The First 100: Where TCBCast Came From and Is Going

I know, I know. I first teased a write-up about TCBCast back in April 2018, promising to do it after finishing up “A Mammoth In Harmes Way” that spring. Well, better late than never, and just as we’re coming up on our 100th episode of the show.

TCBCast has its origins actually way before even Never Been to Graceland’s earliest drafts. Back in 2007, during the initial wave of internet reviewers like the Angry Video Game Nerd and Nostalgia Critic, I told Skeeter Bite vet Matt Luebeck (Dr. Lawrence from Jamie Klotz’s Diary/Mountain Dew Monster from Adventures in Hot Springs) that I should hop on the bandwagon and review all of Elvis’ movies, since that was the one topic and niche I knew enough about to do! Just one problem: I didn’t own all of Elvis’ movies. Plus, I was in the midst of hemming and hawing over getting The Week in Hot Springs made anyway, so the idea fell by the wayside, with me thinking: “well, it’s Elvis. Someone else is sure to do this, and I’ll enjoy watching it.”

No one did.

The original Blue Suede Reviews logo

By mid-2013, I had finally finished collecting all of Elvis’ films on DVD, with the final one being 1957’s “Loving You.” Over the years,as I started finding more and more films, I kept waiting for a series to pop up but never felt the pull to do it myself. I was uncomfortable putting myself out there. I very much felt that although I knew a lot, I didn’t know enough to be taken seriously, and didn’t have fully formed opinions to say something interesting about the topic at hand that a million better critics and fans had already said. But with how well Jamie Klotz’s Diary was turning out (for what it was), I finally started to think more seriously about doing the Elvis review series. I even created a logo for the show, calling it “Blue Suede Reviews,” and even filmed an introduction to the series. I felt awkward on camera, though, and not only never posted the intro, but also deleted the raw footage, setting the idea aside again.

By the end of 2013, I had started writing “Never Been to Graceland” in earnest, and used the scripts as a way of working through my feelings and opinions about Elvis’ career and legacy, as well as grappling with things going on in my personal life as well. Creatively energized by Christmas Heist at the end of 2015, I finally felt confident enough to try again, but this time in a video essay format, and moreso as a way of connecting with other Elvis fans who might enjoy “Graceland” if it ever got finished.

In the new format, I didn’t appear on camera and instead read from a script, which I felt more comfortable with. Reviewing Elvis’ films chronologically, I started with Love Me Tender, released the day before Elvis’ 81st birthday, and found a good rhythm, being able to produce an episode weekly, and even did a one-off episode to review the Elvis-themed episode of HBO’s “Vinyl”. My favorite of the entire run was the Jailhouse Rock review, where I took the film’s popularity to task over feeding an iconography that arguably hurt Elvis’ career more than helped. I pretty much gave Jailhouse Rock a bad review in many ways, and I finally felt like I had found a unique and interesting perspective.

But the series only made it as far as Flaming Star, in late May 2016. Flaming Star kept getting takedowns from FOX, blocking the video entirely, so I kept re-editing it and re-uploading the episode. This constant reworking ate into the normal schedule which could have been put towards continuing into Wild in the Country, Blue Hawaii and others. The last version of Flaming Star to be uploaded, in frustration, featured only still images from the film and still managed to get a content takedown just for bits of audio from the film. Finally, I gave up. I stubbornly refused to move forward unless Flaming Star was up and in the backlog. The series would be incomplete if it didn’t have crucial fans in the Elvis movie canon. Besides, Never Been to Graceland was going to be filmed that fall and I wasn’t going to have time to do the series and make the movie at the same time anyway.

In the meantime, I picked up the RCA Albums Collection box set and got inspired again to put some content out for the anniversary of Elvis’ passing. I did miss doing Blue Suede Reviews, but still didn’t want to budge on picking up the film reviews unless Flaming Star could get up. So I had a crazy idea to review all 60 albums in the set, off the cuff and on-camera, over the course of the 6 days leading up to August 16. I kept them under the banner of Blue Suede Reviews, but aside from getting sick toward the end of filming, all 61 albums got a review, plus at the end I did a recap, essentially asking myself “what did I learn from this experiment?”

I tell you all of this long, rambling backstory (about a long, rambling Elvis series) to get to this point: on that final recap video, one of the folks who watched me dig into all 60 CDs in the set, commented on the final video and left this very kind message, which I responded to.

Never Been to Graceland got filmed a month later, in September 2016, and eventually was released 11 months later on August 16, 2017, the 40th anniversary of Elvis’ passing. During the making of Never Been to Graceland, the original person cast as Michael, who dropped out and was replaced by Stephen Farruggia, was actually a huge Elvis fan. After our first conversation during auditions, we tossed around the idea of doing a podcast together at the insistence of Stephen & Bridgett, who were mutual friends, and had been trying to get us together in the same room to talk Elvis since they knew we’d hit it off well. But between his leaving Never Been to Graceland, over which there were genuinely no ill feelings held, and some creative disagreements (I felt the pod’s name should be “No Jumpsuit Zone” with the idea of leaving the pop culture expectations of who and what Elvis is at the door), the idea of two enthusiastic young Elvis fans doing a podcast together fizzled out.

Until…

I was browsing the /r/Elvis subreddit in mid-January 2018 and came across a 5-day-old thread about someone asking if there was a good Elvis discussion podcast and even throwing out there the idea that if anyone was interested in starting a show up, this person would be up for trying it. With Graceland being done, I was sort of creatively direction-less (I honestly had not expected to finish Never Been to Graceland as soon as we had, it was more of a 10-20 year goal rather than a 3-4 year achievement in my mind), so I took a shot in the dark. I wasn’t paying attention to usernames – if I had, I’d have seen this individual had the same handle as the person who’d commented on the final episode of the album reviews. To my surprise, he messaged back right away and said, let’s call each other and see if we hit it off and if it works, let’s try recording a discussion.

Our first phone discussion was nerve-racking – here was a mid-aged dad from Vancouver and a 29 year old guy from South Dakota – and we managed to find some common ground and common interests, including Elvis. So after that first conversation, we got Skype and a recording program figured out and gave it a whirl, dubbing our podcast TCBCast: An Unofficial Elvis Fan Podcast.

The first episode is almost entirely raw and unedited, except to add a handful of short samples of the songs discussed in our Songs of the Week segment, a section of the show we created to do a deep dive into the history behind a single song from Elvis’s catalogue each and every week, making sure that at the end of the day, every episode left listeners with an appreciation for the music and a desire to hear more. I think I listened to the episode about a dozen times before publishing it because I was so thrilled with how it turned out.

And then the hard work began. We decided to do a weekly show, recorded every Wednesday night and released roughly (depending on my work/theatre schedule) every following Tuesday. We began developing a format for the show, and came up with a list of topics we wanted to cover, ranging from album and movie reviews to discussing Elvis’ influences and contemporaries. The first 20 episodes of the show really solidified what TCBCast was going to be.

After two general discussions, we picked up the dropped thread of Blue Suede Reviews in assessing both films starring Elvis & films about Elvis. We discussed general fandom interest topics like the best Elvis books and websites. We lucked out that the start of our show came very near the release of HBO’s “The Searcher” which led to a lot of people finding our show – our review of the second part came with a heavy but interesting discussion featuring a student journalist who had written a negative review of the film and who had come unexpectedly under fire from many Elvis fans for what they viewed as an uninformed critique for voicing opinions commonly held among young people today about Elvis. That episode remains one of most downloaded, and is among my favorites.

But the one I remain most proud of was the full episode on the influence of Roy Hamilton’s music on Elvis, a subject that featured heavily in “Graceland.” Not only did we get to highlight this influence, but to our surprise, we learned that Roy Hamilton’s son, Roy Jr, who has been working tirelessly for decades to get his father’s accomplishments acknowledged by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, had heard the episode and commented on it to express his gratitude!

Over the course of 2018-2019, we expanded to include the regular guest co-host Ryan Droste, whom I had informally met on the For Elvis CD Collectors forum years earlier, and who hosted his own wrestling show, Top Rope Nation, and we’ve featured guests from many walks of life, including some young Elvis fans just learning about the man, some lifelong Elvis fans (including musician Jamie Kelley, who’d previously been gracious enough to allow me to use his song “Coming Back to You” during the end credits of “Graceland” when the music for the credits was unable to be completed just before the premiere), and in 2019 even did crossover shows with Jaime Kay, the host of The Jungle Room, another Elvis-related podcast that started up around the same time we did.

For nearly two years, we’ve produced a 1.5 to 2-hour show every week, with only occasional breaks (usually filled in my compilation episodes, which in the tradition of Elvis’ Golden Records compilations, feature past Song of the Week segments). And that’s on top of everything else like “SideQuests” and the other theatre shows, and, you know, getting engaged to Deana! Gurdip has, I’m proud to say, become one of my closest personal friends and someone I’m very honored to get to do this with every single week. I’ve been blown away looking at the analytics and emails we get from listeners that come from all over the world.

TCBCast is the culmination of an idea that started as long ago as some of the earliest Skeeter Bite projects, but it leaves me re-energized and excited every week. We’re no longer the only Elvis podcast on the block, but Gurdip & I are both proud that TCBCast is reliable and consistent, both in content and release schedule. We’ve made it to 100 episodes because we’ve got listeners that inspire us to always keep learning more about our topics, and because we keep each other accountable. When I’ve only had myself to answer to, like on Blue Suede Reviews, any one moment of frustration or hiccup could cause it to go off the rails. Gurdip, Ryan & I have a great working relationship and more importantly, good friendships that keep us wanting to continue to do the show. It’s a level of collaboration and artistic fulfillment I hadn’t found in any other medium – film, writing, theatre – so I’m just as excited for the next 100 episodes of TCBCast as I was for the first.

One Weekend Down

So “SideQuests: The Princess & The Peasant” is a thing. Opening weekend has come and gone and we have one brush-up rehearsal and three remaining performances before the show is a wrap.

At the time of my last post, we had just held our first read-through. The show has come through extensive changes since then, not least of which was the title.

I did, in fact, find the subtitle “The Un-Adventures of Blink” to be a little too video game-y, so three or so weeks before opening – and before most of the marketing had gone out – we changed the title to “SideQuests: The Princess & The Peasant,” which makes way more sense and is an easier sell, especially when making comparisons to films like “The Princess Bride” in terms of tone.

The new title also is a bit of an intentional misnomer – obviously for most of the show the assumption is that the titular Princess and Peasant are Rana and Blink, respectively. In the final scene in the show, where the subtitle is actually uttered, it’s revealed that it’s actually about someone else entirely.

The script is about the right length, but it’s only thanks to the help of our stage manager Nate Hein and the stage crew that the show is able to be pulled off in roughly a page-a-minute. I would be remiss not to also thank the costume designers Stacey Martin and Jenna Harrington, who dedicated at least, if not more, time to the show than even the primary cast members in pulling out some elaborate designs. Similarly, Daryl Person and Dan Van Bibber made many of the set pieces possible, and a massive team of cast & crew pulled out all the stops to paint the scenery on the revolving flats and static backdrop.

The cast went through some minor shake-ups as well. For a good chunk of the early rehearsals, Skeeter Bite Productions vet Jake Pannill (Indiana Jake from back in the Week in Hot Springs days, Gus in The Christmas Heist) was playing Sir Billiam, but he unfortunately had to drop out. However, that opened up an insane and not-entirely-coincidental spot for Zach Cox, who had originally played Blink back in 2016, to jump in and join the cast as Sir Billiam.

And wow, what a change Zach’s energy brought to the show. His cocky yet cheerfully charming portrayal of the pompous, arrogant and selfish Sir Billiam added a whole new dynamic, especially in his interactions with Breanna Remington, who played Billiam’s squire, Rowan, and Blink himself, Jesse Powers.

Jesse had, only a couple years ago, played the role of the young brother “Billy” in “I Sent My Grandma Into the Past.” Billy was essentially a Dennis the Menace-esque 50s-era troublemaker archetype, and with that show being Jesse’s first, he played it very timid. Man, what a difference 2 years makes. At age 15, Jesse is able to carry the whole first half of the show without much problem. His portrayal of Blink is a little more awkward and shy than Zach’s more assertive approach in the short film, so he has his own spin that you absolutely buy into as soon as you hear him start to speak.

Zach joining in partway through – and bringing that sort of quiet earnestness that he had brought to Blink, Spencer in “Grandma,” and Robin in “Christmas Heist” – really made me reconsider the character of Sir Billiam and as we rehearsed, there was a gap in the show where we needed some dialogue to cover Blink’s filling up Rowan & Billiam’s canteens, so I dashed out some new dialogue between Billian & his squire to not only fill time, but also allow Billiam the one moment of letting his guard down, and it ended up becoming one of my favorite parts of the show.

I really will have to sit down and write a lengthier blog about the character of Rana, probably after the show’s run finishes, so I can talk spoilers, but suffice it to say that in SHCT newcomer Abigail Kreilaus, we found someone who could really take that character and run with her, and surprised the hell out of me once we cracked what made her tick.

The character of Lexi, too, who had only really come about in the last month or so before auditions, found shape in Paetyn Van Bibber, who has really just blew me away throughout the run at her intuition as a performer at such a young age. As a nod toward the Jamie Klotz’s Diary movies, I pulled out the purple hoodie that had been purchased (and never used) for Jamie Klotz’s Diary 3 and passed it on to Lexi – and although it’s not mentioned verbally in the show, a prop work order for the Narrator character canonizes Lexi as Jamie’s cousin.

And that little frog puppet, who had made his way into my life back in 2009 for “The Frog Gump,” got his own little hat to match the one worn by Craig “CR” Gates, who plays Gorf in the show (which had been Oliver Juhl’s role in the short.)

If I can be a bit candid, I have been disappointed with the attendance over the first 3 nights. They’re very much “on par” for our previous normal summer shows (excluding the musical HMS Pinafore), but for the sake of the 40-odd cast & crew, who have put their heart and soul into this show, I had really been hoping for more, and am really banking on the Arts & Crafts Festival to drive more people to the show next weekend.

But I always end up being the eternal optimist, and I am already looking forward to what other projects I might be doing on the horizon. I had been worried for a long time after Graceland that maybe I was done for, and had used up all the good ideas, but now that I’ve possibly found some fun new collaborators through this show, I have been inspired with some new ideas. As usual, most of them probably won’t go anywhere, but I am excited to just have ideas again at all.

This Frog Puppet’s Come a Loooong Way in 10 Years

Hey so writing on this thing is a thing I still do like once or twice a year… apparently when a show or movie is coming up. Gotta justify that domain name and hosting cost just a little, right?

We held auditions back on April 23rd for the summer production for Southern Hills Community Theatre’s 7th season, SideQuests: The Un-Adventures of Blink.

I first started brainstorming the story for SideQuests in late 2014, well before I had written The Christmas Heist, just shortly after the very first outline of Never Been to Graceland, and even before we’d finished filming Jamie Klotz’s Diary 2.

The concept was literally as simple as this: what would a story look like where you followed a background character? This at its core isn’t a new idea: one need look no further than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as an example of this premise at play. Certainly there’s no shortage of minor characters and reluctant heroes developing into something more significant or commenting on the absurdity of the larger story.

But what if you took that a step further? What if there was a character who wasn’t only a character of no importance, but actively pursued that as the status quo. Dropped into a fantasy backdrop, I thought a series a short films filmed in summer 2015 would make a great way to try this concept out.

An early logo draft for SideQuests from 2015-ish.

Even as early as March 2015, I had several characters outlined: Blink of Springshire, Princess Rana, Sir Billiam, and Lord Phil (later Lord Poe). The initial plan was to film 4 different shorts, each representing a different style of video game side quest and commenting on it. There would be an overarching plot that would play out as well in the background – the larger story of political intrigue in this fantasy kingdom, with the idea that the “real story” was merely peripheral to whatever Blink was doing.

  • -There was a Fetch quest, where Blink would seek out a magic lamp for a wizard and would in turn receive several potions from the wizard
  • -A Delivery/Trade quest, which spoofed the Legend of Zelda-esque item trading and would have Blink running from town to town progressively getting more frustrated at how many errands need running;
  • -A Random Encounter quest, which played with the idea of procedurally generated game missions, with Blink and Rana encountering NPCs that spoke in looped dialogue and fractured sentences meant to serve up random quests, as well as copy-pasted enemies and NPCs, with Rana, an “important” character finding this extremely bizarre and Blink, a nobody, not finding anything odd at all;
  • -And an Escort quest, which would essentially be the culmination of Rana accompanying Blink throughout the 4 episodes and it being revealed she was in fact a princess the whole time, thereby upending Blink’s entire mode of thinking
The frog puppet that appears in SideQuests as a short film was first purchased for an unfinished short in 2009 called “The Frog Gump.” Bits of this were released as part of Skeeter Bite Scraps.

By the end of March 2015, I had gone as far as writing a partial script for the Escort quest – from Blink getting the potions from the wizard to him first seeing Rana, to him serving up the potions to Sir Billiam and his “fellowship” of traveling adventurers. By the time I finished with the 11-page script, I realized that I had barely touched on the actual Side Quest itself and had instead cracked something more interesting and substantial than just some quirky video game references.

Having stopped writing the shorts in pursuit of a longer, larger story that tied better into the material I’d written, I called off the planned filming as I was wrapping up post-production on the first cut of Jamie Klotz’s Diary 2. Then The Christmas Heist began ramping up in mid-to-late 2015 and I put SideQuests on the back burner, although I think I may have mentioned it offhand to the cast at the time.

After Heist, my headspace was pretty different from when I’d started writing Graceland, so I pretty much scrapped everything and started over on Graceland‘s script. In mid-2016, to distract myself as Graceland was coming closer and closer to reality, I had continued developing the world of SideQuests, fleshing out the characters of the Royal Advisors, Sir Billiam’s Fellowship, the process of Princess Rana’s Appraisement (later, the Proving Ceremony) and a sweeping, overarching story. But my biggest struggle was trying to understand what made the character of Blink tick.

The final logo for SideQuests

The initial idea of him avoiding being anyone important is not actually as simple as it seems. It’s totally at odds with everything in a writer’s bones, and to have him be internally consistent, I had to sit and think about, in every scenario, how is he going to avoid actually doing anything of importance? And as a reader, you want to root for the protagonist. Even anti-heroes and reluctant heroes have their cheerleaders. I kept getting this weird feeling that Blink was unlikable in some way.

When I finally sat down to start writing again, I tried writing it as a narrative. It was there that I wrote the first words that would define Blink and his journey right up front:

 

Blink is not a hero.

Don’t root for him because he will only disappoint you.  …

You see, Blink took a vow to never be a hero; to never be anyone or do anything important. As far as he knows, he’s the only person to have ever taken such a vow, and it has served him well. 

That was it. For Blink to work, you just had to say up front: look, this guy’s going to disappoint you. And then you have the freedom to deliver on that. I didn’t get far on SideQuests in that format, though, before Graceland beckoned.

What I did realize, though, was that although I’d been editing Jamie Klotz 2 well into 2015, I hadn’t actually directed anything on video since late 2014, when we had made The Black Owl – and that, too, wasn’t finished yet. So before I went off and made Graceland, I quickly wrote up a script using some scene ideas I’d had between Blink and Rana, got Zach and Isabel, who had been in The Christmas Heist, to play the characters, respectively, and we roped in Oliver Juhl to play the character of Gorf, a dentist’s son who’d been magically turned into a frog.

Dusting off my camera and abilities, we went out and shot the short SideQuests: Gorf in a single day, on August 14, 2016, just a mere couple

The frog puppet also appeared as one of Jamie’s blind dates that Kaitlyn set her up on in Jamie Klotz’s Diary 1 in 2013. The exact puppet will also be used in the stage version of SideQuests.

weeks before Never Been to Graceland would start filming. Graceland took over and once more SideQuests, even with all the footage on the hard drive, got set aside for the time being, and wasn’t even touched until after we’d wrapped I Sent My Grandma Into the Past, the spring 2017 show I’d written and directed for SHCT.

I started fooling around with the footage in April 2017 as a distraction from the editing of Graceland, giving it some warm Hobbiton-esque color grading but it wasn’t until November that I finally finished it, and I didn’t publish it online it until New Year’s Eve 2017, nearly a year and 4 months from when it had been filmed.

Around that same time, I’d gotten together a group of youth actors to help me do a brief read-through of some of the archival Skeeter Bite Productions scripts and material for a retrospective documentary that would eventually blossom into Skeeter Bite Scraps in 2018. We were able to record a read-through of the SideQuests “Fellowship” script.

The rear of the promotional cards

The positive reception of this material gave me reason to believe the story was still worth pursuing, so after the 2018 SHCT season finished, I asked the board if I could develop SideQuests into a full show for the 2019 season. There would be a bit of a time crunch to write the script but I already had nearly 40 pages of scripts, scenes and story written, along with a more fleshed out outline to follow, so they gave me the go-ahead.

And that’s pretty much how I got here. The script for SideQuests isn’t quite as long as The Christmas Heist, but it’s a bit longer than I Sent My Grandma Into the Past. I think it’s got the potential to be funnier than either. I am still a little worried about the title – it might be a bit TOO video-gamey but I managed to make that an integral part of the story, and made a point to include a definition of the phrase on our promo touch cards we’ll have the cast handing out.

One of the last and most fundamental changes to the story actually came within the last month before we wrapped the spring show, Leading Ladies. For quite some time, the story had had two separate Narrator characters that would jump in and out of the story, and ultimately they were to be become the rulers of the kingdom since they had the most knowledge of any character in the story. It was funny, but it seriously lacked the heart that had been present in the earlier shows I’d written and I was stumped how to bring it home in an emotional way. I finally cut one of the Narrators, had the other quit halfway through the show, and brought in a completely new character, a young girl named Lexi, that could serve as the audience’s perspective into this crazy fantasy world. Lexi’s love of video games helped to better clarify immediately in the first scene what a “side quest” actually is, and a twist in her story that not only could tie into the relationship that builds between two of the antagonists but also help give Rana someone to relate to, finally gave SideQuests the heart it needed.

It remains to be seen how the story will play out. Certainly there will be changes to the script as we’re rehearsing. In The Christmas Heist, there were at least a couple entire (albeit short) scenes that got cut or integrated in part to other scenes, and I’m sure SideQuests will evolve as well. But I can’t wait to share the story with everyone.

Oh, and as I did on The Christmas Heist, I filmed the read through in anticipation of the moment in which the big twist is revealed… which got a nice big reaction from the cast. You can see some open and covered mouths at the shocking revelation in store for audiences when we perform this puppy in June.

Skeeter Bite Scraps

In 2003, I wrote my first play that was performed in choir class. True to form, it was Elvis-inspired, and called “Viva Las Vegas 2.” Classmates performed, with me injecting Elvis songs in the flimsy plot. I had thought it had been lost (either on a tape I didn’t own, or recorded over) until I recently re-discovered it on an old VHS tape. And so that means 2018 marks 15 years since I first really started developing stories to tell, be they films, plays or short stories.

Over the past few years, I’ve been slowly going through, re-transferring old Hi-8 and miniDV tapes and even getting old hard drives repaired, full of raw footage.

I’ve uploaded videos of student life at my high school, re-edited & remastered many of the short films that were completed, and even pieced together short films that had only been partly shot, like Taterfied and The Big Play.

This video represents essentially everything else that’s left in the Skeeter Bite Productions video archives worth looking at. Short of uploading complete, unedited files, this both marks a celebration of everything that we’ve made the last 15 years and shows the progression in terms of quality and purpose.

There are partial scenes from unfinished shorts, raw test footage (some only seconds in length), outtakes & behind the scenes shots, alternate and unused scenes from otherwise finished projects… literally scraps.

Here’s a breakdown of everything you’ll see

-The first video I ever shot, of downtown Hot Springs
-Indiana Jones Fan Film: Test footage for an Indiana Jones fan film in 2005. I’m playing the Indy stand-in and you can hear Jesse and Matt behind the camera. These first few clips were recovered from an old Hi-8 tape.
-Wise Man on the Rock: This was the next short film we attempted to make, but it was mostly recorded over except these few seconds. Essentially, Jesse would have gone to seek out Matt, playing the titular Wise Man, for some sage advice. Later, this character was merged into the Mountain Dew Monster from A Day in Hot Springs, and in fact, in some versions of that film, Jim even says “That’s not the Mountain Dew Monster, that’s the old man on the rock!” This is sourced from the original digital transfer of the tape – the tape was subsequently recorded over again.
-Jesse & Matt playing pool: just the intro of this, though there’s probably a good 10 minutes of them playing on the tape.
-Daniel during MASH: Just a snippet of Daniel Crossman (who would later play “The Man” in Jamie Klotz’s Diary) during the HSHS Drama production of MASH in the fall of 2005. This snippet was actually played at the Jamie Klotz’s Diary premiere, and is from the original 2005 digital transfer of the MASH footage, which was uploaded alongside the rest of the HSHS Student Life footage from that year. The original footage was taped over.
-Taterfied Outtakes: just a short clip shot in the shop class room. Also from the original student life digital transfer.
-A Day in Hot Springs Outtakes: All of this footage here is sourced from the original May 2006 digital transfer. Only the third tape of footage was recovered in 2016. All shown here is from the first or second tape, but these show the progression of the Indiana Jones/adventure concept, and the “Peanut Butter Ninja,” a phrase which would show up against in Jamie Klotz’s Diary 2
-Paradox Unused Scenes: We reshot a substantial portion of this, so this variation showing Jesse & Jim’s “thinking rocks” (a predecessor to Jamie Klotz’s “thinking caps” scene) has never been seen before. This is sourced from the original 2006 tape transfer.
-Pocket Lint Outtakes: Just a random outtake from Pocket Lint. This footage was all taped over, so this is from the original tape transfer.
-Death and Gump Outtakes: This tape is one of the better-preserved ones from that period. Although the source miniDV tape was recorded over, before it had been taped over, I had made a full backup on Matt’s DVD recorder, which is the same process I used in 2017 when I backed up all the still-existing tapes. This footage comes from a 480p rip of that DVD.
-Unused Jesse & Jim Video: I had forgotten we’d filmed this until I rediscovered it transferring tapes in 2017. It had never been transferred & backed up before then.
-True Love Sunglasses Outtake: from a new transfer of the original miniDV tape. This same source was used for the remastered TLS, which included a new post-credits scene.
-Turtlesphere Q Test Footage: Another literal scrap. We intended on shooting a Dragonball Evolution spoof but only shot this. This was the same day we shot the “Taylor’s Bad Day” footage that was used in the new “movie” version of The Week in Hot Springs.
-The Frog Gump: Partial scenes from an incomplete short intended for the “Adventures in Hot Springs” webseries in 2009. The same frog puppet would be used in Jamie Klotz’s Diary and SideQuests. In the latter portion with Matt as the Genie of the Trashcan, I’m puppeteering with the intent to have Jesse dub the footage later with his voice. This footage is all from a 2017 miniDV transfer.
-Kazoo Hero Vocal Tracks: Recovered from a broken hard drive, these are the original raw vocal tracks recorded for Kazoo Hero in 2009, separated from the music. The video is from the remaster done in 2017 from a miniDV tape transfer.
-A Minute in the Park with Gump: Exactly what it says. It was the last thing I shot with Jesse. This marks the transition from tape transfers to digital video. Shot with the same camera used on Jamie Klotz’s Diary and in the same location as the park chase scene in the first JKD.
-Jamie Klotz’s Diary Deleted Sequence: We shot a bit of footage before the take starts, and then it continues with the edited sequence. This was to play into Dr. Lawrence’s “can’t even water the flowers at the end of the driveway” line, to signify a change of heart for him that would pay off at the end of the movie. We cut it after we shot Jamie & Kaitlyn just leaving after the conversation with Dr. Lawrence.
-Jamie Klotz’s Diary Footage: An outtake of the park “Rocky” gag, a rehearsal and alternate version of Jamie’s missing socks monologue at the start of the film (which was changed when we realized Jamie shouldn’t be in her pajamas during that scene), an outtake of the “Babycakes” scene
-Christmas Radio: A clip from a rehearsal and a small portion of the performance in December 2013.
-The Big Play Rehearsal: Taken from the same read-through that is used in the edited version of The Big Play, we actually read and walked through all first three episodes of The Big Play. This shows a scene from the third episode.
-Jamie Klotz’s Diary 2: an assortment of outtakes, alternate takes, a rehearsal, and a multi-angle of The Man in Dark Gray being pushed into Cascade Springs.
-The Black Owl: A shot of Black Owl and Chickadee running past the camera, meant to pay homage to Batman films with similar shots.
-The Christmas Heist: a handful of scenes from auditions and rehearsals for this Southern Hills Community Theatre show in 2015. I actually filmed every rehearsal for this show in full but the hard drive THAT footage is on has been crashed for almost a year and awaits recovery.
-SideQuests: Alternate takes from SideQuests. Incidentally, Zach Cox makes an offhand remark about not needing to cheat out as much since filming a short film is different from being on stage in a play.
-I Sent My Grandma…: The original ending featured Jordyn as Zoey delivering the closing speech entirely alone, as seen here in this rehearsal. Later, we changed it to have the whole cast deliver the lines most relevant to their character.
-Never Been to Graceland Alternate Narration: This deleted narration wasn’t featured on the DVD deleted scenes or online later. It was determined that the full freeze-frame-and-narration wasn’t necessary and only served to slow the film’s opening down.
-NB2G Improv Outtakes: Tyler Mathieson, as “Dan the Man” gave us multiple variations on what his character might yell when awakened during the final scene of the film. They’re compiled here.
-NB2G Deleted Scene w/Temp Music: Beyond the fact that we were never going to get the rights to Roy Hamilton’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” on our budget for the commercially-available version of the film, this scene was cut anyway to tighten the pace and story around Michael as the protagonist. This is the scene as it was in the first edit, with temp music included.
-Viva Las Vegas 2 Clips – Recovered from a VHS tape, from 2003. Fun fact: in the first cut of “Graceland”, that deleted scene literally does end with a transition to Elvis’ “Follow That Dream” over a travel montage that was also cut. That it also happened to be one of the songs I had in 2003’s skit “Viva Las Vegas 2” brings everything full circle nicely I think.

Never Been to Graceland: Deleted & Alternate Scenes

This week it’s been one year since Never Been to Graceland was released so each day we’ll be releasing a special piece of content, some of which was featured on the Never Been to Graceland DVD, some of which has never been seen before – enjoy!

Here are a handful of scenes that were cut from the final version of the film, including an entire subplot! Featuring music by Just Mirlyn – visit them at justmirlyn.com and check out their music on streaming services!

A Mammoth Theatrical Experience

It’s been like a fever dream. One minute, I’m wrapping up a full remastering of the entire Skeeter Bite Productions archive (more on that in a later post!!!) the next, it’s four months later and we’re almost ready to open the first show of Southern Hills Community Theatre’s 6th season.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that because it’s being staged in Hot Springs, “A Mammoth in Harmes Way” has anything to do with the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, but in fact it does not. The show, instead, draws from the experiences of Kathe Holen, whom I had worked with on The Christmas Heist when she played Mrs. Phyllis Falkowitz, and has an archaeological bent, not a paleontological one. Kathe and her husband Steve, as it turns out, are archaeologists and were among the co-authors of a paper presenting evidence that mammoth bones found in California may have been broken by humans almost 130,000 years ago.

That paper, published on April 26, 2017 (just a hair under a year ago as of this post) in the scientific journal Nature, rocked the archaeological world and was featured across the mainstream media. You name it, they covered it: Washington Post, NBC, ABC, NatGeo, NPR, CNN, Buzzfeed, The New Yorker, LA Times, The Atlantic… the list went on and on…

I had read about it and knew the Holens had co-authored it, but I guess, to be frank, I didn’t understand the weight of it until later. It’s probably a good thing though that I wasn’t as intimidated as I probably should have been when Kathe approached the board of SHCT with her script for “A Mammoth in Harmes Way.” While the script was not at all based on actual events, the inspirations are clear with an emphasis on controversial findings, backlash and skepticism in the scientific community, and accurately depicting real archaeology.

Among that was peppered a potent blend of fictional mystery, drama, romance and even hints of social commentary on women in science as journalist Beth tagged along on an expedition with Dr. Robert Hedlund, and his team of archaeologists and volunteers, unraveling not only a scientific puzzle, but a larger, darker secret surrounding the Harmes Way excavation site.

We were just on the tail end of the summer show HMS Pinafore, when I first read “Mammoth.” What immediately struck me about the script was the earnestness and honesty with which it was written. There were no cheap narrative tricks… there was zero cynicism. You could sense authenticity in every line.

Quite a good chunk of the plays SHCT have undertaken in the first five years were shows written by playwrights, men and women who churn out several scripts a year full time to keep revenue flowing. Formulaic is a generous description. But don’t get me wrong, they have their place – sometimes you want to go to a theater, turn your brain off, be entertained, get fed the right emotional beats, and leave without remembering the name of the show in six months.

Ten points for wistfully longing for the good ol’ days. Twenty-five points if they reference Shakespeare anywhere in the script. Fifty points if it’s a holiday show that’s an adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.” One hundred points if the plot is about staging a play-within-a-play, doing a radio or TV show, or writing scripts and things going awry.

The other night, I sat down to finalize the last of the Skeeter Bite archival transfers: I Sent My Grandma Into The Past, The Christmas Heist, and Christmas Radio. I hadn’t watched “Radio” since probably mid-2014. How much our little theatre has grown since then! Isaiah, who plays one of the leads, Dr. Robert Hedlund, in “A Mammoth in Harmes Way” was 15 or 16 years old when we did “Radio.”And I thought the last four months flew by, let alone the last 5 years!

It had been the first show which I had written part of (the bookends surrounding the radio play adaptation of A Christmas Carol – said script racks up 185 points at least, thankyouverymuch!) and the first show that I had directed. The Christmas Carol portion wasn’t anything to write home about, but those bookends, if I can humblebrag a bit, were pretty all right! Not great but I still think they’re kinda charming.

In particular, toward the end of the show, there’s a moment where Sam Martin, playing the Orson Welles knock-off Richard Ives, berates the radio station’s cast for all the production woes. But Isaiah’s character, Jack, stands up to him, telling him that despite everything, the little troupe had done their best with what they had.

At the time, it was an intentional coda to the whole season. It was the last show of SHCT’s first season. Sure there plans for the next year, but who knew how long the theater would live? I didn’t know if I would ever get to write or direct another show again. Betsy had taken a chance on me without knowing whether I even could write and I wasn’t going to waste it.

I knew when I read “Mammoth” that I wanted to take the same sort of chance on Kathe that Betsy had taken on me, and Kathe had expressed an interest in having me direct it if we thought the show was good enough to stage.

Kathe and I had a great sit-down meeting where we explored in great detail all the questions that I always ask myself whenever I am writing and directing my own material: Who are these characters? What are their motivations? What’s going on between the lines, before and after scenes? Why does this character know this piece of information and how did they learn it? How does one character feel about another even though they may never speak a line between them? Thinking about a story in a deeper, more self-critical way that’s equal parts objective and subjective was a lesson I myself had learned the hard way, especially on Never Been to Graceland. Knowing how it had been inspired by so many real elements in her life, I wanted to save Kathe the heartbreak of losing something beloved dearly late in the game like I lost AJ’s subplot in Graceland. Thankfully it wasn’t anything we had to really worry about!

After the dinner theatre was done in late October, we held a read-through of the revised script, with some theatre friends joining us and filling in roles. Hearing it out loud just confirmed that the show was ready to be staged.

So here we are, less than 24 hours out from opening night. But it’s more than that. It’s the first show of our 6th Season, the first without Betsy (follow her over on the As We Go blog), Kathe’s first, and for me, the first thing I’ve ever directed that did not originate with myself. That might not seem significant, but this year marks the 15th year working by and largely only on my own material. I’m thrilled that “A Mammoth in Harmes Way” is the first major project to break that trend.

Looking back, that scene from Christmas Radio takes on less of a manifestation as a coda than something resembling a recurring mantra: no matter what anyone else says, no matter how many things might go wrong, and though I might not do things as well as a more experienced or trained director or writer might, but we’re going to do the best with what we have and hope folks enjoy it.

I’ll be back after the show to write more about the podcast I started with Gurdip Ladhar, TCBCast, and share some neat behind the scenes stuff from “A Mammoth in Harmes Way” as well as start outlining what the next couple years are gonna look like project-wise.

-Justin

SideQuests: “Gorf” | Short Film

Blink is not a hero. He’s taken a vow to never be anyone or do anything important. A young woman and a frog have other ideas for him.

Filmed in late summer 2016 just before Never Been to Graceland as a “refresher” since I hadn’t filmed anything substantial since “The Black Owl” almost a year earlier. This took a while to finish since my energies were focused on Graceland. Now that I’m wrapping up all these other stalled projects, I’m hoping to get back on the Blue Suede Reviews wagon, too!

Starring:
Zach Cox as Blink
Isabel Meyer as Rana
Oliver Juhl as Gorf

The Week in Hot Springs | Unfinished Movie

This is it. After 12 years, the story of “The Week in Hot Springs” is finally able to be told. I’ve scrounged tapes and old digital transfers for anything usable – scraps of scenes, long lost outtakes, half-baked ideas, incomplete shorts – and re-edited everything completely from scratch, and fleshed out the unfilmed parts of the story with interstitial titles. There is one new piece of content. We never shot anything for “The War of the Dandelions,” the final 7th episode. So with the help of some young actors, one scene has been read through to finally finish the project.

If we had the time, the resources, and the patience, this is the story we would have and almost told.

It’s terrible. There’s no continuity. There’s no production values. The acting’s all over the place. Most of the the plot makes no sense. There’s no pacing, no flow. But fuck it. We tried.

Tater Lodge Forever!