10 Years Ago…

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.
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Jamie Klotz’s Origins 9: Post-Production

THE 5TH DAY/RESHOOTS

After a fast and fun four day shoot, editing was immediately begun on The Incredible Search for Jamie Klotz’s Diary. Spurred on by the creative energy generated from the shoot, a rough edit was assembled by the end of the week. Almost immediately it was clear that there were major holes in the film. Dorn’s half of phone conversations with “the boys” were still missing and were thus filled in with stand-in shots for timing purposes (with me as Dorn), several scenes had serious audio problems (the library scene behind the glass was unintelligible), and worst of all, the last third of the movie’s pacing was choppy and rushed, jumping straight from Jamie asking Brandon for help to the final confrontation.

It was jarring and felt like there was something missing. So on the next Wednesday, June 5, 2013, Aspen, Garett and I went out to not only patch in a few holes in the opening and closing narration scenes by Jamie, but also add a completely new scene to the movie that had not been in the script, but was perfectly in line with the spirit of the movie’s predecessors. A training montage.

It makes no sense plot-wise as to why they would go do this, but that was part of the fun of the joke. We filmed portions at the HSHS Football field, back at Garett’s house, Evans Plunge, and several other places around town.

A favorite addition to the montage was the junk food scene, one which Aspen to this day still gives me a hard time about. This outtake pretty much sums it up.

On the same “5th day,” we brought Isaiah back in to fix a continuity error I’d caught in editing: in the scene where Dorn steals the satchel from Jamie, Ryan is hit by Jamie with the bag and then it’s stolen from Jamie by Dorn. Problem: these two shots were filmed on separate days, but were from nearly the same angle, and where Isaiah’s character “fell” was obviously empty in the shot with Michael. So we added a quick shot of Isaiah moving out of the frame, supposedly retreating from battle to go assist Sam’s character catch Okoye. Yet another minor fix, but an important one.

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In between takes, Isaiah demonstrates the “Kermit defense.”

EDITING

By the first weekend after filming, Daniel had come in to record his lines for the Sahera Backstory scene, although no artwork was complete at that time. After the day of reshoots, most of June 2013 was spent tightening up what was already there, adding sound effects and learning how to roughly complete the visual effects of scenes like Dr. Lawrence going 2D and making Sahera throw Down out of frame at an unrealistic speed.

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With mostly a lot of trial and error, by July 1, the fourth rough edit of Jamie Klotz’s Diary was complete. This edit still sits on my hard drive today and features a different opening song, very little color correction, rough visual effects (Dr. Lawrence is almost entirely transparent in his 2D form), Dorn’s half of the phone scenes are still missing and the credits have not been added. In spite of what was still missing, the movie was very much in watchable form.

A decision had also been made to axe the scene between Dorn & Lawrence because, in rushing the shoot that day to squeeze in as much with Michael as possible, I missed a couple crucial alternate angles and readings completely, rendering the scene mostly useless, in spite of it helping explain Dorn’s motivations and family connections to the diary and treasures. In order to fill that hole, dialogue would be added to Dorn’s (still unfilmed) telephone calls with “the boys” to clarify.

In late July, Aspen came in to dub the lines for the dreaded library shot as well as a couple new lines during Sahera’s backstory – which still had no artwork and we also shot the bonus end credits music number which would feature additional outtakes/cast dancing and would only be shown as part of the film during the premiere, which had been set for September 21.

On August 22, Michael finally made it back to Hot Springs and we added the crucial shots of him on the phone. Not the ideal scenarios compared to the scenes that had been scripted (in fact, Isaiah to this day has never met him despite their characters having a number of interactions on screen) but it was an exercise in creative compromise and working around limitations. On August 25, Okoye added her lines over the library shot and on September 5, an 8th draft rough cut had been assembled. Credits were added and the movie was essentially complete, save the artwork that was still missing. Enter Deana.

ART

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It’s no secret that Jamie Klotz’s Diary was in part inspired by The Legend of Zelda game series and, as scripted, the scene depicting Sahera’s backstory was always intended to be done in a style similar to the openings of A Link to the Past or The Wind Waker. However, I had no idea how it was done, or where to even start.

A week before the movie was set to premiere, I still had no idea how this scene was going to be done. My girlfriend Deana took a look at the game openings, almost immediately recognized the style I was looking for, and offered to create the prints necessary to finish the scene. I sketched out what I had in mind and she fleshed them out, creating the artwork, carving the blocks and, two days before the premiere, creating the prints themselves, which I scanned, composited & edited into the movie literally the night before the premiere.

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Sahera defeats the 9 wise men. Each of the 9 treasures used to free Sahera is supposed to represent one of the wise men.

She hasn’t gotten nearly enough credit or recognition for the amazing artwork she created, and unfortunately it’s buried till almost the 45 minute mark of the movie. But they’re really fantastic pieces of art that – even if the rest of the movie was blah – that scene was going to look great!

THE PREMIERE

It was a turnaround of only four months between the first day of shooting and the release of The Incredible Search for Jamie Klotz’s Diary. When the premiere date hit, I was so nervous that I hid in the Mueller Center conference room as people entered the theater and made Aspen make the announcement that the program would be delayed 5-10 minutes to wait for the stragglers to come in.

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Would they like it? Would they think it was funny? Would they get it? Was anybody even out there besides friends and family? I was just hopeful anybody would even show up, let alone like the movie. To me, I was still surprised that in spite of it feeling so thrown together, it felt cohesive. Worst of all was the discovery that the Mueller Center’s audio system was cutting out the left audio track. Due to the last-minute completion of the Sahera backstory scene, one of Daniel’s lines was accidentally hard-panned left. Without a real hard fix and completely incapable of re-rendering the whole thing, my quick fix was to load the isolated line as an mp3 on my cell phone and play it through one of the microphones as the movie was playing, cued at just the right moment.

Somehow, it all worked. I don’t know how, but it did. Even more surprising was how engaged the audience was. They were willing to give this slapdash, thrown together project of mine a chance, and during the Q&A, they asked so many great questions of the cast. I was feeling a lot of feelings, but mostly I was just grateful. It was completely unreal and I went home that night wondering it was all a dream.

The question on everyone’s mind, even asked during the Q&A, was: what’s next and would there be a sequel?

 LESSONS LEARNED:

-Don’t be afraid to make cuts or additions based on the needs of the story and pacing.

-Your first edit will suck. Your second edit will suck more. Your fourth edit might be watchable, but it will suck. Be brutal. Keep tightening. Find a flow and go with it.

-Test all equipment, both on set and before you screen the final thing.

-Whether people like it or not, you did it. And that’s an accomplishment you can be proud of.

-Carry the lessons you learned into the next thing you do and make that next one even better.

Celebrating the movie franchise that sparked creativity in me!

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.

Local film writer/director premieres sequel

BLACK HILLS FOX
May 29, 2015
http://www.blackhillsfox.com/home/headlines/Local-film-maker-premieres-sequel-305543811.html

Hot Springs community members came out Friday evening to catch the premiere of a locally produced feature film.

“The Extraordinary Secret of Jamie Klotz’s Diary 2” is a sequel to the original “Jamie Klotz Diary” movie that premiered back in 2013. The shooting for the sequel began last year and was filmed in just 8 days. Director/writer Justin Gausman says the film is about a girl who finds out her diary is a time machine.

Gausman says he is thrilled with the way the film turned out. Gausman says, “Well, compared to the first one, I am still nervous, you never stop being nervous, you never know how something is going to be received by an audience. And so all you do is keep going, you make it for yourself really and if you like it, other people will hopefully appreciate it as well.”

Gausman also thanks the Hot Springs community that has supported his films. His next project he is going to work on is called “Never Been to Graceland.”

Jamie Klotz’s Origins Extra: A Special Thank You

This weekend it finally hit me that we’re premiering The Extraordinary Secret of Jamie Klotz’s Diary II this Friday. I have no idea how many people or who exactly will turn out. I hope for the best but plan for the worst… I did spend a little time this past weekend watching the Q&A from the premiere of JKD1, prepping myself for the Q&A this time around, just in case no one asks any questions, I can still have some to give the cast. Then I spent a good chunk of Sunday and today reflecting on the work over the last decade or so that led to this. Some of it, like the Adventures in Hot Springs, or lost projects like Shards of the Transient Diamond and Taterfied, I have talked about before, but while watching old videos and reading old scripts, I realized that there was one person specifically that I needed to mention and give thanks to…

While ideas for Gibbers as a comic book go back well into my middle school years, the idea for a movie (whose script evolved into at least one scene in JKD1) or even being a filmmaker honestly did not even cross my mind until I met a kid by the name of Charles “Chuck” Geiser.

I said during the Q&A for JKD1 that as a child I had wished to become a singer, and then puberty hit and so I instead pursued film. That’s not an inaccurate statement but not the entire truth. I met Chuck, who was two classes ahead of me in school, through mutual friends and I wish I could say we quickly became close friends but it was more that he did his thing and I followed like an annoying little puppy dog.

Chuck as "The President" in Patriot Red
Chuck as “The President” in Patriot Red

Chuck had produced a short film for a social studies class project. A (sort-of) political thriller, Patriot Red told the story of how the United States was taken over by a communist government which was later overthrown by a group of freedom fighters. If it sounds a lot like Red Dawn, it kind of was, except with a cast of three, zero budget, class in-jokes, and a whole lot of early-2000’s-epic orchestral trailer music.

But to 15/16 year old me, it was the most epic thing I’d ever seen. I

Roman as the freedom fighter in Chuck's "Patriot Red."
Roman as the freedom fighter in Chuck’s “Patriot Red.”

had Chuck burn me a DVD of it (as well as the film by a friend that inspired him, New Projectile 187 – and the mash-up of the two that he created) and I watched it over and over, not so much that the story or movie itself intrigued me, but the idea that someone my age could feasibly create a cohesive short film with just their friends and a camera. No matter it was for class, or that it was incredibly silly. This was a whole new creative world opening up to me. And then myself and a mutual friend and classmate, Roman, asked Chuck to help us with our own class project.

Despite my awkwardness on screen, True Love Sunglasses is what really got me hooked on filmmaking. I vividly remember sitting at the computer desk next to Chuck, enthralled as he pieced each clip together in Windows Movie Maker. The rest of the cast – Roman, Brittny, Cody – had all left, but Chuck & myself finished the project together, even adding goofy credits. This was where I fell in love with the post production process, deciding where to cut, which take to use, what music to use, and so on.

The chronology in my head vs reality is a little hard to pin down but with the help of some timestamps on old video renders saved by Matt Luebeck and personal notes on the margins of notebooks from the time period, I can safely say that True Love Sunglasses was filmed in early autumn 2004 and I was given a copy of Patriot Red at around that time. By late autumn/early winter 2004, I had scribbled notes about potential projects like “In Search of Jamie Klutz’s Diary” and “Where the F**k is Bermuda Anbesol.” In early 2005, I saw National Treasure at the local theater (a second-run theater) with my friend Jim (of A Day in Hot Springs fame), went straight to Jim’s house after the screening and stayed up all night writing the first draft to the Gibbers movie, and a couple months later, on Friday, May 14, 2005, I know for a fact that I edited my own first video project for a class.

Eventually Chuck addressed my spinoff, which he hated, in this comic. © Charles Geiser
Eventually Chuck addressed my Adventures in HS comic, which he hated, in this comic strip. © Charles Geiser

Chuck had also been creating comic strips starring cartoon-ized versions of his real life friends (“South Springs”) and frequently throughout his senior year and shortly thereafter kept talking about filming a feature film adaptation of the comic, and I was totally game, although it never came to fruition. Having ingrained myself into a social circle a couple years beyond myself, I ended up both as a character in the comic itself and later began aping the comic with my own iteration starring the characters of “The Week in Hot Springs” with equally lofty ambitions to complete the seven-day story of Jesse Gump, when it became obvious that “WIHS” was proving a difficult project to finish.

The cover to the comic version of Quest for the Lost Treasures
The cover to the comic version of Quest for the Lost Treasures.

It’s telling that I have so much of the work Chuck did backed up still, including a couple MSN messenger chat logs in which Chuck described to me the outline of his big-scale South Springs story, “Global Denomination,” would be. In spite of me not actually having thought of, read or watched much of any of this again until this past weekend, it was significant material that meant something to me not just for its place in my personal friendships but also in terms of creative growth.

In 2009, after Shards of the Transient Diamond had been taken off the slate but before we started production on the Adventures in Hot Springs webseries, I took it upon myself to remake the then-5-year-old True Love Sunglasses with a different cast.

When I last saw Chuck, he and I spent a chunk of time together reminiscing and catching up. I filled him in on the story of JKD1 and by that time, we had already started production on JKD2. His reaction to the stories were that they were “certainly unique.” Ironically, neither would have been possible if he hadn’t taken it upon himself to help a friend with a class project and let the awkward sophomore sit and watch him edit, make suggestions and crack jokes.

So here’s a very special pre-premiere thank you, Chuck for inspiring me to keep creating.

Jamie Klotz’s Origins 8: Production Day 4

I don’t know what was up with the weather, but May 27 started out cold too, with a low-hanging cloud of fog over the whole town and a layer of dew on the grass. And it made for an amazing backdrop to the scene with The Man.

I’d been imagining a scene with a character known as The Man for something like 7 years and always with the same elements: a tropical shirt, shorts, a lawn chair, in someone’s backyard, but yet in another dimension. We’d tried it before for Adventures in Hot Springs, but it ended up being rushed. Not so with this scene. With only two cast members, Deana and myself on set, we got to dedicate as much time as we wanted to the scene and it turned out to be the best-performed in the whole movie. Something about Daniel’s caliber of acting made Aspen (already a good performer) step up her game. Glances and expressions were more nuanced, lines less “I just read this a minute ago and am saying them as fast as I can without being too obvious because I don’t want to forget them already.”

Really, I’ve just gotta let the videos speak for themselves. The direction I gave was, in my opinion, minimal. Daniel took the character of the Man and ran with him, improvising huge chunks of dialogue. I couldn’t have asked for a better morning to perk me up from having missed my three-day goal.

In fact, the only real problem was that midway through the scene, we realized that Jamie shouldn’t have her satchel. It had been stolen in the scene immediately before. So I came up with an on-the-spot in-universe explanation: when in the 6th dimension, you appear as you view yourself. To the Man, even having come from the middle ages, he’s a laid back beach bum at heart. To Jamie, her satchel is part of who she is at this point in her life. It signifies her adventurous nature – and probably some secrets. Or something like that. Instead of ignoring it, we addressed it in the opening shot straight on with an improvised line, and for the most part, later on, audiences never even cared or noticed.

day four middayWith the Man’s sole scene complete, Daniel headed home and we took a huge middle of the day break, waiting for the other cast members, who had not originally planned for an extra day of filming, to get off work and out of other commitments. I finished the re-write of the “hotel” scene, now set to take place at a location near Cold Brook lake. There was still a factor missing – I still hadn’t determined whether I would need to film some very minor insert shots with Michael as Dorn later or just overdub his voice to flesh out some of the remaining exposition before it could be complete – but it was a “good enough” replacement considering the situation.

At around 4:30 that afternoon, with Isaiah, Okoye, Sam, Garett and Aspen all back in the game, we resumed what I believed would be the final day of shooting.

Okoye and Aspen show up their wizard hats!
Okoye and Aspen show up their wizard hats!

We took the opportunity to fill in the remainder of the “holes” from prior days’ shoots, finishing up shots we had missed from the opening and closing the film at Jamie’s house, then heading out to Cold Brook to film the new scene. An early joke made in development of the script about “thinking caps” finally made it in the film via two silly wizard hats, and we included a couple more zany bits inspired by Top Secret and the 1966 Batman TV series.

Lastly, we went back to Chautauqua Park and filled in shots that would be edited in opposite Michael & Aspen. We wrapped with a shot of Sam arresting Isaiah. I sent everyone home with my gratitude and let them know I’d keep them in the loop as post-production began.

Anxious and excited to see what would come of it all, I had already started drafting an early edit, and had already begun to see some scenes start to come together. But as a cohesive whole, I’d have to hunker down and start bringing it all together and see if there was anything missing.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM DAY FOUR:

-You’re not a failure if you miss a goal. Sometimes a failure creates the opportunity for the greatest successes.

-If you’ve got a great improviser, give them the flexibility to do what they do best. That’s when you get the gems.

-If you can, start assembling what you can ahead of time. Even in its roughest state, it will help you find if something was missed. In the heat of the moment it can be difficult to recognize you’ve completely skipped over something important.