ashley somphet

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.


Film Challenge Retrospective: Level Up

Hey all, Eric here again!

As part of Film Challenge Month at Two Jackets, we’re telling war stories from 48s gone by! You may have seen my retrospective about After Hours, my first directorial effort in a film challenge, earlier this week (and if you haven’t, you should check it out). This is part two of our retrospective series, and it’s all about Two Jackets Productions’ first official entry into our favorite annual filmmaking competition, the 48 Hour Film Project. It’s called Level Up and it was made as part of the 2009 48HFP in Fargo, ND.

I was the team's director, and I learned a LOT about what not to do in a timed competition that weekend. We had a great team assembled, with Andrew producing, oft-collaborators Joey Kramer and Max Heesch joining up as general crew and writer/editor respectively, and our good friends Ashley Somphet (3rd West Ballard) and Parker Shook serving as our leads. This was, unfortunately, while Marcus was living in Toronto, so he was not involved. It's an adventure of a film that had us running around all over Fargo and taught us a lot about how to produce a 48. This is the first time we've posted Level Up publicly, so please give it a watch!

What an adventure! These were the required elements for this competition:

Character: Nicole Nelson, Pizza Restaurant Employee

Line of Dialogue: “You gotta give me something to work with.”

Prop: a laptop computer

Genre: Fantasy

Level Up really showcases how interested we are with injecting sci-fi and fantasy elements into normal, everyday sorts of stories. It’s something that has appealed to us from early on and continues to show its face in everything we do (see: You Only Die Once!, Keeping Up with the Cloneses, Hide My Thunder). Watching it now, I find Level Up very funny, but for a lot of strange reasons. Complex gags, like the fantasy-world-transplant character living in her best friend's basement unbeknownst to him, tickle me right in the funny-parts. However, I can't believe we bothered to shoot an extensive sequence about it considering it has no real consequence in the story.

Lack of focus was this film’s undoing. The brainstorming session was harried by too many cooks in the kitchen, which caused us to produce a script that called for entirely too many locations for a film intended to be shot in just a few hours. The brainstorming took so long, in fact, that Max, our writer and editor, was typing away on the script until the wee hours of the morning. This lack of sleep on Friday night meant that he wasn’t ready to start editing until late Saturday afternoon (a guy’s gotta sleep sometime). And since we were running around all over town shooting until very late Saturday night, the rest of the crew was unavailable to assist with post-production until late Sunday morning. It’s a prime example of how a slow start can have profound consequences on the rest of the weekend. Even with Max splicing away until very early Sunday morning, and Joey providing a few hours of relief editing throughout, we just couldn’t make up that lost time from Friday night. It all came down to the wire.

And we missed it. At just a few minutes before the turn-in time, our deliverable DVD finally finished burning (this was before the glory days of turning in video files via flash drive), and we recklessly sped to the drop-off location. We arrived fifteen minutes late. We were crushed.

The Fargo 48HFP people did screen our movie, which was great, but under the "Late Entries" category, meaning we had been disqualified. This didn't just feel bad because we weren't eligible for awards, but because we had a team of a dozen people working with us all weekend, and we didn't even do them the honor of finishing the project on time. It sucked for the whole team, and I felt completely to blame. It really goes to show how important it is to keep things simple, and above all, to have a finished product done on time, even if it's not as polished as you'd like it to be. Know your workflow before you begin, and know how long Final Cut is going to take to export a DVD (of course, most 48HFP competitions won’t even accept DVD submissions anymore, thank the gods).

Level Up was a filmmaking adventure that showed us that it's possible to overreach in the fevered pitch of brainstorming. We ran all across the city shooting complex sequences, and due to an underdeveloped editing strategy, ended up missing our deadline.