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.
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.
Starring Sam Martin & Isaiah Crossman, The Big Play: Episode One follows two young men who pretend to be 1940’s Detectives solving minor cases like lost pets, counterfeit trading cards and chewing gum rings at school, but end up involved in solving a real murder case when no one else will believe them.
Tonight I just finished the last of what remained of the footage we had shot long, long ago. This was just prior to Jesse, Matt, and Justin’s graduation, approximately early spring. The transferred file shows a creation record of March 7, 2007, so it couldn’t have been particularly long before that.
Basically, the Les Chanteurs (www.myspace.com/hotspringshighschoolleschanteurs) and Mixed Choir from Hot Springs were at the Civic Center as part of an annual competition, so Billy and I were there as well. I brought my camera to film not only the performances there, but also to maybe make something spur-of-the-moment. Indeed we did. Just after Aaron Horner’s performance on guitar, we headed back to the main room where all the students from everywhere in western South Dakota were, and since Billy and I were pretty much just waiting to board the bus and go, we made this little video.
Looking back, the plot defies all logic. The goal was to have Drake be in the background of all the scenes where Billy is being stalked, and then for him to be mistaken, and then Aaron turn out to be the real stalker. Strangely, we shot the beginning with Aaron playing guitar when Billy gets his first two stalker calls. So Aaron in no way logically COULD be the stalker, but somehow still is.
But when you’re on a whim, plot seems to fly out the window for the sake of funny business. We thought that we had a pretty good, solid video to stand on that we could edit when we got back home. Well, when I got home and transferred it, I realized that there was a LOT of background noise from all those people, and not only did we need to dub in the mysterious caller, but when Billy was onscreen I could not SHUT UP and stop directing during takes. (something that I used to have a big problem with, but have gotten better about) So I had this real aural mess, and I didn’t want to touch this video with a ten foot pole if I didn’t have to, regardless of what content from it might be funny.
And for two years this went on. Even when I went through stages where I would finish editing other videos and even go out to film new footage to salvage the rest of the old, this project always managed to get thrown back into the scrap bin just because the work seemed too hard. Actually, at one point I had recorded dialogue for the stalker in the style of Heath Ledger’s Joker while I was doing most of the Adventures In Hot Springs series. But the sound thing overwhelmed me again.
So here, tonight, I finally just sat down with this footage and said, damnit, let’s do something right with this. If I have to take every split second of crowd noise where either me or a main character isn’t talking and use it to cover up what audio I have to cut out, then I damn well will.
Turns out it wasn’t really that hard. Yes, I did have to do a lot of audio editing because in the raw footage I talked A LOT behind the camera. Thankfully, it’s pretty much seamless now, and I’m not sure how I managed that but, oh well.
So here’s to finally finishing something I began!