film challenge month

Film Challenge Retrospective: Cosmic Questers '97

Hey there, Questers! Marcus here...

It was great looking back over our old projects during Film Challenge Month last May. Now, six months after our latest film challenge was completed, I’m pleased to be able to share a retrospective on the making of “Cosmic Questers ‘97”!

In the green room at our location,  rehearsing the script with our talented cast. 

In the green room at our location,  rehearsing the script with our talented cast. 

Unlike our past projects, we shared a lot of the details of this production before it began. You can find our cast and crew announcement and our planned schedule in previous blog entries. I won’t repeat those details in this post, but I will talk about how the production differed from our expectations.

Before getting critical, I have to say I couldn’t be happier with the contributions everyone brought to this film. I gushed about them in the announcement back in May, but the cast and crew brought their A-game to this project, and Andrew, Eric, and I are very proud of what the team came up with. 

Check out the film on your viewscreen here before we dive into the production details:

Pretty rad, right?

Okay, so how did the actual weekend differ from our plan? It all started at the genre drawing. Right there at the beginning, the odds were simply not in our favor. 

Andrew went up and drew "Film de Femme," which requires a female lead. This was literally the only genre we didn't want to use. Normally, it wouldn't be a problem, but we had lined up Bill Dablow, Lucas Vonasek, and MJ Marsh as our actors—three guys that we had been aching to work with for ages—and we didn't want to discard the opportunity to showcase them together. So we reprimanded Andrew and sent him back up to draw a wild card genre.

We were excited for the wild cards. We could make do with any of them except “Period Piece" because our reserved location was a production office space with a very modern look. Guess what we got?

Yeah. Andrew isn't allowed to draw anymore.

We were left with the following elements after taking our wild card choice:

Character: Kevin Whitefish, Club President
Prop: A coat hanger
Line of Dialogue: "You choose. I can't/cannot decide."
Genre: Period Piece

I’ll freely admit that we weren’t thrilled by the genre selection. Our location wasn't going to work for any distinctive period, and it was set to rain that weekend, which meant it would be hard to do an outdoor shoot—woods look the same in most periods. As a rather risky play, we decided to change our location to a more versatile studio space and double down on the period elements. The film would take place in the late 90s during a public access production inspired by a 60s era sci-fi show—in an homage to the original "Star Trek" series and Minnesota’s own “Mystery Science Theater 3000."

With "Cosmic Questers '97" we won our first “Best Use of Prop” award for our coat hanger monster! We affectionately call him "Coatie"!

With "Cosmic Questers '97" we won our first “Best Use of Prop” award for our coat hanger monster! We affectionately call him "Coatie"!

Our risky move to fulfill the "Period Piece" genre really began to throw us off balance come Saturday morning.

While I rehearsed and refined the script with the cast, our concept's need for period props and costumes pulled Andrew's attention away from his co-director responsibilities to more of a producer's role. He spent a majority of his morning on the phone with our production assistants, arranging the acquisition of materials. Due to the last minute change of location, Eric was forced to run to our unused location to pick up a bunch of equipment. He also had to stop by a couple of places for additional props and costumes. As a result, neither Andrew or Eric had much time to plan our shots for the day, and we started shooting late. Once we got going, the team made up for lost time by working quickly, but at the expense of more deliberate blocking and visuals, which could have better communicated our characters' motivations. At the time, the stakes were clear to Andrew, Eric, and me, but I don’t know how well they came across in those first few crucial minutes of the film.

Our expectations for the weekend were exceeded when we got into post-production, thanks in huge part to our pre-production sessions with Ben Pimlott (editor), Eric Pagel (sound mixer), and Reed Reimer (composer). With these meetings before the weekend, we established a clear and effective post-production plan and encouraged frequent communication. As a result, everyone knew what was expected and each role was executed beautifully. We were able to have the film ready early enough to export safety copies several times before turning in our final, which really helped reduce anxiety at the end of the weekend. Ben and his workmate Cody Rowan, who assisted with visual effects, went on to be nominated for Best VFX—believe it or not, it takes a lot of work to make something look that (intentionally) bad—and Eric P. won for Best Sound! The film itself was nominated for Best Film and screened at the Best of Fest!

The big lesson for us here is to better plan how the three of us are going to collaborate and then reflect that within the schedule. This time around, we isolated ourselves too much in order to address the challenges of the production. When we finally came together to plan shots, we didn’t have the time to make the best of our collaboration. I had spent too much of my time rehearsing the cast off stage, not aware of the need to get the blocking down on stage early enough for Andrew and Eric to work on the shot planning.

In the end, we’re still very happy with the film we made. The 2015 Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project was a great experience! We keep learning more every time we run a production, and I for one can’t wait for our next film challenge! Hopefully that retrospective will come along a bit sooner…

Marcus

48 Update: We Made a Movie! And It Screens This Week!

Well, this is a tad overdue. The Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project weekend is now almost a week behind us. I hope you all haven’t been waiting with bated breath since Marcus’ last post when he finished the script. If you have, then wow! You must have superhuman lung capacity!

You can exhale now. Because we did it! We successfully made a movie and turned it in on time without any loss of life or limb. And we’re very happy with the result! Our dedicated and talented team of artists delivered the goods, turning the weekend into one of our favorite film challenge experiences yet. Check out some production stills below and visit the Two Jackets Facebook page for even more:

I’m not going to delve into the nitty gritty of last weekend’s production in this post; we’re going to save that for an in-depth summation later this month when the local 48HFP events come to a close. After all, the film isn’t truly complete until it screens for an audience.

Speaking of which, you should come out and see it! Our entry, titled Cosmic Questers ‘97, is screening as part of the Group C Premieres at 7:00pm this Wednesday at the Riverview Theater. You can RSVP and see what other films are playing on the Facebook event page here. If you’re planning to attend, we recommend buying your tickets online in advance. You’ll save a whole dollar if you do! (Woot!)

I’m jacked for this week’s events, which include five blocks of screenings over three nights at the Riverview! Our screening can’t arrive soon enough, as I’m confident that the film will perform well in front of a live audience. It has all the requirements of a crowd-pleaser: action, comedy, romance, and Bill Dablow, packaged up in a totally awesome '90s wrapper! I’m also pumped to see our friends’ projects, including those by Two Jackets regulars, Craig Larson, Ben Efron, and Rachel Palashewski, each of whom had teams of their own. 

So stop by the Riverview this week and take in a truly unique film experience. Over 60 teams made films in Minneapolis last weekend, in the same amount of time, with the same required elements. The result is a dazzling display of creativity and community. Join us, won’t you?

Andrew

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

Film Challenge Retrospective: The Home Office

Hey cool people!  Marcus at the keyboard.

We’re nearing the end of our Film Challenge Retrospectives.  It’s sad, I know, but after this week, we’ll be switching gears to talk about our upcoming 48 Hour Film Project entry—whatever it may be!  Before we move on though, I am excited to talk to you about The Home Office!

Hand drawn as I was procrastinating on Friday night!

Hand drawn as I was procrastinating on Friday night!

This is a special film for me, because it’s a film by me, or as close as I will ever come to calling a project “A Film by Marcus Mann.”  Film is a very collaborative art, so I don’t like to claim sole ownership of a film even if I’m writing and directing.  But this is a special case.  To see what I mean, stay tuned through the credits…

I wrote, directed, edited, shot, and performed in The Home Office.  I even sung in the shower all by myself.  Why would I do this, you ask?  This film was our first and only entry to date in the Columbus 48 Hour Film Project.  Since I’m the only one in Columbus, and new people frighten me, it was the only option.  No, that’s not quite it, but I am the only member of Two Jackets living in Ohio.  I mostly decided to do a solo 48 film as an exercise, and even then, you’ve seen that I ended up including a lot of other talents in the process.

My personal goal in this challenge was to write a film that only required one person, while keeping up with all of the elements.  While I ended up using other actors through remote recording, I successfully structured the film in a way that a single actor could have played all of the roles.  My ego isn’t so great that I thought the film would be improved by only having me in it.  In fact, as a writer I had an awkward moment in the process when I realized that I would have to perform the script I had just written – a matter I had forgotten while I was composing the draft.  The good news is I can watch most of it without cringing.

Let’s take a look at the requirements:

Genre: Parody/Spoof
Prop: A Wallet
Character: Mary or Matthew Philips, Award Winning Gardener
Line of Dialogue: “There’s only one way to know for sure.”

As I talked about in my post for All’s Chair in Love and War, we now put a lot of emphasis in brainstorming on building a story out of the requirements, and I think that’s very evident in this piece.  Although, I originally drew a genre called “Film De Femme” which is described by the 48 Hour Film Project as “a film featuring one or more strong female characters.”  I thought I might have a hard time pulling that off when I was the only actor, so I chose a wildcard genre, which is an option allowed to each team if they reject their first draw.  The wildcard genres are separate from the main genre choices, and can be pretty far-flung.  I was fortunate to choose parody, a genre which I really enjoy.  With the new genre in hand, I was able to build a film around the requirements in a very organic way.

The film is a big success to me in that I achieved my goal of writing a piece for one person, and that I turned in the film on time.  But its faults are also clear to me: The film would have benefitted greatly from having more of our frequent collaborators on set.  A more practiced actor could have wrung more humor out of the script, and a crew could have greatly improved the production value.

I shot the entire film, except for one shot, on a tripod using a Panasonic GH4.  The camera records at 4K resolution, which allowed me to zoom in on the images and add a digital shake to simulate the look of a handheld documentary.  The shot running into the bathroom was the only time I took the camera off the tripod, and there I spliced in a tripod shot at the end of the look up to the shower so I could be in the scene.  The sound was all recorded with a mounted shotgun microphone, which picks up sound in only one direction.  

As difficult as this process made production, it made post production a breeze.  I remembered all of the takes I performed and was easily able to select exactly the shots that I wanted in the final edit.  I was even completely finished early on Sunday morning because I was the only one with a say in the editing process.  If I had had Eric and Andrew around to look over my edit, the piece could have been stronger, but, with only one opinion on the cut, it went by really quickly.  I actually ended up as the first team to turn in in Columbus.  Besides, I’m glad no one else had to see the awkward footage of me talking to myself when I flubbed a take.

Despite the film’s shortcomings, I am proud of the work that went into making it.  I think it’s a good illustration of the strength that can come out of writing to the assignment and trying something new!  While I don’t plan on doing another solo film anytime soon, this was a great opportunity to really focus on the importance of scripting in a timed film challenge and I was blown away when the Columbus judges selected me for Best Writing in the competition.  I can’t wait to take what I learned from this experiment and put it into our next 48 Hour Film Project!