Never Been to Graceland | Short Film

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Never Been to Graceland Premieres

Exciting news! Never Been to Graceland, after 4 years of work, will finally premiere August 16-17 at the Hot Springs Theatre in Hot Springs, SD and August 18-19 at Seraphim Theatrical Entertainment in Rapid City, SD!

On August 16, it will also be available on Amazon through Amazon Video Direct, which is arguably even more exciting!

It is an understatement to say that after 4 years, I have a lot of mixed feelings about finally unleashing the film onto the world! I will have to write about them soon… Just wanted to get the word out!

I Sent My Grandma Into the Past (Full Show)

I recorded all three performances of the show but it’s always tough deciding how best to present the results. Do you upload the Friday show, which had a bigger & louder audience response but wasn’t necessarily as accurate to the page? Do you upload the Saturday show, which was more accurate to the script in some parts but in others had some “oops” moments? Do you pick and choose whole scenes from all three nights to best represent the show, as I did with Christmas Heist? Or do you hodge-podge together a Frankenstein’s monster of all three, editing and splicing dialogue from one night to cover another’s flub, and editing between nights wherever possible?

Ultimately, I have chosen to upload the entire Saturday show, mostly unedited – save for the obvious fade ins and outs. While it didn’t have as big of a response as the Friday show, it was better performed, had the fewest technical problems (read: the microphones were all on the whole show) and it was, for the most part, the performance that most represented the script on the whole, despite an ad-lib here and there, and poor Jordyn’s stumble in Act 2!

Without further ado, please enjoy “I Sent My Grandma Into the Past! (And Other Chronological Conundrums)”

Recovery

WE DID IT!

I Sent My Grandma Into The Past (And Other Chronological Conundrums) played March 30-31 and April 1 at the Mueller Civic Center to wonderful reception by the community.

As these things tend to go, I inevitably ended up with a pretty awful cold performance week, with it peaking in intensity on Friday and Saturday – two of the performance dates! All three performances would not have been possible without the help of Deana Roberts, who diligently kept me full of Theraflu, Mucinex, and a variety of cough drops, fluids and other helpful goodies.

But most of all, the cast and crew of I Sent My Grandma pulled out all the stops and gave phenomenal performances, despite some minor technical issues on the back end. No matter how hard I was trying to stifle a disruptive cough, I could not help but grin during Zach’s “beat poem” (Pictured above) which of all scenes probably had the loudest and most raucous audience reaction – and rightfully so. Zach’s over the top dramatic reading kept getting better and better each night as I could observe him playing off the audience’s reactions: the harder they laughed, the more of an affectation he put on.

Whether it has been Jamie Klotz, Christmas Heist or this, the thing I have always anticipated the most is the crowd reaction. If we’re eliciting any reaction, I’ve done something that has affected people, good or bad. Thankfully, the crowd was open with their laughter and reactions to the scenes.

The thing I’m most proud about in this script is what I feel to be strong, relatable characterizations. Every character gets a chance to shine and for the audience to learn who they are inside and sympathize with them. When the crowd cheered Grandma Margaret’s final interaction with her best friend Betsy, I knew we’d succeeded in making both of those characters strong enough for the audience to care. When the audience audibly cringed during Spencer and Zoey’s argument at the end of Act 1 as Spencer criticized Zoey, I knew that even though Zoey was the protagonist they cared about, they could tell she was still imperfect as person – and they cared about that. I’m really excited to be able to start developing stories with complex characters and hope to do so in my future projects.

So what’s next then?

Well, of course in August will be Never Been to Graceland’s premiere but as that is in post production, I am functionally project-less as far as having anything to write or start production on. I’m certainly going to take some recovery time after this show, but I do have a couple story ideas I’d like to pursue later this year and into 2018.

Stay tuned… I may have an announcement or two soon…

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.

“Christmas Heist” An Unqualified Success

While the audience began trickling into the Mueller Center at around 6:30pm on Thursday, December 10, 2015, and began settling in for the first performance of The Christmas Heist, I mentioned to Deana that, strangely, I wasn’t nervous at all.

About the same time the next night, I turned to her again and said “I don’t know why, but somehow I’m more nervous tonight than I was yesterday.” By the preshow on closing night, I was too tired to feel either nervous or excited.

All three nights, there were moments that stuck out to me that I’ll remember forever. The uproar of laughter at Officer Powell’s “Stick ’em up!” entrance in City Hall; the blast of sci-fi music as Act 2 got underway and Zach stepped out in costume; the shiver down my spine during the two minute “Merry Little Christmas” scene – a scene played with no dialogue, just glances and gestures; the even bigger laugh at a “TJ Hooker” reference; the audible gasps and even a “WHAT?!” during the final scene when the twist is revealed; and, for me, the most memorable every night  was the ~ the 3-5 seconds of silence in the middle of the “Catfight” scene.

No scene in the show had been more rehearsed, down to not just the blocking, pacing & delivery of the lines, but the space between them. I vividly remember reading the scene to Deana immediately after writing it, being really proud of it, and then really terrified, telling her “oh man, I might have to pull this back if we can’t find someone good enough to do this. But if we do… this’ll stop the show.”

It did.

And I can’t take any of the credit. These performers and crew stepped up and made this show what it was. And the audience equally so. As I told one audience member  who complimented me afterwards, look, I can write anything and get someone to stand up on stage and read it – but the actors bring their own performances, and the audience brings their own reaction and emotional involvement to it. That’s where everything that was great came from, and it has very little to do with me.

I am still, days later, humbled, grateful and honored that the audience reaction was as positive as it was, and that so many people turned out to see the show.

I’m still working out all my thoughts & feelings, not necessarily just about the show, but about what’s next. Never Been to Graceland is getting a pretty heavy re-write, and I have a few ideas for some shorts, but it’s all very much in a “wait and see” holding pattern. Some things came up in the show that I didn’t necessarily need to learn, but needed reminded of how important they are.

I want to tell stories that mean something, and The Christmas Heist means so much to me in so many ways (maybe I’ll talk about that another time) and so will Graceland… but I was reminded that I need to be mindful of not just saying something, but to think about WHY it’s being said – to make sure the pacing is right, that the motivations are clear, that the audience has a reason to keep watching and caring. Not just doing something for the sake of doing it (although there can be value in that as well, depending on what you’re aiming for.)

Expect some updates about next year’s plans here in the next couple weeks once I really sit down and reassess things. But for now, please enjoy this version of The Christmas Heist. It’s not the finalized version, just a mostly unedited view of the stage during the Friday & Saturday shows… but I hope you enjoy it.

Jamie Klotz’s Diary 2 Locally produced sequel film set for May premiere

Sisters Aryona (left) and Aspen Watts (right) potray Jamie Klotz at different points in her life in the sequel to the 2013 adventure comedy.
Sisters Aryona (left) and Aspen Watts (right) potray Jamie Klotz at different points in her life in the sequel to the 2013 adventure comedy.

HOT SPRINGS, SD – The public is invited to attend the premiere of the independent, locally-produced feature film “The Extraordinary Secret of Jamie Klotz’s Diary” also known simply as Jamie Klotz’s Diary 2, on May 29, 2015 at 7:00 pm at the Mueller Civic Center at 801 S 6th St. in Hot Springs.

Jamie Klotz’s Diary 2 is a sequel to the original Jamie Klotz’s Diary movie that premiered in 2013, was written and directed by Hot Springs filmmaker Justin Gausman, and was filmed in and around the Hot Springs area with a cast of Black Hills-area actors, including leads Aspen Watts, Daniel Crossman, both of Rapid City, and Sam Martin, of Chadron, Ne.

In the film, the titular character returns home from her first year at college to discover that someone has not only stolen her diary (again) but also gone back in time and changed her life – meaning her lifelong friends are now strangers… and vice-versa. Jamie goes on an adventure through her own life, past, present and future, to save the friendships she holds dear.

“Thematically,” Gausman says, “if the first Jamie Klotz’s Diary could

"PJ" gives one of Jamie Klotz's famous monologues while the elder Jamie looks on, puzzled.
“PJ” gives one of Jamie Klotz’s famous monologues while the elder Jamie looks on, puzzled.

be summed up in one word as ‘fun,’ then the second film is definitely about ‘friendship.’ This one is just as much fun as the first one but there’s a slightly darker tone underneath about growing up and going away from your hometown and your childhood friends, coming back and seeing how things change. That’s something I think a lot of people can relate to, but of course it’s sort of taken to the extreme in this with the time travel adventure element.”

For anyone who may have missed the first movie, don’t worry. The first film, The Incredible Search for Jamie Klotz’s Diary, will be screening Saturday, May 16, 2015 at the Chop House Cinema in Lead, SD, as part of a “Local Filmmakers Night” event there and a matinee presentation of the first film will also be held at 4:30pm on May 29 at the Mueller Center in Hot Springs, prior to the premiere.

Admission to both the matinee and premiere is free, but donations will be accepted to help “kick start” the next film project by Gausman, Never Been to Graceland, a dramatic short film about fans of Elvis Presley traveling through South Dakota & Nebraska to find a mythical long-lost Presley film. The evening program will include a Q&A with the cast and crew and a brief presentation on Gausman’s future projects and recent collaborations.

Support is provided in part by the Hot Springs Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of Hot Springs.

The cast also includes Okoye Zimiga, Isaiah Crossman, Garett Jack, Jassmine Epps, Dustin Aaberg and Aryona Watts. The film is appropriate for ages 10+.