emily king

Film Challenge Retrospective: I Stole a Lot of Money!

How now, lords and ladies? Eric here, as your ghost of film challenges past, with the final installment of our retrospective series!

If you’ve been keeping up with Two Jackets Productions this month, then you’ve noticed we’re feeling nostalgic. This week, Andrew got spooky-scary with his review of All Dressed in White, and Marcus made us all want to go outside and make friends in a retrospective of his one-man-film, The Home Office. Unfortunately, I wasn’t on set or creatively involved in either of these films! To make up for that sad fact, I decided it was high time I direct something. After all, I hadn’t stood at the helm of any film project since A Lutefisk Western way back in 2010!

Luckily, there was one film challenge I hadn’t done since college and was dying to revisit: The Four Points Film Project (formerly the National Film Challenge) - an international free-for-all pitting teams from all over the world against each other in a 72-Hour filmmaking frenzy! Prizes! Glory! A worldwide stage! I said, “We have to do this!”

Marcus and Andrew said, “Yup okay.”

So, we signed up!  We gathered a small cast we knew could handle anything we could throw at them, from melodrama to comedy.  The roster included Emily King and Allen Voigt, who you may have seen in our short You Only Die Once!, and James Griffin, a local Minneapolis actor we scouted after seeing his fantastic performances in a handful of films. I directed AND shot (more on that later), Andrew produced, and Marcus wrote remotely from Ohio. Check out I Stole a Lot of Money! below:

Was that song about money? I feel like maybe that song had something to do with money.

As with all the other film challenges Two Jackets has been involved with, Four Points assigned us a set of required elements based on our time-zone:

Character: Martin Burley, ATM Technician
Line of Dialogue: “I heard you the first time.”
Prop: A balloon
Genre: Comedy

We were VERY happy with this assignment. The fact that we were given comedy as our genre meant that we knew we could make something silly, and boy did we.

Once we were given the elements via email, Andrew and I video-called Marcus out in Ohio (it’s the future, people!) and had a quick, productive brainstorming session. The planning was so successful because we employed all of the lessons we had learned in previous Film Challenge brainstorms, keeping it to just the three of us and using the required elements as our primary source of influence. Beyond that, we made a rule that I could veto any concept without argument as the director, and Marcus could do the same as the writer.  Marcus then led the brainstorming session, and I trusted that he would write something we could produce after we agreed on the concept.  Me letting go of the script that night was a huge boon to the production.  Within an hour, Marcus was writing, and I was able to get rest for the next day’s shoot.

We ended the film with a visual message instead of dialogue.

We ended the film with a visual message instead of dialogue.

As I mentioned in the introduction to this post, I decided that I would shake things up a bit for this competition by taking on the dual role as director and cinematographer. The impetus for this decision was a desire to focus more on visual storytelling. The gang over here at Two Jackets loves (and I mean luuuurrrrves) our dialogue. We’re a wordy group, but I felt that we had been lacking in strong visual storytelling. I thought that by being in charge of the image on screen as well as the performances of our actors, I could simplify the translation from script to screen. I could make all the creative decisions, cut dialogue in favor of blocking and action where I could, and streamline the crew to keep us moving quickly.

It was stressful.

My focus on the cinematography and camera work made it much more difficult to give the actors the attention they deserved from a director. The first scene we shot on Saturday, which involved Emily and James walking along the train tracks, sharing their dreams for what to do with their new-found fortune, was technically very challenging for me as a camera operator. I had to track backwards as smoothly as I could, keeping both actors in frame while trying not to step into a hole or trip over a curb. We tried several times before we finally had a take I was happy with, but what I didn’t realize until reviewing the footage was that the performances I captured were not consistent at all. I gave Emily and James a vague direction about “being happier with their mouths way more open,” and the resulting scene features Emily practically vibrating with giddy excitement while James is dreamily pontificating to the cash gods in the sky. As the director, I should have seen the differences and molded the performances to fit one another. I should have established a strong narrative voice and a consistent rhetoric and tone for the piece. Instead, I was trying not to fall on my ass while operating a camera.

I didn't fall down.  On this take.

I didn't fall down.  On this take.

This was made more difficult by the fact that I didn’t have Andrew or Marcus on set with me to help me catch these mistakes. Marcus, as you know, was in Ohio. Alright fine. There’s nothing I could have done about that. Andrew, however, got stuck in his role as a producer staying with our gear at the location we were using as a home base.  We found out when we arrived that we couldn’t keep our equipment inside, and had to protect it from people wandering by outside. I could have used his critical eye on set while I was distracting myself with cinematographer duties. If I had planned better, I could have found a different home base for the shoot, freeing up Andrew to be on set.  I realize now that I Stole a Lot of Money! would have benefited greatly from having the entire Two Jackets team present.

I love I Stole a Lot of Money! for being an upbeat, silly, and successful little film (it got into the Top 20 in the worldwide competition!), but it could have been handled better. I was not up for the dual task of shooting and directing, and keeping my best collaborators at arms length meant I was wearing blinders the whole time, unable to see the mistakes I was making. Also, we didn’t have a designated editor at all for this project, which meant Andrew and I were doing everything ourselves, and didn’t have any footage cut together until after we wrapped.  This caused me to miss another opportunity to take a critical eye to our work while we still had a chance to reshoot, as we did on Keeping Up with the Cloneses. We were definitely stretching our abilities towards the end of a grueling 72-hour filmmaking marathon.

Directing balloons on very little sleep.

Directing balloons on very little sleep.

That’s why we’re all going to be in-town and on-set for the 2015 Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project! I will be acting as cinematographer, and Marcus and Andrew will co-direct. We decided on this configuration as a direct result of our experiences of the last year. Not only did all three of us direct film challenge pieces in 2014, but we all over-reached our grasp. We attempted to do too much without the support of the other two Jackets. In The Home Office, Marcus faced the unique challenge of trying to direct a film while also having to provide the driving performance. In All Dressed in White, Andrew realized that producing the film caused enough stress to affect his ability to also direct it. And in I Stole a Lot of Money!, I learned that operating a camera is distracting enough that I can lose my ability to effectively direct performances.

The job of a director is challenging. It requires the utmost focus. It is often said that a director is a craftsperson who wears many hats on set. She/he must be an actor, a cinematographer, an editor, and a producer all in one. The director must be able to understand every part of the process in order to effectively oversee the creation of a film. However, and I can’t stress this enough, more important than being able to do all the jobs on set is the ability to let go and have someone else do them.

This past year proves that the strength of Two Jackets lies in collaboration. What I think is so unique about this group is that all three of us are storytellers, but we really need to rely on each other so that each member can focus on their particular task. A director can’t do everything themselves. Keeping the vision consistent and the filmic voice strong is the most important thing a filmmaker can do. Allowing oneself to be distracted by other tasks, like shooting, acting, or producing, can be detrimental to the directing process. The film can suffer because of it. We at Two Jackets work well together because we know how to fill in each others’ shortcomings and keep each other focused. For our looming entry to the 2015 48HFP, we are doing as much as we can to ensure that all of our bases are covered. Marcus is focusing on actors, Andrew is focusing on coordinating the crew, and I’m focusing on cinematography. Not only that, but we’re bringing other fantastic talents together to fill in the rest of the gaps (more on that next week!).

Before I leave you, I just want to thank you for watching and for taking this trip with us back in time to film challenges gone by. If you haven’t yet, please take a look at the rest of our Film Challenge Retrospective series, and tune in next week as we explore why we keep coming back for more of these competitions! We’re more excited about this next project than we’d like to admit, and we can’t wait to share the whole experience with you here at TwoJackets.com!

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...

"You Only Die Once!" featured on Ain't It Cool News!

The past few days have been pretty good to us Jackets.

Firstly, as we previously posted, we’ve been placed in the top 20 finalists for the Four Points Film Project, which is an international competition with well over 100 teams participating. If you haven’t already, we’d greatly appreciate your vote for the Audience Awards. Just visit our film "I Stole a Lot of Money!" on Vimeo and like it!

Nextly, some new, and rather cool, news. Our film “You Only Die Once!” has been featured on the one-and-only Ain’t It Cool News as part of their weekly Saturday Shorts column!

This is huge for us. I’ve been reading Ain’t It Cool for years; it still has a place in my exclusive bookmarks bar to this day. The site played a big part in deepening my love for cinema during high school and college. It’s a place where geeks can go to shout loudly and proudly about the stuff they love. I’ve sought out so many movies based on recommendations from AICN contributors like Mr. Beaks, Capone, and Quint, working over the years to further establish my geek cred. Having our film listed there – in the hallowed house of the Head Geek himself, Mr. Harry Knowles – is truly an honor.

The Saturday Shorts column has been curated and compiled for the last couple of years by AICN contributor Muldoon. AICN readers submit their work and if Muldoon likes it, he posts it to the column. This is the first time we’ve submitted to Saturday Shorts, and YODO seemed like the perfect choice. It was largely inspired by the types of films we’ve read about on AICN over the years, like the works of Sam Raimi and Edgar Wright. Thanks to Muldoon for featuring us! You can bet we’ll be submitting more work to the column in the future.

Andrew

NOW ONLINE: You Only Die Once!

That’s right! Our horror comedy, You Only Die Once!, is now online, just in time for the spooky/scary Halloween season.

This story of zombie-burdened ex-lovers holds a dear place in the twisted recesses of my heart. With this project, I wanted to experiment with some of the more wild and kinetic cinematic techniques, including split-screen, Dutch angles, and – my personal favorite – ZOOMS! In the projects that followed, Eric and Marcus have tried their damnedest to break me of my zoom addiction. They mostly succeeded, but I've gotten a few in there and yearn for the next opportunity! (Perhaps in our Minneapolis 48 Hour Horror Project entry?! MWAHAHA!!!)

Don't worry. I get it. Zooms don’t belong in everything. We devised YODO’s story as a foundation for such techniques, which is a backwards way of doing things, but hey, it worked! The whole project was an exercise in melodrama, and we had a helluva-lotta fun doing it. 

So if you're in need of a laugh right about now, check it out. The film kills every time we screen it - in more ways than one! (Uh oh, look out!) 

-Andrew