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Top Five Reasons Why We Love Film Challenges

Hey gang! Andrew here…

Welcome back to Film Challenge Month at TwoJackets.com! Last week, we wrapped up our nine-part Film Challenge Retrospective series. If you haven’t had a chance to read through all of those articles, I highly recommend it. Together they form a detailed account of our most influential film challenge experiences so far, including all the mistakes made, lessons learned, and victories victor-ed! So go ahead, check ‘em out! I’ll wait while you get caught up.

All finished? Good! Now, you’re probably wondering - with all of the stress and frustration, the lack of sleep, the constant pressure of the clock, and the probability of failure - why do we continue to participate in these film challenges? What compels us to throw ourselves into this gauntlet time after time after time? 

Well get ready to have those questions answered! I’ve compiled the top five reasons why we love film challenges!

#1 - Embracing the Unknown

Going into a film challenge weekend, we don’t have a clue what kind of a movie we’re going to be making. We’ll assemble a team and pool together our available resources beforehand, but for what? We don’t know! And we find this very exciting! Going in with a blank slate means we’re truly making a film from idea to completion in just two days. That doesn’t allow any time for second guessing. We’re also likely to make something unlike anything else we’ve ever done before. I don’t think Two Jackets would have made films like Put a Ring on It or All Dressed in White in any other context, but I’m so grateful for those experiences. They allowed our creativity to manifest in exciting, unforeseen ways!

Actor Bill Dablow as former football star Reggie Thomas in  Put a Ring on It , our entry in the 2012 Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project. Drawing "silent film" as our genre that year required us to communicate a story entirely through visuals, which was an unexpected, but enriching experience.

Actor Bill Dablow as former football star Reggie Thomas in Put a Ring on It, our entry in the 2012 Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project. Drawing "silent film" as our genre that year required us to communicate a story entirely through visuals, which was an unexpected, but enriching experience.

#2 - Instant Gratification 

We get to make a film in just two days! A finished one! With a beginning, a middle, and an end! We don’t have a clue what it’ll be about, but we can tell you now, without hesitation, that we’re going to have a new short film ready for your viewing pleasure on Sunday, June 7, at the end of the 2015 Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project. Film challenges are minimum time commitment for maximum creative return.

We went into the 2013 Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project with an empty office and some chairs, and we came out the other side with  All's Chair in Love and War  - one of the oddest films in our oeuvre. I wouldn't have it any other way!

We went into the 2013 Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project with an empty office and some chairs, and we came out the other side with All's Chair in Love and War - one of the oddest films in our oeuvre. I wouldn't have it any other way!

#3 - Team Building

Film challenges bring people together! Back in our early college years, the Jackets participated in the National Film Challenge. Going into those first few events, we hardly knew the other members of our teams. However, we quickly learned that when you’re together with a bunch of people pushing their artistic abilities to both a mental and physical limit, friendships bloom! To this day, we continue to work with people we met back in those formative times and encourage each other as artists. In addition to these stalwarts, we try to bring in new collaborators on the cast and crew each year in order to add fresh voices to the mix. For this year’s event, we’re welcoming three new collaborators into the fold! We hope it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

Eric was very happy to team up with some of our favorite collaborators for the recording of "The Money Song" from our film  I Stole a Lot of Money! , which we made for the 2014 Four Points Film Project. From left to right: Eric, the foot of Emily King, Tyler Michaels, Reed Reimer.

Eric was very happy to team up with some of our favorite collaborators for the recording of "The Money Song" from our film I Stole a Lot of Money!, which we made for the 2014 Four Points Film Project. From left to right: Eric, the foot of Emily King, Tyler Michaels, Reed Reimer.

#4 - A Public Screening

The fun isn’t over after the filmmaking weekend. The film that you and your team created with your collective might, that you sprinted to complete, is going to be put up on the big screen in front of a living, breathing audience! This is a rare gift. Filmmakers aren’t used to seeing how their work affects people. We can put it online for an anonymous crowd, but that doesn’t provide the instant feedback of being there in person. Another unique aspect is the composition of that live audience. Almost everyone in the room with you, watching your film, has a film of their own to screen, made as part of the same grueling experience. And even with that great equalizer, those films are going to be so different from one another, even if their makers received the same assignment as you. This is a special experience that doesn’t happen at any other type of screening.

Team Two Jackets after the Best of Fest screening for the 2014 Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project. From left: Debra Berger, Eric Carlson, Andrew Neill (ME!), Katie Vannelli, Craig Larson

Team Two Jackets after the Best of Fest screening for the 2014 Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project. From left: Debra Berger, Eric Carlson, Andrew Neill (ME!), Katie Vannelli, Craig Larson

#5 - Community Involvement

Film challenges bring the members of a team closer together, but they also bring the teams of a community closer together. In Minneapolis, the city producers work hard to organize mixers and workshops ahead of the event weekend with the goal of forming new friendships and collaborations. At public screenings, filmmakers get together in the lobby before and after the show to commiserate and share their experiences. We’ve been participating in the Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project since 2012, and each year we make new friends and colleagues. Events like these make me realize that film isn’t only what goes into a production or what ends up on screen. The community forming around the art completes it, and we’re so glad to be part of it.

I snapped this shot of City Producer Austin Anderson at a recent mixer for the 2015 Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project.

I snapped this shot of City Producer Austin Anderson at a recent mixer for the 2015 Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project.

As I wrap this up, I’m going to cheat and add a sixth, overarching reason for why we love film challenges: They’re fun! We get to hang out with some of our favorite people, meet some new people, tell a story from scratch, try something new, and see our work on the big screen! For those who participate in film challenges, it’s easy to see only the blood, sweat, and tears going into them. However, when you take a moment to step outside the pressure and exhaustion bottled up in these weekends, and you see the creativity and community behind it all, then it makes sense. There’s so much heart and drive in it. This is why we love doing it. 

Andrew

Back from Filmapalooza - a belated summation

Hey folks! Andrew here...

Well, this is materializing much later than expected. Filmapalooza is already three weeks in the past, and I’ve been back home from LA for over two. Even so, I believe two or three more weeks could have passed, and my experience in California would still be as richly present in my mind as it is now.

If you need some catching up, I suggest you read my post from before the trip. If you don’t feel like doing that, I’ll summarize: we took first place at the Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project last June, which granted us an invite to screen at Filmapalooza, which is the international festival screening all 125 city-winning films, which was held at the historic Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Woot!  

Bit of additional background. This was the Jackets’ third time participating in the Minneapolis 48HFP, and our ninth time doing a time-based film competition like it. Yeah, you read that right. Nine. And we’ve done three since then - including Marcus’ one man show - bringing the total up to twelve. Apparently we like doing this sort of thing, whether we come home winners or not.

That being said, it felt really good to finally take home the gold last year. The invitation to Filmapalooza felt like the whipped cream on top of an already very tasty pie. (I’m more of a pie guy than a cake guy.) I was our sole representative at the event, while Eric and Marcus were busy being adults with many very important things to do (or something). I missed them dearly, but I’m really glad I made the trip. I only saw a quarter of the 125 films screened, but what I saw made the trip worth taking.

I’ll get to the films I saw in a bit. Let’s first talk about Keeping Up with the Cloneses - the film that got us there. The film screened at the Chinese Theater on Saturday, February 28th, during the noon block. I was really excited going into the screening, and the packed theater cranked that up to eleven. Previous screenings of the film have boosted my confidence in its performance, and this time didn’t disappoint. The audience response was better than any screening before it. Every joke hit. When the lights came up, filmmakers were asked to stand up and introduce themselves and their film. When I said I directed Cloneses, the room erupted.

For the rest of the weekend, I was approached by folks who saw the film and loved it, which led to some great conversations. I met people from all over the country - Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Antonio, Seattle - and the world - Cairo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Osaka, Ottawa, Rotterdam, Tirana. While we didn’t win any additional awards for the film - though we got another trophy for our effort - the people I met and response the film received were affirmation enough.

During the Best of the Best screening on Sunday, March 1st, any consternation around Cloneses’ absence quickly evaporated. That screening made me reconsider what is possible to create in two days. Most of the chosen films were dynamite. If you have a few minutes to spare - especially if you’re a filmmaker and previous 48HFP participant - I highly recommend clicking this link and watching the nominated and winning films. I’ll specifically call out Tarot, I-Charon, Symptomes d’Amour, These Dirty Words, KISMET, That Kind of Love Story, and Stoorzender. They’re truly inspiring. They sparked that hunger in me - the drive to be a better filmmaker. Meeting and talking to many of their creators fuelled that hunger further. There was so much passion present. It was a powerful reminder of why I do this.

The rest of my LA trip was also a powerful reminder, or more so a series of reminders with a common theme. I was made aware once again that I am so profoundly fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time after high school. The people I met in the film and theater departments at MSUM continue to sustain a strong community of support, friendship, passion, and trust, despite the space between us and the time that has passed. I’ve been out of college for nearly five years now. These days, my primary form of correspondence with most of my classmates is a passing Facebook comment. It’s easy to forget that a simple phone call can lead to a full evening of reminiscing, dreaming, scheming, discussion, and stupid jokes, old and new. Simple kindnesses become boundlessly enriching. Such occasions, so easily taken for granted, serve as signposts once considered. They remind me of the many right decisions in my life. With them in mind, I hope I can, in spite of fear and uncertainty, continue to make decisions that lead me to people like those I’ve found so far.

Until next time...