The first outline was much zanier. Instead of a long-lost song, the MacGuffin was a long-lost Elvis film that had been canned under the orders of Colonel Parker. Michael, traveling cross-country to see the film “because he’s seen every Elvis movie and has to see the last one,” ran across a deluded fan who claimed to be the daughter of Elvis and Ann-Margret, a biker gang, a mega-rich collector of rock and roll memorabilia, and a duo of bumbling private investigators hired by AJ’s parents to find her when she stows away in the back of Michael’s truck (unbeknownst to him.) Oh, did I forget to mention? AJ, now a reporter, in the early drafts was a teenager on the run and in its earliest incarnations, “Graceland” attempted to blend the silliness of Willy Wonka and It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad World with echoes of the grounded, on-the-road cinematic sensibility of Terence Malick’s “Badlands”… all under the umbrella of a celebration of the phenomenon that is the fandom of Elvis Presley.
Four years ago today, I was still smack in the middle of editing The Incredible Search for Jamie Klotz’s Diary, trying desperately to prove that I could make a movie, period, let alone a good one or coherent one. I had announced Graceland at the premiere of Jamie Klotz’s Diary. It was my “end goal.” Knowing how long and how many failed projects it took before I got to Jamie Klotz, I have to confess I honestly don’t know if I ever thought I’d really actually make Graceland. If I was going to follow this dream, why not shoot as far as I could imagine?
A few days ago I sat down and watched Jamie Klotz’s Diary for the first time in about a year. Whenever I have a new project that’s about to be released, I always end up watching old projects to just reflect. I’d forgotten how funny that movie was, but also, too, how endearing its low-budget workarounds were. I still saw so many things I wish I could just back go in and fix – visual effects, camera moves, sound quirks. Then I switched over and watched Graceland one more time, looking for any possible reason to make any last minute changes or fixes. I couldn’t find one. It is literally as good as it is going to get. Short of re-shooting, I couldn’t fix anything else… and I wouldn’t want to anyway.
So here I am, trying to savor every moment of this, because I don’t know when the next one will be, or if there WILL be a “next one.” I’ve got ideas, some of which I might even talk about at the premieres during the Q&A, but I’m not committed to anything. I’m going to spend a lot of time next week thanking people. I mean every word of it, and if I forget anyone, I’m incredibly sorry. This has been an amazing four years and it couldn’t have been done without help.
My only hope now is that it resonates with the right people.
I have a shelf at home on which I have every single one of Elvis’ movies, from Love Me Tender to Change of Habit, plus the documentaries, TV specials, and a good number of Elvis-related movies that don’t star the man himself; Well known stuff like Walk the Line and Elvis & Nixon alongside more obscure stuff like Lonely Street and Elvis Has Left the Building.
Now I’ve gotta make room on that shelf for Never Been to Graceland.
Exciting news! Never Been to Graceland, after 4 years of work, will finally premiere August 16-17 at the Hot Springs Theatre in Hot Springs, SD and August 18-19 at Seraphim Theatrical Entertainment in Rapid City, SD!
On August 16, it will also be available on Amazon through Amazon Video Direct, which is arguably even more exciting!
It is an understatement to say that after 4 years, I have a lot of mixed feelings about finally unleashing the film onto the world! I will have to write about them soon… Just wanted to get the word out!
If you took one look at the premise of Eugene Jarecki’s newest documentary, “Promised Land,” which premiered to generally positive reviews at Cannes Film Festival, and then looked at my work, you’d go “oh duh, of COURSE he wants to see it, it’s about Elvis.”
Well, yes, this is true, but it’s a little more complicated than that. The concept behind Promised Land is that Jarecki uses Elvis as a metaphor for America and the American Dream, in a documentary filmed in the middle of the political turmoil of the 2016 election. Early reviews indicate a hypothesis that by this metaphor, America is in its “Fat Elvis” stage, an era of decadence and the cult of celebrity
Here’s where I struggle with a documentary like this. Logically, as a filmmaker and writer, I understand I should walk into this film open-minded. I think Jarecki’s going to present some very interesting arguments from a gamut of talking heads and celebrities, and I think it will be a nuanced film. What is more frustrating however, is where the media is focusing – as is usual with Hollywood, it’s on the most extreme.
Case in point, early reviews frequently mention Chuck D’s appearance in the film – Chuck D having famously hurled an explicit insult at Elvis in Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” – but very few of those same reviews actually get to the content of what Chuck D had to say in the film. Knowing myself that Chuck D later gave a more nuanced perspective, stating:
“As a musicologist — and I consider myself one — there was always a great deal of respect for Elvis, especially during his Sun sessions. As a black people, we all knew that. My whole thing was the one-sidedness — like, Elvis’ icon status in America made it like nobody else counted. … My heroes came from someone else. My heroes came before him. My heroes were probably his heroes. As far as Elvis being ‘The King,’ I couldn’t buy that.”
This is a completely valid perspective, and one I completely, entirely, 150% agree with, and it’s also a far cry from the edgy lyrical content of “Fight the Power.” And yet all over the Cannes reviews “Straight up racist” is what is reiterated yet again in front of an America with a 12 second attention span.
I want to see the film because I believe there can still be nuanced conversations about celebrity, culture, and music. I want Eugene Jarecki to prove to me that he’s got more in him as a filmmaker and storyteller than to draw on old cliches about Elvis based on unfair iconography and symbolism that don’t reflect the man behind the image. I’m desperately hoping the reviews are only reflective of Hollywood’s love of focusing on the most extreme elements of Elvis’ life and legacy. I want to believe a 40 or 50-something director has something new or unique to say about Elvis and his place in our culture that a hundred other books, documentaries and articles haven’t already said.
I want to walk into that movie with an open mind, but if the filmmaker isn’t interested in making a film with an open mind and creates the film with a foregone conclusion – that America IS Elvis and Elvis IS America and that the man matters less than the image – and every question asked of the talking heads is a loaded question and every answer shown hand-picked retroactively in the AVID to support that conclusion… well, here’s what the Hollywood reporter has to say about the grand finale:
At least Jarecki is generous enough to allow Presley the last note, almost, towards the end of the film where the aching, exquisite interpretation of “Unchained Melody” he performed for the 1977 Elvis in Concert CBS special is allowed to play out over a montage that includes footage of nuclear explosions, Elmo, the aftermath of Katrina, Miley Cyrus twerking and Monica Lewinsky. There might have been a kitchen sink too, but in the flurry of edits I probably missed it.
And they say Kissin’ Cousins is corny. I can’t wait to see it.
So, what the heck, let’s make some shorts.
While Never Been to Graceland is wrapping up post-production before the big premiere in August, there’s really not much left to do on that end, so I’ve spent the last month and a half wringing my hands out of sheer boredom.
Finally, I couldn’t take any more (and neither could Deana, who has to put up with my fidgeting on a nightly basis) so I have decided that Summer 2017 will be a summer of Skeeter Bite Shorts.
Each month for the next five months (May, June, July, August and September) I want to produce AT LEAST one short film in a different genre or style with a variety of self-imposed restrictions to push my creative boundaries where they have yet to go. I’m going to tackle these with the same level of brashness with which I tackled a short film we did back in high school called “Pocket Lint.” The raw footage to this is still on my hard drive, and was labeled “outofourasses.wmv” because that’s exactly what it was.
We’ll try to do better than that, though. No promises!
-SHORT SHOOTS: Each short is only going to be shot in one day or one night, with the allowance of one possible pick-up day per film if something goes wrong or something gets missed. Scheduling is hell. Actors are often restricted by day jobs or distance, so we’re going to mitigate excuses not to jump in the fray.
-NO STAKES: We might end up filming and completing every single one. We might film half of each of them, all of half of them, or none of any of them. Doesn’t matter. We’re not submitting these to festivals. We’re not looking for reviews. We’re not looking to compete with anyone else or show off some amazing bold new idea that we are deluded in thinking will change the world of cinema. This is pure passion.
-DON’T TRY TOO HARD: I’m gonna do these the way I shot stuff in high school; that is, very quick, very loose. Short turnarounds. Imperfections. These may not be well produced on a technical level when they come out. What we film may not even represent the scripts I write. Doesn’t matter because we’re going to…
-TRY NEW THINGS EVERY TIME (AND PROBABLY FAIL BUT MAYBE SUCCEED): Some of the shorts may not be in the same vein as things I’ve done before. They may not be comedies. They may not be adventures. They may not even be family friendly. Maybe they will. I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know. Look up a couple on the list again. “NO STAKES.” I’m not counting on everyone to see these, or even like them. The only things that will matter is if me and my collaborators…
-HAVE FUN AND LEARN THINGS: We have to. It’s the only way we grow as people and as filmmakers. I’m hoping I make shorts with people I’ve wanted to work with for a while but have never had the right project for. I’m hoping I make new projects with people I’ve become great friends and collaborators with.
I’m excited to try this. Let’s make some stuff.
It’s here! One year of production, four years of development and 16 years of inspiration has led to this! Never Been to Graceland is almost complete!
We have officially launched an IndieGoGo to help facilitate pre-orders – check it out here and get your order in!