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.