short films

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…


Cosmic Questers '97 is now online!

Greetings, earth-dudes and earth-dudettes! Eric here with good news: Our latest film and entry to the 2015 Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project, Cosmic Questers '97, is now online for your viewing pleasure! It screened last night as part of the Best of Fest at the Mall of America, and I must say, it was a fantastic evening of films. Our good friends and oft-collaborators Circa Interactive (Dustin Solmonson, Ben Efron, and gang) beat out some seriously tough competition to take home the top prize for their film No Boys Club! We couldn't be happier for their well-deserved victory. Questers also took home a couple of awards: Best Sound Design (thanks Eric Pagel!) and Best Use of Prop (thanks Coaty!).

We'll go into detail about the entire 48HFP process very soon, but until then, please watch the final product: Cosmic Questers '97!

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: 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.