Film Challenge Retrospective: After Hours

Hey there, true-believers! Eric here.

As part of Two Jackets' Film Challenge Month, we will be sharing our stories about timed filmmaking competitions gone-by.  Andrew, Marcus, and I have been participating in film challenges since we were in film school. Back in those days, the Film Department at Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM) participated in the National Film Challenge (now the Four Points Film Project) and pitted teams made up of students from freshmen to seniors against one another in a 48 hour-style elimination-round competition. The films that were made in this setting were judged by the faculty and local experts, and the winning project was entered into the worldwide competition.

The film I'd like to talk about is one I've never shared before. In my senior year at MSUM (2009), I was chosen as a team leader and director for "Team Lethal Projection," and we made a little film called After Hours. It didn't involve Andrew or Marcus (Andrew was directing his own project, and Marcus was living in Toronto) but it did feature our good friend Sarah Palm (3rd West Ballard, Hide My Thunder) in the lead role. Here it is!

Look at that glorious standard definition! The required elements for this film were:

Character: Jordan Gordon, Systems Analyst

Line of Dialogue: "This could get very complicated"

Prop: a Bicycle

Genre: Buddy Film

Working on these projects in college was really the crucible that forged our love for film competitions. Back in those days, absolutely everything was done collaboratively and democratically. Every member of the team remains intensely  involved through the entire weekend - from the idea phase to final delivery. In my role as director, I served more as a team leader than as a creative voice. I did what I could to make sure all members of the team were engaged throughout - getting an opportunity to use their own creative voices in whichever role they were assigned to. It gave us a chance to work closely with a lot of different people very early in our development as filmmakers. It ends up being a great exercise in building trust and developing friendships that have served us well in the years since.

I remember the brainstorming session for After Hours very clearly. We got access to the Graphic Communication department’s computer lab for the night and spent several hours writing ideas on the whiteboard, with all ten members of the team contributing ideas and feedback until we had the basis for a concept we all liked. The brainstorming process was really about crafting a story based on resources we had access to. Having a team member with access to an empty office building gave us a great location for our heist film. We also cast our friend Mike Stromenger who, in addition to being a talented performer, worked as the equipment manager at MSUM, meaning we had easy access to the school's small studio space, doorway dolly, and lighting resources. The thing I really took away from this process is how important it is for the director and writer of a project to guide this discussion. If you're brainstorming in a group, it's very easy to get sidetracked, following ideas that aren't productive and unattainable. At a certain point, somebody just has to say, "that idea for a wizard battle on the top of the library is great, but not for this project." After the writers began writing, we started making phone calls, assigning actors, and making team t-shirts!

  LOOK AT THOSE GREAT SHIRTS.

LOOK AT THOSE GREAT SHIRTS.

We didn't get a lot of sleep (although I overslept on Saturday, which, by the way, is not a great method for inspiring confidence in your group) but every member of the team remained engaged throughout the filmmaking weekend and were given a chance to flex their creative muscles. We didn't win the competition, but I consider After Hours a huge success. Plus, we have t-shirts dammit.

Here at Two Jackets, we’ve learned a lot about film challenges and team management over the years. We’ve changed our methods since college, favoring a brainstorming process that just involves a few people to develop the story, but we’re always working to keep our team members involved creatively, so that they feel they aren’t just working on someone else’s film. It’s a difficult task, and we haven’t always succeeded in these regards, but our time spent in that formative crucible taught us a lot.