craig larson

Film Challenge Retrospective: All Dressed in White

Hey ghouls and goblins! Andrew here…

Things are about to get a touch spooky and a tad scary here on TwoJackets.com! For this penultimate entry in our Film Challenge Month Retrospective series, I’m going to reminisce back to October 2014, when Two Jackets participated in the first-ever Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Horror Project and brought our film, All Dressed in White, to life!

Horror movies require moody BTS photos. From left to right: Joe Filipas, Rachel Palashewski, Erin Granger.

Horror movies require moody BTS photos. From left to right: Joe Filipas, Rachel Palashewski, Erin Granger.

The 48 Hour Film Horror Project was Two Jackets’ third film challenge of 2014 (and it wouldn’t be our last)! For our roles on this project, I directed, Marcus wrote and assistant directed, and Eric was mysteriously absent - perhaps off chasing a man-beast with an insatiable hunger for the most bizarre of cuisine. In order to fill the Eric-sized hole in our hearts, we assembled the largest team we’d ever assembled for a film challenge. I’d list every one of our team members’ beautiful names here, but I’m feeling rigor mortis set in. You’d best just watch the film (available online now for the first time!) and stay through the credits...

As long as we’ve been participating in these film challenges, I’ve longed to draw horror as our assigned genre. When the announcement went out that Minneapolis was to host its first-ever all-horror 48 hour film challenge, I was thrilled! This meant that every genre we could draw would be a subgenre of horror. My dream of horror (very different from a nightmare) was about to come true!

I devoured short horror films before the event weekend. I wanted to learn all the in’s and out’s of what made a short horror film successful. I took extensive notes, listing what techniques worked and what didn’t. I had extensive conversations with Marcus and our frequent collaborator and friend, Craig Larson, about the elements that worked best for each of us. By the time the event weekend arrived, I felt comfortably prepared for the challenge ahead. At kickoff we were assigned the following elements:

Character: Eileen or Ethan Diness, Caterer (this threw us for a loop)
Prop: A broom
Line of dialogue: “Never again”
Genre: Asylum/Insanity

The production of All Dressed in White is an example of how one can go into a 48 with plenty of preparation, experience, and a cracker-jack team in tow and still make a ton of mistakes.

In the retrospective articles for Mostly Attractive Monsters and Put a Ring on It, we’ve well covered an important lesson: play to your strengths. Going into the Horror Project, I had discussed with Marcus and Craig that I wanted to make something truly scary. However, although I had done plenty of research, the execution of effective horror techniques was still uncharted territory. Two Jackets had never made a straight-up horror film before. We were willingly venturing into the unknown, accepting failure as a possibility.

A 48 hour film challenge is not the most forgiving environment for experimentation. Making Put a Ring on It, a silent film, in 2012 was definitely an experiment, but we were drawing on many other strengths to supplement the sacrifice of sound. For that project, we were wise to hold fast to the storytelling voice we’d previously established, losing the dialogue but keeping familiar elements as well as our unique perspective through which we’d filter the story.

With All Dressed in White, I struggled to reconcile the established Two Jackets voice with the darker material we had developed. The result feels inconsistent. My intention was to make something tense and discomforting, but the film’s perspective isn’t subjective enough to really place the viewer in the situation. As a result, the characters’ goals seem unclear, the tense beats are missed, and the moments of relief feel too frequent. The Two Jackets sense of humor, most apparent in the film’s finale, then arrives abruptly without any proper setup. Transitioning between tones in a 6-minute short film is tricky and, when you only have 48 hours to make that film, ill-advised.

The experience of working with a large team to make this film also taught me a great deal about communication on a film set, which is always essential, but even essential-er during the rush of the 48. I made a grave communication misstep early in this production that put us behind for the rest of the weekend.

Since we had more hands on deck than usual, I made the decision to dress the set more than we’d ever previously done. When we arrived on location Saturday morning, we made a list of set and costume items, and I sent a team out to procure them. My mistake was in not establishing a clear deadline or budget for this run. While the budget didn’t end up being a concern, the deadline most certainly was. The production design team didn’t return until close to 1pm, and with the subsequent dressing of the basement location, we weren’t shooting until nearly 3pm.

Due to the increased stress of the late start, I felt off-balance for most of the shoot. Directing requires a great amount of focus, and the stress of the day’s mistakes was clouding my focus and ability to tell the story as best as I could. I was already facing the increased difficulty of an unfamiliar genre and new techniques, and I now had far less time to work through those challenges. I was so pleased with the drive of the team once the camera began rolling, but in hindsight I can now see that we were pursuing an inconsistent and incomplete vision.

If I had taken just a few minutes with the production design team to create a schedule, I’d have shaved hours off our shoot and have prevented the chain reaction that continued to drive us behind. We wrapped shooting around midnight, which isn’t much later than normal, but the delay in shooting meant our editor, Mitch Miller, was behind in the cut. Also, in the rush to complete the shoot, I had hardly given any direction to Mitch. With this slow start, the edit came down to the wire, and we were left without adequate time to finesse sound and color. We made it to the drop-off in time, but the film we handed in (the same version you watched above) still felt rough.

Taking on the dual role of director and producer is tricky. The needs of the story and the production are complementary but different, and if you’re responsible for both, you have to strike a balance. However, that balance requires a great deal of compartmentalization and an incredible amount of focus. If you can split the responsibility, I highly recommend it. For the 2015 48HFP in a few weeks, Marcus and I are sharing the directing role as we did for All’s Chair in Love and War. This way, he can devote the necessary attention to the cast while I focus on the crew.

While All Dressed in White may not have been completely successful, I strongly believe that this experience was well worth having. For one, despite the delays, the team came to play; their commitment to the production kept me afloat. The team also came out to support the film at the screenings, where it ended up in the Best of Fest! At that event, we won the award for Best Costumes, which was a nice consolation given all the extra time we took to procure them.

This production is a hard one for me to think back on, but I won’t misconstrue it as a wasted effort. We knew tackling horror meant leaving our comfort zone. The takeaway here isn’t that we should avoid horror in the future; we just need to accept our mistakes and consciously correct them the next time around.

After All Dressed in White, I was anxious for another chance to make a film and put into practice what I’d learned. Lo and behold, three weeks later, we were kicking off another film challenge. More on that next time…

Andrew

Film Challenge Retrospective: Keeping Up with the Cloneses

Howdy, folks!
 
Thanks for stopping by TwoJackets.com. This is Andrew, here again to share a new story for our Film Challenge Month retrospective series! In this installment, we’re going to delve into the hardest of hard science fiction with Keeping Up with the Cloneses, our entry into the 2014 Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project.

I was giving some pretty extreme duct tape direction here.

I was giving some pretty extreme duct tape direction here.

Going into that weekend last June, the Jackets were once again facing a transition: our beloved brother-Jacket, Marcus, was preparing to move to Columbus, Ohio to begin a year focused on his writing. We knew this would be the last time in a while that the three of us would be working together in the same place, so we wanted to make the 48, which is already a special occasion, even special-er. To assist with that, we filled out our team with some of our favorite collaborators (Craig Larson on sound, Sam Johnson on camera, Katie Vannelli performing) and a couple of talented newbies (actress Debra Berger and composer Jack Barrett). For the Jackets’ roles, Eric edited, Marcus wrote and assistant directed, and I directed.
 
Before we get into the real sciencey stuff, let’s watch the film. Please don your safety goggles, hard hats, and oven mitts now…

You can now remove your protective wear. Thanks for watching the film and for following standard safety procedures! (We don’t have insurance!)

As Marcus detailed in his All’s Chair in Love and War article, we carried many excess requirements into that shoot and left most of the assigned requirements in the dust (save for the character). In response to this, we went into 2014 with as close to a blank slate as possible. Two actresses, one house, and the following assigned requirements:

Character: Trey or Tricia Sneaderman, Government Employee
Prop: A bell
Line of dialogue: “I asked you not to do that.”
Genre: Fish Out of Water

With just those elements in mind, we, of course, developed a story involving an inexperienced government scientist creating a bunch of death-prone clones with the goal of teaching one to act like the original person, a swim-shooting dictator’s daughter. (Working title: Putin It Together!) Obviously.

As this and our other work can attest, we are inclined towards complicated, detail-rich stories, even during these time-based challenges. We never intend for this. We actually go in with the opposite in mind: keep it simple, dummies! When Marcus handed me the finished Cloneses script in the witching hours of the night, my weary brain wasn’t thinking logistically. I was pleased with his success in arranging the ideas from our brainstorming, including the required elements, into an engaging, entertaining story. So I approved the script.

However, by the following afternoon, I was beginning to question my judgment.

Wait… How are we going to drop a giant tree branch on Katie’s head? Will that read on camera? How are we supposed to have Katie fall out of a window? Hold it! There’s a DEATH MONTAGE in here?! Ain’t nobody got time for that!

As each of these problems arose, I realized with increasing frustration that I should have considered the reality of these complex scenes when I first received the script. Just because they were possible to achieve, doesn’t mean we had the time to achieve them. 

As a result, several on-the-fly brainstorming sessions were needed throughout the day to essentially rewrite the problem scenes. Every solution we developed harkened back to our original goal: simplicity. We had to look at each problem scene, determine the underlying goal, develop a simpler action, and execute it clearly. A giant tree branch became a large rock. Falling out a window became dying spontaneously. The DEATH MONTAGE… was cut out completely. 

In the midst of shooting the last scene around 9pm on Saturday, Eric, who had been editing along with us as the day went on, came downstairs to drop some knowledge. The cut he had assembled of everything we’d shot so far was only three and a half minutes long. With the scene we were currently shooting, it would maybe reach four - the minimum running time set by the 48. In efforts to concentrate and simplify the story, we had incidentally and ironically over-simplified. I don’t remember being very happy about this. 

Thankfully, as I watched what Eric had cut, I saw how many of the individual scenes were working, but overall the piece felt disjointed. It needed some connective tissue. That was when Marcus got the idea for the dictation scenes. They would bridge the gaps, and we could shoot them in a single camera setup. They would also become some of the best moments in the film. (“I don’t Snead a man! You Snead a man!”)

The rest of that weekend is a blur to me. I remember that the export came down to the wire, and I’ll never forget how Eric thought it would be fun to make a Vine video when the export finished, wasting at least six more precious seconds! I only let him live because we made it to the drop off in time.

A year removed from these events, I still get a little tense thinking about this shoot and all the stop and go and stop and go. Then I watch the film, become very happy, and remember that those breaks weren’t misspent; they just weren’t expected. I’m more open to on-the-fly revision now, but I’m also more considerate of our limitations. I’m very thankful to have had such a patient and flexible team on the Cloneses shoot, who supported the changes - despite the time they took - because we really were improving the story. The way I see it, Eric, Marcus, and company were guiding me as much as I worked to guide them. 

Our extra time and energy was first rewarded at the debut screening. I remember sitting in the Riverview Theater with the audience, watching the film on the big screen, hearing the crowd laugh in all the right places. We couldn’t have asked for a better reaction.

When the film was selected for the Best of Fest screening, the team was giddy with excitement. After the response the film received during the first screening, I couldn’t wait to show it in front of an even larger, more rambunctious crowd. Once again, it didn’t disappoint. Giddiness slowly transitioned into euphoria as the award winners were revealed throughout the night. Best Sound Design (Craig and Eric). Best Actress (Deb). Audience Favorite for our screening block. Best Writing (Marcus). And then…

Best Picture.

I couldn’t process it at the time. When the film’s name was read, it felt like my body was on autopilot for something it wasn’t expected to do. There were hugs and high fives. I stuttered through some kind of an acceptance speech. Eric and I took a selfie with the audience to send to Marcus in Ohio. We went out into the lobby to celebrate with everyone. Then it was over.

Eric and i really could have looked happier with our mouths way more open.

Pictured from left to right: Debra Berger, Eric Carlson, Andrew Neill, Katie Vannelli, Craig Larson

As I mentioned in my article for Put a Ring on It, I’ve consciously worked on leaving behind my competitive tendencies. Such thinking was selfish and never got me any closer to the top prize. I have no control over the judges’ tastes and their choices. Rather, my responsibility is to my team and to the story we’re telling. I have to dedicate myself to them with passion, respect, humor, and the belief that we’ll find our way through. The process will always be stressful and frustrating at times, but when I surround myself with awesome, creative people, I know that it’s an experience worth having. That is reward enough.

Though winning 1st place is pretty damn awesome, too!

Andrew

Film Challenge Retrospective: All's Chair in Love and War

Hi everybody!  Marcus here!

In our second year participating in the Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project, Two Jackets Productions made an absurdist comedy called All’s Chair in Love and War. The only problem was that we were supposed to make a romance!  And we had such beautiful people to work with…

Joe (left) and Matt (right) are, unfortunately, not about to get romantic .

Joe (left) and Matt (right) are, unfortunately, not about to get romantic.

In the picture above you see Matt Pitner (right) who played Limpwings in, um, Limpwings, and Joe Rapp (left) who we had never had the pleasure of working with before on film.  Both Matt and Joe are members of the Bearded Men Improv troupe and are hilarious performers.  Not pictured is Emily King (YODO!, I Stole A Lot of Money!) who brought a good deal of heart to the film, and Craig Larson (Boxing with God) who never fails to crack me up.  I co-directed this piece with Andrew (something we really enjoyed and plan to do again this year!) and Eric filled the editor role.  This is all heightened by Reed Reimer’s fantastic score.

So where did we go wrong?  First, take a look at the film...

I really love the film that we came up with for this competition as a standalone piece, but it falls down as an entry in the 48 Hour Film Project.  To explain why, I’ll need the help of a Jedi Master.

There’s a scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke Skywalker, our hero and Jedi-in-training is instructed by his master, Yoda, to go into a spooky cave for some reason.  Luke reasonably asks, “What’s in the cave?” and Yoda sagely replies, “Only what you take with you.”  Luke brings in a lot of rage, fear, and doubt, and ends up having a pretty miserable time of it.  The idea is that if he had gone in without all of his baggage, he may have seen something a lot better than his own decapitated head in a Darth Vader outfit.  Maybe even a rousing performance by the Max Rebo Band.

The 48 Hour Film Project is like that cave: The less you bring with you when entering it, the better your experience will be.

Allow me to elaborate.

Remember when I said our genre was romance?  Here is the full list of required elements we had that year:

Genre: Romance
Character: Betty or Bobby Bulmer, Farmer or Gardener
Prop:  A lamp
Line of Dialogue: (S)he told me it’s a secret.

Our difficulty was that we had gotten an excellent open office space that was filled with blue and red chairs, and we had a vision of using tents indoors going into the weekend.  We worked so hard to get our own set of self-imposed restrictions into the film that we lost sight of the prompt.

The first draft of the script didn’t even include the prop or the line of dialogue, because I was so busy trying to fit in our other fun items.  We never come up with story ideas before the weekend, but we found ourselves backed into a corner when we couldn’t let go of the extra elements we brought with us.  The film as a competition piece suffered because of it.  While the finished project has elements of a romance, that certainly wasn’t the primary genre and as such we failed the assignment.

We learned back with Level Up that it’s possible to not achieve the goals of a 48 but still create a film we love.  This film however, finally drove home the idea that we had to put the assignment first.  When we make films for challenges now we go in as blank slates and let the ideas derive directly from the assignment.  You’ll usually see the assigned character as our lead, and the prop and line as integral parts of the story.    It’s a really fun way to make a film and it guarantees that we are working on something we never would have dreamt of Thursday night!

In essence, we will no longer fight Vader in the cave.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that we’re unhappy with how this film turned out. Thanks to a smooth shoot, and the dedication of our crew (Ben Efron our valiant Director of Photography actually slept in one of the tents Friday night), we turned in the film on time!  And that’s really the number one rule of a 48 hour shoot: Finish.  That was even after the hour we spent getting Matt to say his character’s name correctly.  

We’re proud of the work that went into All’s Chair in Love and War, both from Andrew, Eric, and me, and from our awesome collaborators.  While we weren’t right on the ball with the required elements, we did have the smoothest shoot in a 48 that we’ve yet had in Minneapolis.  This was definitely helped by Andrew and I co-directing the film.  Sharing the directorial load allowed us to solve problems faster, and not feel like we were overwhelmed. It was a great directing experience, and one we will be repeating with our 2015 entry!

I won’t, however, say which one of us was the master and which the padawan learner...

Film Challenge Retrospective: Put a Ring on It

Howdy, Jacketeers! Welcome back to TwoJackets.com! 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.

Andrew