reed reimer

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 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: 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