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.

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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.

 

Larry and the Monsters Premiere – Magic-Time Films

I had the great fortune last night of being present for the premiere of Magic-Time Films’ “Larry and the Monsters” web series at the Historic Homestake Opera House in Lead, SD. While some might think a theatrical presentation of a web series is unconventional, writer/director/actor/producer/man-of-many-other-hats Ryan Brewer created a special edit of the first season of the series just for the premiere, while at the same time launching the first episode online.

I can’t say I was involved much in the development of the series, but I was able to pitch in and make the official website, www.larryandthemonsterstheseries.com for Ryan and crew as the series rolls out over the next month and a half and continues from there.

As far as the series itself, my quickie review would be that Ryan and co-producer/actor/writer Keith Melcher have created a monster of a comedy, imposing classic movie monsters on domestic and office life, that I simply couldn’t stop giggling at. [There’s a blurb for your DVD, Ryan ;)] The cinematography, by Shaun O’Connell and his company Labyrinth Films, is of special note as outstanding and the cast collectively turns in pitch-perfect comedic performances. I can’t wait for others to discover what they have developed and I’m hoping they are able to garner enough positive response and sponsors to create Season 2.

The thing that stuck out most to me at the premiere though was not part of the film itself at all, it was something stated by Ryan during the Q&A: that being able to revisit Larry & The Monsters was a deeply personal experience for him because it was one of the first things he and Keith worked on together as filmmakers. That resonates with me in relation to Jamie Klotz’s Diary. As seen in the previous origins articles, the development of the two Jamie Klotz’s Diary movies were similarly connected to some of the earliest works I made or attempted as a filmmaker.

It was a neat experience to see that from the other end of the spectrum: seeing someone else’s dreams come true. Congrats to everyone at Magic-Time Films on their work!

Loving the Process – HiketheMovie

I got to see an early incarnation of Hikethemovie today, just as interest is starting to peak thanks to a couple WONDERFUL articles in the Hot Springs Star and Rapid City Journal by Curt Nettinga about Wendee Pettis’s journey to make Hikethemovie.

Wendee called me last week to see if we could arrange a run-through on the big screen at the Mueller Center, and I happily agreed; who wouldn’t?!

So bright and early this morning I loaded in equipment, got the theater prepped and Hikethemovie was screened for an audience of three, and I was immediately taken back to those frantic last couple of weeks before the screening of my own feature, The Incredible Search for Jamie Klotz’s Diary.

I love that feeling. What you see onscreen as the director is awful. You feel like you can’t rescue it, that you should just scrap it and start all over… your notepad has three pages of notes of last-minute edits to make… edits that only you and you alone would notice: up the volume on that take in Act 3, tweak the contrast on that shot early in Act 1. The audience won’t notice, but YOU WILL. It’s a rush and it was interesting to see it from an “outside” perspective.

I imagine very soon I will be doing the same thing once again for “The Veterans Town” and “The Extraordinary Secret of Jamie Klotz’s Diary II” and I honestly can’t wait. Watching someone else’s creative process invigorates me to push harder and do better.

Though I tend to usually be a little bit of a Kevin Smith, blabbering my mouth, spoiling things left and right, I’ll keep the details of what I saw of Hikethemovie to myself except to say that I liked it. I was in it, too, for part of a scene and I didn’t look like a complete tool, so that’s always nice! If you’re in the Hot Springs area on August 10, I recommend going by the Hot Springs Theatre around 3:00pm and watching Babydoefilm’s first movie!

"Hike the Movie" to Premiere August 10, 2014

Babydoe Films will be premiering the film “Hike the Movie” Sunday, August 10, 2014 at 3:00pm at the Historic Hot Springs Theatre in downtown Hot Springs, South Dakota.

Hike the Movie stars Ryan Koupal, Larry White Crow, Harland Allen, Mike Linderman and Wendee Pettis, who also penned and directed the film!

I had the honor of working on this production during a morning shoot at an office location for a part of the film and had a bit part. But even if I hadn’t, I would still be extremely excited to see this locally-produced film! Every Facebook post and update Wendee gave was another motivator for me to continue to push forward on my own shorts and features.

Check out their Facebook page for details! https://www.facebook.com/Hikethemovie

Picking Your Battles

Someone I know who’s been quite successful in the industry by taking the indie route said something a while back that stuck with me and I want to address it. He talks about what young filmmakers should and shouldn’t do. Some of his advice he gave was spot on, but at one point he says you should stop using your friends & family because they’re shit actors. I have to completely disagree. Because to me, any young filmmaker shouldn’t be blindly listening to anyone else, they should trust their gut feeling and know which battles to fight in what order.

Maybe on one project you have a shit cast but you’re finding out how to get the mic levels right or started utilizing lighting. Or you start learning about scheduling and planning. Or the flip side, you could scour the region for the best actors you can find for your short film because Joe Filmmaker said not to cast shit actors, but your shots suck and your audio mix is muddy and your entire shoot is completely unorganized and inconvenient, making those actors never want to work with you again.

C’mon, dude. Get real. Don’t dismiss their work because they’re learning. Recognize it for what it is. If they’re a real filmmaker, if they have that truly innate sense, they’ll already know Aunt Hilda is an awful actress, and they’re already beating themselves up for that windy, muffled audio. And not only will they constantly strive to do better the next time, but they’ll also learn another important lesson: work within your limitations.

Not everyone gets to go to film school (or wants to) and make those mistakes in a controlled environment where no one will ever see. But if they’re making projects happen, no matter how big or small, I can guarantee you they’re learning something new on every one that will eventually lead to something of note, not just for everyone else to enjoy, but themselves.

They’re their own worst critic.

Meaningless Numbers and Superfluous Subtitles: A Gaming Trend That Needs To End

I don’t typically write editorials like this, but after today’s confirmation of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, I felt compelled to express a feeling that’s been burning inside me for years. I think that game companies should stop numbering the games in their franchises.

In theory, it should make sense. Make a new game in a fresh franchise, make the sequel #2, make the sequel to that #3. But then around that time, things tend to get hairy. Developers start to release “spin-off” games with relevant subtitles like “Brotherhood” or “San Andreas” or “Code: Veronica” or “Infinite” or “Encore: Rocks the 80’s.” Not that these are bad games. Some of these games are more well-received than the game preceding it. I remember many lost nights in high school playing “Grand Theft Auto Encore: Rocks the 80’s.” Err… right.

But the point is that when these generally well-received sequels get their own well-received follow-ups that are subtitled, does it continue to make sense to number later games in the franchise? Because then you start to see games like “Grand Theft Auto 4″ which in all actuality should be Grand Theft Auto 10,” following the massive list of titles that followed “Grand Theft Auto 3” including Vice City, Vice City Stories, Liberty City Stories, San Andreas, and GTA (GBA).

Or “Sonic The Hedgehog 4,” which follows an even larger list of titles that’s too sprawling to list here. Some of which were even 2D platforming games that should have easily counted as direct sequels, even if the 3D games were not, so that argument is null.

My argument isn’t that those games shouldn’t exist. It’s that the numbers of the numbered sequels suddenly become meaningless in the face of 3, 4, or 5 other full-fledged titles that were developed and released between numbered games. Some franchises have gotten this right. The Legend of Zelda comes to mind.

See, after releasing The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: Adventures of Link, they went for a subtitled SNES title, “A Link to the Past.” And then every Zelda game since has been released with a subtitle instead of a number, because the developers understand that once they introduced a subtitle, there is no place for a Legend of Zelda III. (NOTE: Link to the Past is occasionally informally referenced to as “Zelda III,” but never officially, and no future Zelda games were numbered.)

It’s confusing to the customer, too. The unknowing mom at a retail store would probably not know that in order to get the story of Ezio Auditore, one needs to buy Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood & Revelation. You would have to forgive her for wondering why Assassin’s Creed III isn’t a direct sequel to II. It would be easier to explain to others, non-gamers or casual gamers looking to get into the franchise if the series continued to have subtitles instead of numbers after II.

Which brings me back to Black Flag. I read that the developers said that Assassin’s Creed III would be a good “jumping on” point for new players to the franchise. Having played the game all the way through, I would have to disagree. You’re steeped in so much lore that, while you pick it up along the way, the impact of the game’s final moments is not the same for you in the way it would be for someone who has played through Desmond’s story from Assassin’s Creed through all the sequel and spinoff titles.

There’s no reason why ACIII couldn’t have been titled: “Assassin’s Creed: Revolution” or why GTA IV couldn’t have simply been “Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City.” It tells as much as it needs to about the story without being bewildering. And there’s no reason that AC IV: Black Flag needed both a number and a subtitle. Just the subtitle would have done.

What does everyone else think?