The most difficult project we’ve ever made, was easily our first. Honestly, it will most likely be the most difficult project we ever make. Back then, in 2009, we weren’t worried about payroll or commercials or trivial notions of trophies. Rather, we were simply trying to discover if we could even make the project. Was there enough funding? Would we have enough time before we had to get “real jobs”? Did we even know how to make a movie?

For us, it was the project that started everything. It was our origin story and our ethos all wrapped into 120 minutes of a digital love letter. Without it, there would be no Projects That Matter. There would be no JTWO. There would be no us. That project was, “For Aaron: The Documentary” and it’s been ten years since the day it was born.

For those of you that may not remember or maybe you didn’t even know us back then. In 2009, our co-founders Justin Jarrett and Travis Capacete were students together in Penn State University’s film program. They had just made their first documentary, “Failure by Design” about how they wanted to tear down the entire film program and start over. It was controversial enough for one professor to tell Justin, who was directing the project to “take his check and go to NYU” if he wasn’t satisfied with the current structure of the program (Needless to say, that the professor isn’t on our Holiday Card list.)

With only a few months left before graduation, tragedy struck when Justin’s lifelong best friend, Aaron, was killed in a car crash. Prior to his passing, Aaron and Justin had decided to bicycle across the United States after graduation. One last hurrah before “life kicked them in the teeth” they would say. When Aaron passed away, Justin decided to take the trip in his honor and document the trip. It was in this moment that JTWO was born.


WHAT IS A (JAY)-T-W-O?

Justin Jarrett

Travis and I had always talked about starting our own production company since the first time we met at Penn State University. We both shared a similar vision and really respected each other’s work ethic. Above everything, I think we just trusted one another. In order to make a film, we thought we had to start a production company. I had asked that we keep the name that I had been using since fifth grade, “JTWO Films.” This was out of respect for Aaron. The first time I ever actually used the moniker was in one of my first video projects in fifth grade – one in which Aaron did the filming. When the credits rolled (because every two minute video needs credits, right?) “a JTWO film” came across the screen. I don’t really remember why, but I thought this was cooler than saying, “a Justin Jarrett film.” The name stuck and the rest is history.

Over the course of the next 65 days, a skeleton crew made up of Justin, his lifelong friend Kylar and two college buddies took off on a trip across the country which would ultimately total 17 states, 6000 miles and numerous close calls. When it was all said and done they had over 800 hours of footage and a lifetime of memories.

Justin Jarrett:

I had just spent my final semester in college trying to raise money for the film while juggling classes in order to graduate. I held fundraisers, sold t-shirts my brother, Jason, printed out of the back of my car, asked for donations and even cashed in every savings bond I had in order to come up with the funding for our upcoming trip. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted and the 3000 mile trip hadn’t even begun.

I can still remember the day, however, that our camcorder arrived in the mail. We purchased a brand new Panasonic HVX300 that shot on P2 cards. Despite only having one lens and limited media It was a great little documentary camera for its time. I was so excited to own a “film” camera. This was our first purchase as a newly formed company.

IT WAS IN THIS MOMENT THAT JTWO WAS BORN


FILM SCHOOL

Justin Jarrett

For Aaron was only the second documentary film I had ever made and by far the longest project of my life to date. Those 65 days of filming gave me more of an education than a lifetime at film school. I was learning to make a movie as we went. Each day we would face challenges and I would learn something that would completely change how I viewed the project. None more so, than a day in Kentucky on the home stretch of the trip.

I was eager to get home and I was pedaling as fast as I possibly could. Kylar was exhausted and for good reason. We were pushing hard during those weeks to get home because the weather was starting to turn on us. I remember we separated and I had pulled ahead. At one point the follow car called me on the radio and asked me to stop and wait for him to catch up. I was in a great mood because we were making good time that day.

However, Kylar, didn’t share my sentiment. He pulled up, slammed on his breaks, screamed at me to slow down and threw his helmet into a corn field before walking off into the field. He was done. Completely finished and ready to go home. To me, this was the film.

I knew we were both still mic’d up. I walked up to Kylar (with our cameraman Jon filming from afar) and we talked. At first, he didn’t want to hear a word I had to say. He just wanted to go home and I can’t blame him. It had been almost two months of sleeping in cars, tents and sleeping bags. After awhile, the mood softened and we spoke about Aaron and why we were here in the first place. It was the most heartfelt conversation of my life. It summed up what the entire trip and experience was all about. As Kylar’s friend, I was thrilled that he was willing to keep going. As a director, I was elated. That conversation was the movie in a nutshell – my emotional pivot into the last act. The most important scene in the entire film. That was… until my cameraman told me he forgot to hit record. I learned a valuable lesson that day – documentary filmmaking is unpredictable. You can’t control it, you simply have to capture it because every moment is a story and those stories only last if we hit the record button.

Upon returning home, our fearless leaders had close to a thousand hours of footage between the trip and archive footage from Justin’s childhood. They had P2 cards, portable harddrives, DVD’s, mini DV, VHS Tapes and VHS-C that they had to digitize. Justin set up a makeshift office in his bedroom and went to work.


SO, THIS IS EDITING

Justin Jarrett

When we got back from the trip, I had $14 left to my name, literally. My parent’s let me move back home while I was editing the movie because Aaron was like a fourth son to them. For 14 hours a day I sat in my bedroom going through footage and trying to figure how to craft a story out of a lifetime of footage. At the 6th month mark, I finally was ready to admit that I was in well over my head. That’s when I called Travis and asked if he would help me finish the movie.

 

Travis Capacete

I remember standing in Justin’s bedroom watching the first half For Aaron (the second half/end wasn’t finished), knowing that moment that we were going to win a ton of awards. I was really excited to take the film and shop it around. I was waiting for a call from Justin to finish the film and was looking forward to jumping in and start editing together, especially since the beginning of For Aaron started off a bit rocky. I was supposed to go on the trip and drive the RV. Instead, I stayed back in Philly and took a job. Thank god I did because we probably wouldn’t have had a company today, for so many reasons, many of you probably understand why haha. It also then turned into creating a network which ultimately turned into us getting the film color corrected and finished at one of the top finishing facilities in the world.

Travis Capacete

One of my favorite moments of the post process was the day I saw how the For Aaron footage was backed up and how the projects were organized. That day I realized that file structures, backups and organization are three of the most important things in filmmaking/production. I remember very vividly cutting the Trailer. Justin had had most of the film put together and the story was there but there was still a lot that had to be done including writing the end of the doc. At the time, I was working a full-time job and trying to network/build a base of clients so that way we could actually start a company and was trying to get funding to finish the film. He and I spent about 20 hours a day for a long weekend back-to-back in my parent’s house, finishing the trailer. The trailer, specifically, was the hardest thing I have ever edited. Once the trailer was cut, Justin wrote and recorded the end of the doc. Finishing the film became second nature to me. I loved the finishing process, adding in the graphics/animating and getting it ready for a color grade and mix. Finishing the film, in general, was one of the coolest things I had ever done. For Aaron was one of the coolest things I have ever been a part of.

When it was all said and done, For Aaron: The Documentary, premiered to an audience of over 1,200 people in Justin’s hometown before going on the film festival circuit – claiming numerous awards for Best Documentary, Audience Choice and Best Spirit Awards.

Justin Jarrett:

Being able to share Aaron’s story with as many people as we were able to was a dream come true. In addition to the festival circuit, the film was shown at high schools and non-profits around the country. I still have all of the letters I received from complete strangers telling me how much the film meant to them. It was in those letters that our Projects That Matter Initiative was born. From that point on we knew we wanted to create meaningful content that could effect change within the world. It was the best decision we ever made.

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