Film Challenge Retrospective: Put a Ring on It

Howdy, Jacketeers! Welcome back to! This is Andrew writing...

I’m gracing you with my presence at the moment to continue our Film Challenge Month retrospective with a peek back at the making of Put a Ring on It, our first ever entry into the Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project.

Put a Ring on It and the 2012 48HFP were an important step for the Jackets. The project kicked off the second chapter of our filmmaking journey by representing many firsts. It was the first film we made after graduating from college, moving away from Moorhead, and finishing our first feature, Limpwings. It was also the first time all three Jackets were doing a 48 together! We were anxious to get back into the game and explore the mythic filmmaking frontiers of our new home, Minneapolis. 

The Jackets roles were as follows: I directed, Marcus wrote and acted, and Eric edited. Joining us behind and in front of the camera were mostly returning collaborators (Kendra Cashmore, Erin Granger, Craig Larson, and Ashley Somphet from 3rd West Ballard; Bill Dablow from A Lutefisk Western; Reed Reimer from Limpwings) and one fresh face, Adam Brant, as our DP. (If you’re in LA and reading this, hire that Brant guy.)

Let’s roll the tape…

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Hubba-what? Whoa! Wait a minute! What’s the deal, Neill? I mean, that was hysterical and cute and amazing and all, but you just made me watch 7 minutes of people flapping their mouths without any words coming out!”

I know, I know. And I feel ya. It’s different and definitely a little scary. I’ll openly admit, I had a similar reaction when we received the following requirements:

Character: R. Thomas, Athlete
Prop: A ring
Line of Dialogue: “Gurgle-fritz doodle-bob?” Erm, I mean: "Have you been here before?"
Genre: Silent Film

I very clearly remember the moment I drew that little slip of paper out of a hat and read, “Silent Film.” My stomach sank and a curse escaped my lips. From where I stood on this earthly plane, I could hear the Film Challenge gods cackle in their golden sky-halls.

I immediately called Marcus. This was the first time Eric and I had him onboard to pen a 48 script, and we were now faced with a wordless film. We also had Bill Dablow shipped all the way down from the Northernmost Dakota, and he wouldn’t be able to deliver a single line with his angelic voice! When Marcus picked up, I told him what I drew and how I was worried about it. I mean, we’re Two “Talkie” Jackets Productions. We rely heavily on our dialogue. Taking that out of the equation would cripple us, wouldn’t it? I could risk drawing a wild card genre as a replacement. What could possibly be worse than silent film?

With all that spinning in my mind, how surprised I was to hear Marcus say from the other side of the line, “Let’s try it,” and my own reply (as my stomach suddenly arose from the floor), “Okay.”

In his Mostly Attractive Monsters article, Marcus focused on an important subject: playing to your strengths. When we decided to go with silent film as our genre that weekend, I initially believed that we were abandoning one of our greatest strengths. What I was forgetting in that moment is that we had many other skills to use - most importantly, our comedic sense and focus on story. Sure, we’d lose dialogue, but we’d still have every other tool to draw upon, including performance, picture, editing, and our knack for using those things together to tell a great comedic story. 

It was definitely an experiment, and a challenging one at that. Any time we saved from not having to worry about sound, we lost while figuring out how to best communicate our story without it. (That and travel time. This was the last year we filmed in more than two locations.)

This experimental route was aided by another monumentally important factor. Up until the 2012 48HFP, I had approached these challenges with a hunger for victory. I entered each contest with my eyes set on the top prize - the best of the best. In 2012 I made a conscious decision to stop thinking like that. I’d participated in enough film challenges at that point to know that that mentality led only to undue stress on the team and myself. Before the kickoff that Friday, the team got together and I told them outright that winning the city competition would not be our goal that weekend; it would be about having a fulfilling experience and doing our best work to tell a great story. 

This perspective paid off. We labored hard that weekend, but we did so together in service of a story we believed in. I watch the film now and see so many moments that I love - the opening introductions with the football card titles, Dr. Pepsi-Coke (no such thing), the pop-up equations, the fridge portal (no such thing), the stupid-adorable meet cute, Marcus shoving a whole banana in his mouth, Craig shamelessly ogling Kendra’s tush, the ZOOMS - all these things emerged from a positive, supportive collaboration. 

Seeing this, the Film Challenge gods must have stopped cackling and started smiling down on us. Two weeks after the shoot, we unexpectedly found ourselves at the Best of Fest, and at the end of that night, the film had won awards for Best Score (Reed), Best Editing (Eric), and Second Runner Up Overall (Yay, Team!).

This was huge for us. There we were, recent college grads at the beginning of our careers, receiving a warm welcome from the community we had just entered. The recognition alone would have felt good, but recognizing the path we took to get there made the experience amazing. It reminded me why I’m in it for the long haul, and what the right reasons are. 

We didn’t squander that warm welcome either. Put a Ring on It paved our way into the local film community. We met other participating filmmakers during the 2012 events and began building a network that continues to grow and strengthen to this day. The team we assembled that weekend continues to collaborate in various ways, too, or long for the next opportunity to do so.

I really hope you enjoyed Put a Ring on It! Check back later this week to hear the stories behind our entries into the 2013 and 2014 Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Projects, as we make our way closer and closer to this year’s event.