On September 28, 2009, I wrote a blog entitled “8MM Blues,” bemoaning the fact that there was footage on a number of 2005-2007-era tapes that I never got to transfer – and never got to edit! After a number of failed attempts, I had to come to terms with the idea that either I would one day go back and transfer everything, or never transfer it at all, and be okay with myself in either case.
Fast forward over 7 years later to early 2016. Finally in a place with some disposable income, I ordered a Digital8 camcorder online and set about preserving several of the tapes, including one tape of A Day in Hot Springs raw footage, leading to the 10th Anniversary re-edit of that short film utilizing that newly restored footage. Much of the student life/high school footage on those tapes were left un-transferred again intentionally – I simply didn’t feel the need to. On nearly every tape, there were still parts that were unreadable by the specific Digital8 model I owned. I needed an older Hi-8 model if I planned on seeing the rest of the footage again.
Fast forward another year and a half to October 2017. A spur of the moment decision to finally transfer the student life footage led me to rewinding all of the tapes to their beginnings and capturing every frame I could find. Enter the lost Quest for the Lost Treasures footage.
At the beginning of a tape that was otherwise dedicated to little else but video of “edgy” mid-00’s teenagers flipping the camera the bird was almost 14 minutes of Summer 2006-era Jim, Jesse and myself, shooting inserts and partial scenes. These 14 minutes, which I had not seen in over 11 years, sent me down a rabbit hole that led me to finally ordering a Hi-8 camera on eBay with the intent of resolving an almost decade-long mystery.
What I found was collectively 8+ hours of video, with almost an hour and a half of raw video specifically tied to Skeeter Bite short film productions, the earliest of which dated back to literally the first thing we ever shot in 2005, for an Indiana Jones fan film that never made it beyond the opening shots and that I had honestly thought had been taped over or lost altogether.
Also rescued was a substantial amount of footage from the attempt at a folksy webseries in the vein of Red Green, “Taterfied”, starring our buddy Josh “Tater” Tatum. Previously, only 6 seconds of blocky, low-res video remained – now almost 20 minutes of raw footage, including a whole short sketch, is now available.
Finally, there was the raw footage of our Super Mario Bros fan film starring my friend Drake Piper. None of the footage had previously been transferred, but there was enough footage to finally edit together the complete film, which I have now finished and will post in a follow-up.
The excitement of finding “new” footage and even video that had been transferred years in marginally better quality has pushed me further down the path of re-editing a number of original Skeeter Bite shorts that suffered from resolution, aspect ratio and editing issues.
Aside from the Super Mario fan film, I’m re-editing for the final time a number of “Adventures in Hot Springs” shorts. Furthermore, several of those shorts will be edited into a feature-length “The Week in Hot Springs” movie that uses text cards to flesh out the overarching story and context between scenes as originally intended.
That will launch alongside SKEETER BITE 15, an autobiographical documentary outlining 15 years of storytelling, from a comic strip called Gibbers in 2002 to Never Been to Graceland in 2017. This documentary will allow me to showcase some of the other recovered footage, highlight behind the scenes video and images, and overall provide some much-needed context.
Back in 2007, I started a list to keep track of all the projects and ideas I’d had up to that point. Ten years later, I decided to sit down and – using a bit more strict criteria – tally up all the projects that had 1) actually come completely to fruition & was released, 2) had either reached a full script or was substantially completed, or 3) directly led to another project that fit the other two criteria. Using this criteria, and including the forthcoming “The Week in Hot Springs” movie, Skeeter Bite 15 will mark the 100th major creative project I’ve undertaken.
At the beginning of this summer (is it fall already?) I had gotten the external hard drive that had failed me in mid-2011 repaired and the files copied to a new drive. Before this, I had managed to recover a substantial amount of documents, videos and music from an old hard drive backup that my buddy Matt had saved since high school. Some other documents I had emailed to myself and were able to recover, and many fully-edited videos I had either burned to DVD or uploaded online and so had available to me as backups.
But there were dozens of outlines, notes, half-finished scripts, and other writings as well as photos and literally hours of raw footage dating back as far as 2005 that disappeared on me for 6 years.
Aside from a nice walk down Memory Lane (and down one or two of Memory Lane’s seedier, not-so-nice alleyways), I found myself comparing the first five years writing and directing seriously (starting with A Day in Hot Springs in 2006) to the last five and realizing just how far I’ve taken this already, and wondering how much farther I can go. And, to some extent, how much farther I want to go.
Of course, as I’ve talked about before, inevitably I’ve had a few people ask if I’m working on the next film project… and for the first time since 2003, the answer has no. I have not been working on a damn thing of my own. I’ve been fortunate to be trusted to try to fill the shoes of the incomparable Betsy Savage as the president of the community theater, which has brought its own host of challenges – creative and otherwise – to tackle.
I’ve been asked to direct the spring show by the show’s author, the immensely gifted Kathe Holen, whom I worked with on The Christmas Heist and who was inspired to craft her own show. So, too, have I been asked to provide insights and feedback on other people’s projects, and I’m grateful for the opportunities and trust placed in my opinion.
I’ve also been taking the opportunity to watch more films and shows than I have in years, ranging from classics I’ve always wanted to see to but hadn’t had the means to do so, to random flicks that catch my attention. My biggest inspirations in those first five years were films that I picked up in the dollar bin at the local Family Dollar. Often indies or mid-budget studio films that frequently fell short of deserving any genuine critical acclaim, but had immense passion pouring out of every frame. Weird, off the wall stuff like “Teenagers from Outer Space” and “They Call Him Sasquatch.”
If the first five were spent being inspired, and the second five years of my creative endeavors were spent attempting to wrap up the narrative loose ends from the first five (e.g. Adventures in HS > Jamie Klotz; Bermuda Anbesol > Christmas Heist) that I didn’t have the resources to, then I want to start my third five the same way as the first – being inspired.
But still, after 10 years, it’s not in my nature not to be working on something of my own. In September, I turned 29. Before next September, I want to have produced one more film. I feel like I’ve been more honest with myself lately about the likelihood of my projects – film, stage or otherwise – actually coming to fruition, keeping better perspective on time, finances, my own procrastination, etc.
So what’s next?
I’m working on a feature length comedy-drama based on one of the shorts I had wanted to do this summer and failed at. I just re-worked the outline last weekend. Even if we had a completed script (we don’t!) at best this film is a 2020 project (release or filming, I don’t know for sure!) But that’s the next goal to hit. It’s my new “Graceland.” And setting that goal frees me to not feel the pressure to exceed elsewhere.
Here’s what I mean: seeing as how it’s also the first year of the next five years of doing this, I think I’m going to take a cue from Justin of 2006-2007 and just throw some really, really out there shit at the wall and see what happens. Whatever I do next, it’s probably not going to be screened. The continuity might really suck. The sound might really suck. Some of it might not even be good at all. I’m ready to see if I still have it in me to be inspired and weird and inventive.
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!