national film challenge

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: After Hours

Hey there, true-believers! Eric here.

As part of Two Jackets' Film Challenge Month, we will be sharing our stories about timed filmmaking competitions gone-by.  Andrew, Marcus, and I have been participating in film challenges since we were in film school. Back in those days, the Film Department at Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM) participated in the National Film Challenge (now the Four Points Film Project) and pitted teams made up of students from freshmen to seniors against one another in a 48 hour-style elimination-round competition. The films that were made in this setting were judged by the faculty and local experts, and the winning project was entered into the worldwide competition.

The film I'd like to talk about is one I've never shared before. In my senior year at MSUM (2009), I was chosen as a team leader and director for "Team Lethal Projection," and we made a little film called After Hours. It didn't involve Andrew or Marcus (Andrew was directing his own project, and Marcus was living in Toronto) but it did feature our good friend Sarah Palm (3rd West Ballard, Hide My Thunder) in the lead role. Here it is!

Look at that glorious standard definition! The required elements for this film were:

Character: Jordan Gordon, Systems Analyst

Line of Dialogue: "This could get very complicated"

Prop: a Bicycle

Genre: Buddy Film

Working on these projects in college was really the crucible that forged our love for film competitions. Back in those days, absolutely everything was done collaboratively and democratically. Every member of the team remains intensely  involved through the entire weekend - from the idea phase to final delivery. In my role as director, I served more as a team leader than as a creative voice. I did what I could to make sure all members of the team were engaged throughout - getting an opportunity to use their own creative voices in whichever role they were assigned to. It gave us a chance to work closely with a lot of different people very early in our development as filmmakers. It ends up being a great exercise in building trust and developing friendships that have served us well in the years since.

I remember the brainstorming session for After Hours very clearly. We got access to the Graphic Communication department’s computer lab for the night and spent several hours writing ideas on the whiteboard, with all ten members of the team contributing ideas and feedback until we had the basis for a concept we all liked. The brainstorming process was really about crafting a story based on resources we had access to. Having a team member with access to an empty office building gave us a great location for our heist film. We also cast our friend Mike Stromenger who, in addition to being a talented performer, worked as the equipment manager at MSUM, meaning we had easy access to the school's small studio space, doorway dolly, and lighting resources. The thing I really took away from this process is how important it is for the director and writer of a project to guide this discussion. If you're brainstorming in a group, it's very easy to get sidetracked, following ideas that aren't productive and unattainable. At a certain point, somebody just has to say, "that idea for a wizard battle on the top of the library is great, but not for this project." After the writers began writing, we started making phone calls, assigning actors, and making team t-shirts!

LOOK AT THOSE GREAT SHIRTS.

LOOK AT THOSE GREAT SHIRTS.

We didn't get a lot of sleep (although I overslept on Saturday, which, by the way, is not a great method for inspiring confidence in your group) but every member of the team remained engaged throughout the filmmaking weekend and were given a chance to flex their creative muscles. We didn't win the competition, but I consider After Hours a huge success. Plus, we have t-shirts dammit.

Here at Two Jackets, we’ve learned a lot about film challenges and team management over the years. We’ve changed our methods since college, favoring a brainstorming process that just involves a few people to develop the story, but we’re always working to keep our team members involved creatively, so that they feel they aren’t just working on someone else’s film. It’s a difficult task, and we haven’t always succeeded in these regards, but our time spent in that formative crucible taught us a lot.