What’s Next?

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.

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4 Years Ago Today

Four years ago today, I sat up late writing what would become the first outline of Never Been to Graceland.

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?

My mistake.

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.

Lingering Moments…

There’s this moment that happens sometimes when I’m making a movie or a short or a play, where a scene finally clicks, and the actor or actress you brought into the project and were counting on to bring an emotional moment home delivers, with nothing more than a look.

So much happens in that moment. If done effectively, it’s so much more than just a simple dramatic pause. Something sinks in, with the character, with the audience, with the writer or director. That actor creates that space, that tension – sometimes not even knowing they’re doing it – and it feels like it could last forever, and you don’t know where it’s going to go from there.

My life sort of feels like that moment now.

 

A Word From Justin About “A Day In Hot Springs” 5 Years On

This is a document about a place and a time; where young kids dream not of making money or getting famous, or even getting a good grade. A time when things were simpler; a place truly so unique they nearly take it for granted.

It was about having fun, making each other laugh; about totally ripping jokes off other people and not even doing it well; about in-jokes and snickers from behind the camera ruining takes; about being grounded, about falling in and out of love.

I feel extremely grateful that we created this. We can look back and unlike the other students, who stood in front of a camera and said “On the weekends I go do this,” we have a ninja battle, ducks, and strange encounters with Bigfoot-esque creatures who love Mountain Dew. We have memories tied to these scenes. Tater bitch-slapping Gump, Scott tumbling off an outhouse, Jim falling off the side of Gump’s car, Matt’s reluctance to waste a good Mt. Dew, Justin urging the then-shy Taylor to speak up, and Jake’s cluelessness about everything going on, yet still being willing to do anything asked of him…

No matter where we go or what we do, no matter where we end up, this remains to both show the world what true friendship is when it really counts, and more importantly, to remind us of a warm sunny day in May 2006 that we all spent together, without the day to day drama and monotony of life. And whenever life gets us down 5, 10, 20, or 50 years into the future, we can always go back to that day and relive it. Again and again.