As Austin Nuckols, ’15, sat in the Byrd Theatre on a Friday night in July, he had no idea what to expect. He only hoped he would be able to handle the pressure the next two days would bring. Nuckols, a music major and member Richmond’s improv group Subject to Change, joined several other Subject to Change members to compete in the Richmond 48 Hour Film Project.

The 48 Hour Film Project is an international traveling film festival and competition that invites local teams to create a film from start to finish in two days. Participants are all given a line, a prop, and a character that they must include. Each group also draws a genre, which could include thriller, sci fi, comedy, mockumentary, or musical or Western.

When a team draws musical or Western, most avoid the musical genre, opting to make a Western instead, because of the extra effort required to write and perform songs.

However, when Nuckols’s team drew musical or Western, he immediately knew it was fate. “Almost everyone in our group could sing and it had been a dream of mine for a while to write a musical,” he says. “We were the group that was meant to do the musical.”

After much discussion, the group agreed with him, and Nuckols set out to compose songs for a film that didn’t exist yet, but that would include a door-to-door salesman, a flashlight, and the line, “Why am I always first?”

Within two hours of receiving their charge, Nuckols had written the melody for the three songs that would appear in their finished film. He spent a few more hours collaborating with his team members to create lyrics that would fit the plot of their film.

The rest of the weekend passed in a whirlwind of sleeplessness. He worked overnight creating the orchestrations for the songs and recording a backing track for the actors to use when they filmed their scenes. On Saturday, while the actors were filming, Nuckols was holed up in the University’s Perkinson Recital Hall with his musicians recording all of the background music that appears in the film. Sunday, the group edited the film together and breathed a collective sigh of relief at their accomplishment.

Though the process was exhausting, Nuckols found it to be relatively stress-free, which he attributes to the group’s improv background. “In improv, we’re always taught to say yes when we’re in the middle of a scene,” he says, “So when we were creating the movie, we didn’t reject any ideas and instead tried to find ways to work with them and use them.”

Their finished film, a seven-minute musical titled Birth of a Salesman, tells the story of a young twenty-something guy trying to make ends meet after college. After his friends mock his chosen banking profession as “selling out,” he meets a tap-dancing hobo who convinces him to embark on a career as a door-to-door salesman.

After Nuckols saw the final film, he says, “I couldn’t believe what we had accomplished in such a short amount of time.” Birth of a Salesman was screened at the Byrd at the conclusion of the competition, as one of the top 10 films of the 50 entries. It received honors for Best Writing, Best Choreography, and Nuckols’ music was awarded Best Score, which he describes as “an honor.”

Nuckols, who has been composing music since his junior year of high school, credits his success in composition to the support and encouragement he has received from the music department faculty. “Richmond has helped me progress in terms of my musicianship and by encouraging my creativity,” he says. “When you have an idea, they help you make it a reality.”