talking. The tight timeline, he says, puts the pressure on the artists' creativity and teamwork skills.

Milwaukee Institute of Art and Deign grad Nick Waraksa, who is probably best known for his local fashion label Wounded Line, was one of eight members of a Milwaukee team called AURUM. The group produced "Weeds," a five-minute short that follows a heroine through a horticultural dreamscape for 2007's 48HFP.

"It's kind of intense," Waraksa remembers. "You show up on Friday night, they give you an envelope, you pick your genre out of a hat and they say, "OK, see you in 48 hours!"

Of 18 judged categories, "Weeds" took the prize for nearly half, winning Best Picture, Best Musical Score, Best Special Effects, Best use of Prop, Best Graphics, Best Sound Design and Audience Choice Honors.

The film then went on to compete against other states' and countries' winners, eventually becoming one of the top seven finalists in the world. This position awarded AURUM a screening at France's prestigious Cannes Film Festival, held this year May 14-15.

Each of the 38 participating teams in Milwaukee's 48HFP were assigned a series of requirements. The AURUM team -- which also included director Ken Kornacki, executive producer Nellie Hoffman, cinematographer Vince Ream, composer Jordan Waraksa, associate producer Kelsey Braun, illustrator Vasilena Slavova and actress Jean Chandler -- had to include a female character, a book, the words, "Mind if I have a seat?" and a Milwaukee monument. The genre they selected was "film de femme," a pseudo genre that the 48HFP producers invented for this year's project.

"This genre is specifically designed by the 48HFP to encourage strong roles for females in 48HFP film," the Web site explains. "A Film de Femme is a film featuring one or more strong female characters. Romantic comedies or "chick flicks" are included in this genre, but are only a subset."

"The first thing I did was call my friend Jean who I went to MIAD with and said, "Do you want to show up at midnight and be in a movie?" says Waraksa. "At the time she thought I was crazy, but now she's really happy she did it. I knew she'd be really great -- I figured there'd be a lot of physical expression without words going on and I knew she'd be comfortable doing organic movements and exuding the character's personality without looking at the camera or feeling silly."

"Weeds" is a visual narrative of a woman planting a garden of words and ideas -- "kind of like if you turned a book upside down and it spilled out and the words were what grew," Waraksa explains. His initial role was animator and the graphics vividly reflect his aesthetic as an artist, with his signature use of dark, nature-inspired graphics over soft, fluid imagery.

With the core visual concepts in place, Waraksa called on his brother, and musical cohort, Jordan, to secure the score. An almost melancholic violin sets the scene, with soft guitar and the accordion's gentle moan following suit. The results are justly beautiful and dramatic, and earned the group the award for Best Musical Score.

Despite his cinematic success, Waraksa says he'll remain the renaissance artist he's established himself as, victoriously dabbling in multiple media: music, motion graphics, photography and fashion, to name a few.

"My main thing for a while has been animation -- things for commercials and movie credits," he says. "I want to make art with my animation, since I do it mostly commercially. Back when I was in MIAD, I was always trying to make art out of my designs and a lot of people fought me on it, but I'm glad I stuck to it."

This year's 48HFP is underway. Teams that register before Monday, May 26 get an "early bird" registration price of $135; all others pay $155. Milwaukee filmmakers can register here.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”