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.
Thanks for the memories Taylor, Gump, Jim, Scott, Jake, Matt and Tater!
In May 2006, a class at Hot Springs High School was assigned an end-of-year project by their teacher, who was sick of hearing “there’s nothing to do in Hot Springs” from her students. Everyone was supposed to make a video showing what they do on an average day in Hot Springs. Taylor Lund and Jesse WhenyaNeedham were in that class and came to me and said “let’s make a video!” They gave me a bunch of ideas for scenes and jokes and I wrote the script. We called a bunch of our friends and on May 19, 2006, with a borrowed Digital 8 camcorder, we started filming “A Day in Hot Springs.”
The kicker? The video starts off with Jesse and Taylor hanging out, then it completely goes off rails into things that would NEVER happen – a ninja attacks, they meet an Indiana Jones-esque adventurer, get lost underground, visit the “Tater Lodge,” and even encounter the mysterious “Mt. Dew Monster.”
The creation of the video itself was the statement – this is what we do on an average day; we make our own fun. It premiered the following Monday – they got docked a few points because it was too long.
This was one of the very first things I ever wrote, shot and edited. It’s terrible, it’s nonsensical, it has no plot and the jokes are ripped off. But after the school year was up, Jesse and I sat down at Centennial Park and started writing Quest for the Lost Treasures: Another Day in Hot Springs with a plan to make it into a 7-part series (one for each day of the week) of what we nowadays would call a webseries that would have been posted to MySpace (and in fact still is – https://myspace.com/thegaus/video/the-quest-for-the-lost-treasures/54150771?mri=54150771)
Throughout 2006-2007, we wrote the rest of “The Week in Hot Springs” and shot a huge chunk of it all the way through 2009, but never quite finished it. It suddenly had a plot spanning different dimensions and time travel, shamelessly ripping off everything from Aladdin to Revenge of the Sith, and featured an adversary known only as “The Man” …….sound familiar? This one project inevitably led to the Jamie Klotz’s Diary series, and indirectly to Blue Suede Reviews and even Never Been to Graceland.
The original short was edited in Windows Movie Maker from a 240p transfer directly from the camera. I always swore one day I would track down a Digital8 camera again and transfer what footage didn’t get recorded over and re-edit it at a higher quality. I finally did last year, and I’ve held off on posting this just for this day. This is the result. (Most of the higher quality footage is in the latter half).
I probably re-edited this thing problem 5-6 times before 2010 as various “special editions”, adding overdubbed dialogue, adding special effects, music and sound effects, fixing typos and every single time, still finding things that I screwed up. True to form, there is a typo in one of the titles in the 2016 version. Maybe one day I’ll get this f**king thing right.
It’s October 21, 2015. If you haven’t already figured out by the countless Facebook posts and news articles, that’s the day to Marty McFly travels in 1989’s Back to the Future Part II.
Many people have fond memories of these movies and I’m not different. Back to the Future, along with Beverly Hills Cop, were the two movies not branded with Disney or Don Bluth that I watched over and over and over on VHS as a kid, the first two “adult” movies that I only only liked, but understood and appreciated in some way I couldn’t explain. While most jokes and cultural reference points of both the 50’s and the 80’s flew over my little munchkin head, I was thrilled by the idea of time travel; the concept of going back in time and changing things to how you wish they could be. And even moreso by the idea introduced in Part 2 and expanded upon in 3 of what was essentially the butterfly effect (though Doc never uses such a term.) I realized very early on that Back to the Future wasn’t a coming of age story for Marty, it was a coming of age story for Doc. Here was a man who dedicated his life to science and the invention of time travel to the brink of bankruptcy, to the point of helping terrorists, literally laying his life on the line, and learning to stop thinking about the past and the future but instead focus on the present. Fascinating stuff, even for a kid. Back to the Future Part 3 is far & away my favorite of the trilogy, but inevitably I just end up watching all three parts.
I could argue Back to the Future is the movie that inspired me to make movies, or at least write stories.
We had the first Back to the Future film on VHS, but I had to wait to record Parts 2 & 3 from TV before I could watch them on any sort of regular basis. But I very vividly remember being so enthralled with the first film that I sat down with a notebook and started writing a sort-of novelization of the first movie, from memory. I remember taking the notebook to Pizza Hut and proudly displaying my hundreds of words (probably poorly) depicting the first 20 minutes or so of the first Back to the Future film.
BTTF later bled into almost everything else creative I did. The Adventures in Hot Springs’ 7 day proposed themed-episodic structure would have allowed me to experiment with different genres I always wanted to try to film: Night in Hot Springs was suspense, Quest for the Lost Treasures (and later Jamie Klotz’s Diary 1) were the Indiana Jones-influenced adventure/treasure hunt films, 1001 Arabian Gumps was an homage to the Disney Renaissance, War of the Dandelions was a space opera on the ground, and Paradox was shades of Back to the Future through & through. (read: plagiarism)
Bttf.com was a constant web visit through my adolescence, the crappy TV recordings (with dubbed dialogue over the swear words) were replaced by the 2002 “Complete Trilogy” VHS boxed set with bonus features tacked onto the ends of the tapes, which I devoured, then those were in turn replaced with the DVD set, full of commentaries and extra making-of features. I remember reading a report talking about how Back to the Future’s script is one of the best scripts in movie history; not in the sense of quality or cultural value, though one could argue for that as well, but instead that no line or shot is wasted in moving the story forward. Every detail is paid off somewhere else later in the film.
In 2011, when the Back to the Future video game by Telltale came out (pre-their Walking Dead days) I was all in, buying them for PC as soon as I could and was thrilled by the story and world created within that game, what I consider Back to the Future part 4. That Christmas, two different gift buyers got me copies of the game, for Wii and PS3, and I played through both again, happily, and will again on PS4 with the new edition.
I didn’t mention it in the Origins blogs, but the original Jamie Klotz’s Diary script drafts included an element of time travel. The watch that Dr. Lawrence invents originally jumped time, not other dimensions. The movie would have opened with a flashback to the 1880’s and Jamie’s ancestor Jessica and Christoff Dorn’s ancestor, who was unnamed in all drafts, would have been introduced, as well as the idea of the treasures existing even then. There are still elements of this in Dr. Lawrence’s story he tells Kaitlyn & Jamie. Later, when Dorn slaps the watch on Jamie, rather than meeting the Man, she would have met her ancestor in the “old west” a la BTTF Part 3. These scenes were replaced (for the better IMO) with the Man’s scenes due to budget constraints.
Dr. Lawrence in the final movie still very obviously references Doc Brown, but that was as far as I thought the BTTF-Jamie Klotz connection would go…. until the cast asked to do another one. Of all the genres encompasses in the scripts for the Adventures in Hot Springs, time travel was always the one that fascinated me most, because of BTTF, and the influence of BTTF Part 2’s thick-with-exposition story specifically, on me led directly to Jamie Klotz’s Diary 2 and its story of altered timelines, past, present & future.
I’ve said before that if there were to be a Jamie Klotz’s Diary 3 (and there likely won’t be) it would have to be a western, in tribute to BTTF 3.
So long story short (too late), I’m thrilled to be celebrating Back to the Future Day before I leap in to my next big project, The Christmas Heist, which is also slightly inspired by 80’s teen movies like BTTF, and the many many many John Hughes films of the 80s.
Following Gump’s prior antics in “A Day in Hot Springs” and the partially completed “Quest for the Lost Treasures,” we had scripted five other “days,” which could be released on *cough*MySpace*cough* as webseries episodes. Because of a large number of issues in production, the extent to which each was completed varied highly, and though fewer elements from these were later reused in Jamie Klotz’s Diary, the ones that were carried over were significant.
1001 ARABIAN GUMPS
The third “day in Hot Springs” was, essentially, a beat for beat rip-off of the classic Disney film, Aladdin, with Gump filling the Aladdin role, except the villain introduced was an annoying short pipsqueak known as “Half-Pint.” Complete with two musical numbers, almost none of this script was filmed as it was one of the last scripts of the seven days written (it was also the least connected to the other episodes, plotwise.)
However, in 2009, Gump and Matt (Dr. Lawrence in Jamie Klotz’s Diary) did film one scene that we adapted from the original script into a single short where Jesse meets the Genie of the Trash Can.
Another element from this script that sort-of led to inspiration in JKD was the incorporation of an Arabian theme in the design of Sahera’s costume by Bridgett Hill. But, with this script having never been filmed, it wasn’t much of a reference. It just looked cool.
The fourth day in Hot Springs script, however, heavily influenced Jamie Klotz’s Diary II in very specific ways. I’ll try not to spoil the plot of JKD2, but Paradox saw Jesse having his car, The Gumpmobile, stolen, leading to a montage scene (see the last column for video comparisons on that scene.) After finding the car, (it having been stolen and destroyed by Half-Pint) Gump is gifted a kitchen timer by his girlfriend that coincidentally doubles as a time machine.
Sensing some time-travelly antics, two secret agents show up to capture the offender, and Jesse escapes to a prior episode and brings a past version of himself to the current episode to help. These agents were known as “The Men in Dark Gray.” Though they were cast, nothing was actually filmed with these characters, but in Jamie Klotz’s Diary II, we learn that in Jamie’s alternate timeline, Eric the FBI Agent has been promoted to inter-dimensional duty as one of the Men in Dark Gray, and has powers of his own.
Jamie Klotz’s Diary II originally also called for multiple MIDG, but scheduling limited the number to one, played by Sam Martin, with the power to multiply himself.
Another element from Paradox that later influenced Jamie Klotz’s Diary II in a minor way was the script-only distinction between Future Jesse and Past Jesse.
Throughout Paradox and War of the Dandelions (the final day in Hot Springs), the Jesse from the past is referenced to as “PJ.” Whilst originally not even mentioned in the script, halfway through shooting JKD2 the original scene of Jamie travelling into her past was rewritten to take her into her future, and an exchange about what the two Jamies should call each other was added to the script in an homage to the other “PJ” and also establishing the playful attitude of the Jamies toward each other.
ADVENTURES IN HOT SPRINGS
Only one element from any of the other episodes of the Week in Hot Springs carried over to Jamie Klotz’s Diary. That element was filmed once but was unfortunately taped over before it was transferred to dgital, so only a few frames exist from that shoot. Coincidentally, it’s a twist that, if revealed, actually would ruin the plot of JKD2, so I will wait until the movie is out to reveal that part!
Anyway, after what seemed like an utter, abysmal failure in my attempt to be something like a filmmaker, I finally gave up on the Week in Hot Springs project in late 2007, around the time my grandmother passed away and moved on to another project, entitled Shards of the Transient Diamond.
This project was different from The Week in Hot Springs in that Jesse would portray a young man gifted a piece of the titular diamond and be joined by an assassin sent to protect him from a crime syndicate set on retrieving the magic diamond. While minor in its influence on Jamie Klotz’s Diary, Daniel Crossman (The Man) would have played a loner figure who talks to his pet turtle Greg, who talks back, but only to him. The complete “diamond” prop and the puppet turtle purchased for this film (the script of which has long been lost) both were reused and appear in Jamie Klotz’s Diary’s treasure-hunting scene.
After stumbling around that failed project for another year, we decided to revisit the Week in Hot Springs characters in 2009, but with a micro-webseries of sketches. Numerous short scripts (and some advice given to me by a pro filmmaker taken to heart) led to the filming of videos like Kazoo Hero, MilkGump Blues, and the adapted scene from 1001 Arabian Gumps.
One of these sketches was partially filmed and would have featured Gump being turned into a frog, going through the stages of grief, trying everything he can think of to try to be turned back, including attempting to date several girls in accordance with the classic fairy tale “The Frog Prince.” He eventually learns to accept his fate, only to be rescued and returned to human form by the end. Scenes filmed include one with Matt returning as the magic Genie and one where “The Frog Gump” prays to God, who responds “If I help you out, you’re never going to learn anything. The frog puppet purchased for this sketch is reused for a gag in Jamie Klotz’s Diary wherein Kaitlyn sets her friend up on a blind date with someone with the online persona “Fr0gPrince.”
At the time we started doing The Week in Hot Springs, I was between the ages of 17-19, roughly the same age as the young cast that I eventually worked with on Jamie Klotz’s Diary and its sequel. When the vision I had fell through, I was absolutely devastated. I did not see the value in what I had done. I left the video we had shot unedited on my hard drive and started on another big project that ended up not even going beyond a half-complete script.
I have to confess that one of my biggest inspirations from as early as 2003 when I sat at the family computer and wrote over 100 pages of script, printing them out on the crappy little printer below the desk and eventually filmed four or five minutes of a Hi-8 video with “Indiana Jake and The Viking’s Sacred Staff” was this independent film made almost a decade earlier by a bunch of high school kids. I found it online and just went nuts. Their creativity and passion inspired something within me. If they could pull something like this off, why couldn’t I?
Every step from Indiana Jake to Gibbers to Shards of the Transient Diamond felt like a failure on a deeply personal level. I have a list that has remained with me since August 1, 2007, just before I started on Shards, on which I typed the title of every idea for a feature or short. At the time I created it, it was excruciating because I considered nearly all of them failures that never got beyond a script, some not even beyond a title and outline. The list wasn’t in any sort of chronological order, but some of them I had been thinking of for over 3 years already. The beginning of the list goes like this:
“Dukes of Fall River” (A Dukes of Hazzard Fan Film)
“Star Wars Fan Film” (I didn’t include any details on what this would have been)
“Long Black Limousine” (A short based on the Elvis song)
“Gibbers: The Movie – original” (based on the original script)
“Gibbers: The Movie – revisions” (based on a revised script)
“Gibbers: The Movie – rethought” (I once thought of scrapping the whole thing and starting over with a new script)
In search of Jamie Klutz’s Diary
The original 2007 list, which hasn’t been added to or taken away from since being created, goes on from there for another 54 ideas, including the Week in Hot Springs. I periodically looked at that list time and again for years, reminding myself of things I hadn’t done, as a sort of twisted motivator to keep trying, but never really grasping what it meant other than perhaps guilting myself into it. And every time I looked at it, I saw that title “In Search of Jamie Klutz’s Diary.”
Now, looking back, having brought that one single line to life, not once, but TWICE, I understand that every title on that list, whether they came to completion like A Day in Hot Springs, or only partway, like, say Taterfied, which was a road movie taking cues from “Red Green,” each page of script, and every second of video taught me something useful and helped me develop skills needed to succeed in some meaningful way.
The advice I was given by that filmmaker between Shards and Adventures in Hot Springs was that I ought to focus on shorts instead of features. There’s more flexibility and less risk. You can experiment without fearing the outcome. You can move on from failures quicker.
There’s a reason Jamie Klotz’s Diary means so much to me. Because that movie and its sequel represent the final trial of that advice. The incorporation of so many elements from the “failed” projects is my own private little “fuck yeah, I did this!” They’re not perfect films by any means whatsoever (I’d argue not much good at all.) But to me, they’re proof that I’m learning and developing. And every project from here on out, whether a success or failure, good or bad, is another lesson. I’d rather get better at failing than not try at all.
That film that inspired me, by the way, was Indiana Jed, by Michael & Marc Linn. Marc was the one who gave me the advice, and this past year I worked for a couple days on their upcoming film project as a PA. It wasn’t much and I am pretty sure I wasn’t impressive as a PA but it was an honor and a privilege as far as I was concerned.
After the creation of “A Day in Hot Springs,” Jesse and I had an idea for a number of sequels/prequels: make one video for each day of the week and release them as a webseries online to be known as “The Week in Hot Springs.” The first of which would be “Another Day in Hot Springs” which I clearly remember writing with Jesse while sitting hunched over a picnic table at Chautauqua Park in downtown Hot Springs. From that bizarre story, we spun off into other episode ideas like “1001 Arabian Gumps,” “Paradox,” “War of the Dandelions” and later going back to the night before “A Day in Hot Springs” (The Night in Hot Springs) and as far back as the beginning of time itself (“The First Day in Hot Springs.”)
Armed with scripts in hand and a ton of ambition, we set about casting and filming the stories, starting with Quest for the Lost Treasures. However, a number of factors, not least of which was my own horrible procrastination, led to only portions of the series being filmed. Cast members dropped in and out unexpectedly, schedules never jived, scenes were shot and reshot, throwing continuity to the wind.
We finally just “finished” in 2009 with the completion of a number of shorts we called “The Adventures in Hot Springs” which WERE released as webisodes and with numerous incomplete Week in Hot Springs videos “in the can,” digitally. I instead turned my attention to writing as I moved away from Hot Springs and away from my filming buddies.
Right off the bat, the first character Jesse meets in “Quest for the Lost Treasures” in an odd entity who is known only as “The Man.” From the earliest scripts, we always envisioned him as this laid back guy in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, sitting in a random back yard, with an underlying darkness to him beneath his cheerful demeanor.
The Man informs him that, due to his actions at the end of the last video, Jesse must now serve as The Man’s manslave for all eternity. When Gump protests, The Man offers a sole chance for salvation: find all 5 lost treasures of Hot Springs within 12 hours, and you will be set free.
The original Man was played by Tanis Koehn and shot in a hurried pace – the editing is frantic and the scene is rushed because of it. We never finished filming any other scenes with Tanis. But in Jamie Klotz’s Diary, The Man was written in as the character Jamie meets when she is trapped in another dimension by Professor Dorn, and she learns that he, too, is trapped there, making him much more sympathetic than the original Man.
The idea of sending characters around looking for something in a montage set to the song “Runaway” wasn’t even a new concept to Quest for the Lost Treasures. Read my blog post, “Refried Ideas; or The Montage Scene” about the original 2004 version of the “Gibbers: The Movie” script to see how I felt in 2009 after we finally completed the Week in Hot Springs version of that scene.
2007-2009: (remember, no continuity!)
So Jesse is returned to Hot Springs and rounds up Jim and Taylor to go treasure-hunting with him. The first question Jim has is: how are you going to know what the treasures even are? Jesse has no idea… but conveniently finds a “magic treasure finder” in a box of raisin bran. The treasure finder later reappears in Jamie Klotz’s Diary, given to Jamie by Dr. Lawrence, and reappears in Jamie Klotz’s Diary II, as seen in the screenshot to the left.
The very first treasure Jesse finds on his search is a treasure that later carried over to Jamie Klotz’s Diary also: a rubber duck. While it’s almost forgettable in JKD – she finds it in the river during the treasure hunt – it became a critical part of JKD2 when determining what the “extraordinary secrets” of each treasure are. One other reference is left: Kaitlyn’s new best friend Rachel almost directly quotes Gump when squeaking the duck.
One of the later treasures Gump finds (in a scene never filmed) is a pair of sunglasses, which he finagles off a nerdy kid who’s trying to get a date with his crush – a reference back to a video I was involved in making for school called “True Love Sunglasses.” While not the same glasses, it’s loosely referenced by Jamie finding a pair of sunglasses in her treasure hunt.
The second to the last treasure Gump & co. find in Quest for the Lost Treasures would have involved them meeting guys dressed up as Super Mario and Link from The Legend of Zelda, and of course Jamie Klotz’s Diary is replete with Zelda references. Another scene left unfilmed would have seen Jesse, Jim and Taylor scouring the public library for ideas, much as Jamie and Kaitlyn do after visiting Dr. Lawrence.
After Jesse’s new girlfriend, Eli, is kidnapped by the Mutant Peanut Butter Ninja, forcing Jesse to choose between saving himself or Eli and becoming the Man’s manslave, Jesse turns to Jim and Taylor for help… in the form of a training montage! Including running around the track at the high school and running up one of Hot Springs’ awesome staircases.
Jesse confronts the Ninja high atop the dam at Cold Brook, then finds out that the final missing treasure was with Eli all along, thus stopping The Man as well. Just as everyone is celebrating Gump’s victory, Jesse’s vehicle, The Gumpmobile, rolls up and Jesse gets a blast from the future as his future self proclaims the real danger is an unknown villain known only as “Half Pint” and asks Jesse to come with him back to the future.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THIS SECTION
Jamie Klotz’s Diary took a lot of direct inspiration from Quest for the Lost Treasures, and that was intentional. The first JKD movie was made not just for fun but to show that I finally had the resources and ability as a filmmaker to do what I had been unable to as an 18-year old. JKD2 is a step toward more serious filmmaking, with a clear and distinct plot from beginning to end instead of the more carefree and random JKD1, similar to how Quest for the Lost Treasures, if finished, would have had a more defined story than A Day in Hot Springs (though not by much, in retrospect).
In our next column, we’ll cover 1001 Arabian Gumps to War of the Dandelions and what elements of those inspired Jamie Klotz’s Diary. (It’s much less than Day in Hot Springs and QFLT.)
A DAY IN HOT SPRINGS
The original concept for Jamie Klotz was created in around 2004, with a simple title: “In Search of Jamie Klutz’s Diary.” It was scribbed in a notebook along with two other possible movie titles: “Where the Heck is Bermuda Anderson?” and “Gibbers.” Of the three, Gibbers was written as an ambitious film about an alien crash landing and befriending two young boys and having all sorts of zany adventures. However, it was a little TOO ambitious, and when it fell through, I was wondering what project I was going to work on next and I found it helping two of my best friends, Jesse Needham and Taylor Lund, with a school project in May of 2006.
Tired of hearing students complain there was nothing to do in Hot Springs, their teacher assigned her class to partner up and make a video showing what they do on an average day in Hot Springs. Being the type of people they were, Jesse and Taylor decided to be completely subversive and make a video showing things that would never and could never possibly happen on an average day, and in doing so, prove a point: making the video itself was what we did for fun in Hot Springs. They came to me with a pitch and scene ideas, and I scripted out the rest and after rounding up our friend Jim Cunningham to make up a haphazard trio, as well as numerous other friends, we spent three days filming and two days editing “A Day in Hot Springs,” in which our protagonists try to go about normal, everyday things like picking up friends, eating lunch, walking through downtown, and hiking except things going completely crazy, with random ninja attacks, angry hobos, musical numbers, and more. It sounds funny, but it’s pretty silly to watch, but I was ridiculously proud of it. At the time it was the biggest project I’d done. And they got a near-perfect grade, with it being docked for being a little too long – somewhere closer to 40 minutes when everyone else’s was a tenth of that.
That summer, Jesse and I sat down and wrote a sequel “Another Day in Hot Springs,” and then planned to do a total of 7, count ’em, SEVEN, episodes, each increasingly more complex than the next. We started filming before scripts were even complete and continued through our senior year and into the following summer, but got hung up on incomplete scripts, cast members dropping in and out, and my general inexperience as a filmmaker. Left with a hodge-podge of bits & pieces of the remaining 6 episodes, little did I know that they would evolve and become part of the lifeblood of both Jamie Klotz’s Diary movies.
So, if you watched the upper video from A Day in Hot Springs, and had also watched the trailer for Jamie Klotz’s Diary 2, this probably stuck out to you right off the bat:
That, my friends, is the Mutant Peanut Butter Ninja of Doom from the Planet Salmon, the line that Jesse cursed me over and over for while filming, and even actor Sam Martin, who plays him in JKD2, has a bit of trouble with. Scott Akers was the original ninja in A Day in Hot Springs, and early drafts of scripts for later episodes had him returning to get his proper revenge on Jesse Gump for beating him.
When I starting thinking about doing a sequel to JKD, I immediately knew that no matter what else the story was about, it had to start with Jamie coming home from college and almost immediately being attacked by the Ninja. Not just any ninja, mind you, but the Mutant Peanut Butter Ninja of Doom. It’s a great homage that maybe 5-6 people will get, but it tickles me every time I see it. Perfectly cheesy.
Although not the same character, one link between Jamie Klotz and her predecessor is the appearance of Matt Luebeck. In A Day in Hot Springs, he appears as the “Mountain Dew Monster,” a supposed local cryptid who, near the end of the video, appears and gives Jesse what was supposed to be a dry ice bomb in a Dr. Pepper bottle.
Matt was given a much meatier role in Jamie Klotz’s Diary as Dr. Lawrence. It was always intended in the script toestablish that Jamie and Kaitlyn had gone on a multitude of other adventures prior to this one, including beating Dr. Lawrence, the slightly off-kilter mad scientist who once tried to take over the world, but has since retired to a quiet life of minor inventions and house arrest.
Having Matt come down to play this part was amazing because it was a sort-of passing on of a torch, or treasure finder, as the case may be. Plus, since going off to college, Matt had grown to be a pretty capable actor. His creepy-Doc Brown-esque performance had everyone on set cracking up.
We reused many locations while filming Jamie Klotz’s Diary, partly as an tribute to those original videos, partly because the locations are awesome anyway. What was, in 2006, Indiana Jake’s hangout, is, in 2013, the location of the last treasure and the first real confrontation between Jamie and Dorn.
The drainage tunnel Jamie finds a treasure in is in A Day in Hot Springs as a warp to the Mushroom Kingdom (don’t ask, there’s no real explanation.)
It was like déjà vu coming back to some of these locations, and to the sole person on set most days who knew the connection, it felt like we were remaking or re-envisioning The Week in Hot Springs. And in some ways we were. Jamie Klotz Diary is what The Week in Hot Springs was supposed to be: a cute, funny, oddball story about kids learning to appreciate their home town, their friends and relationships, and understanding the brevity young people have with all of them before growing older and becoming adults.
If we were to ever make a Jamie Klotz’s Diary 3, it would be the thematic conclusion to that arch – if JKD1 is the random, fun part of being both a kid and a teen, and JKD2 is learning appreciate what you had when you were that age, especially valuing real, true friendships, then JKD3 would have to be finding your place in the world.
Most people won’t get that out of the Jamie Klotz movies, but it’s something I’ve kept in mind for a long time. My own sort of coming-of-age story, I guess.
Next Origins column, we’ll cover what happened to Jesse Gump in “Quest for the Lost Treasures” and just how many elements from that and its later iterations made their way into the Jamie Klotz’s Diary movies. (Spoiler: it’s a lot.)
I hadn’t talked about this for some time, what with moving back to Hot Springs, getting involved with Save the VA, starting a feature-length documentary, and working with the most awesome band in South Dakota, the novel “Once Upon A Time In Hot Springs” had been put on the back burner.
It’s still happening, and it’s become something very personal to me, and I hope it will feel very personal to anyone who’s either lived or visited Hot Springs.
Between all my other projects that have taken so much of my time, I have been continuing to do more research, which has been made much easier by the fact I actually live back in Hot Springs now! My first real outline of the novel, from beginning to end, has been completed, and working through the characters & events, it’s clear there are deeper themes in this story than in any other I’ve written before.
Firstly and foremost it’s a story about the endurability of a community; of a way of life. A town like Hot Springs has been uniquely built around healing since the Lakota first discovered the Minnekahta Valley. I have no doubts in my mind that Hot Springs will continue to be a spiritually healing place hundreds of years from now. But more than that, I take a look at the proposed closure of the VA facility in Hot Springs, as well as alternative plans to protect the community’s economy.
In the story, the antagonist is a well-intentioned businessman whose ultimate goal is to revitalize the community at any costs. Unfortunately, those costs are too high. His plans include buying the Evans Hotel & converting it back into resort hotel with a casino, booting out all its residents, as well as bringing an Old West gambling & partying culture back to Hot Springs. However, his plans also include manipulating history through his discovery of a wormhole beneath Fall River. He orders the robbing of stagecoaches that were never historically robbed; bank heists of banks that were never heisted! All in the name of creating a legendary back story for the community so that it can benefit from a colorful history in much the same way Deadwood and Tombstone have.
That false history is both compared and contrasted to the real one that the protagonists, Jesse and Jim, discover as they experience it firsthand. In going back in time to try to stop this man, they both find that the false history being created stems from a Hollywood western sensibility and yet the actual truth to much of real life history is equally or even more exciting and outlandish than anyone could possibly make up! An eccentric, self-proclaimed “Professor” who claims the Bible proves the world is flat? An attempted jailbreak on the night of a big sports event when all the police are distracted? All true.
Secondly, it’s a story about the open-endedness of life, there is no way to “fix the future.” Not everyone in the story comes out with a happy ending. Even Hot Springs itself in the story doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending. It’s a bit of a cliche with time travel stories, but as Doc Brown said best in Back to the Future Part 3 (which has actually had zero influence on this story, believe it or not) “The future’s whatever you make it; so make it a good one.” The point is that you have to be strong enough to pick yourself up when you get knocked down; you have to be willing to move on from one challenge, and onto the next.
But of course, at the same time, nothing is inevitable. As the antagonist learns, his actions in the past end up harming his own intentions but helping both the community, the protagonists, and the world at large, and even though he tries to set things “right,” nothing is certain. My interpretation of Hot Springs will, I hope, inspire people to continue fighting against those who seem to believe in that idea that corporations, businesses, and the government will have their way, no matter what.
But anyway, to sum it up, it’s still happening, it’s just going to take more time. I hope that it will be a story that everyone can enjoy & take something from, be it a childish gleefulness at the Old West-style action, quiet reflection from the themes, or enjoying recognizing important historical figures & locations from the region.