“Never Been to Graceland” – The Origin of a Title

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So where does the title of Never Been to Graceland come from? Well, from a key line during an exchange of dialogue that has been included in every iteration of the story going all the way back to the original August 12, 2013 first story treatment. (Which is not included in the above drafts as the paragraph it appears in there also includes story spoilers that also carried through all drafts and versions.)

For all of the changes to the story, major and minor, including changing the MacGuffin from a lost Elvis movie to a lost Elvis song, the addition and subsequent subtraction of an array of secondary characters, side plots, and fully fleshed out backstories for nearly all the characters… AJ – who evolved from snarky 17 year old hipster to mid-20s lifestyle journalist – has always been the one to ask if Michael’s been to Graceland and his response has always been the same.

The idea of the phrase “never been to Graceland” is to not only set Michael as a character apart from what one would consider an “average” Elvis fan, but also to signal to the audience that their expectations about what they think about the film, the characters and Elvis (both the man and the celebrity) might be challenged.

I Sent My Grandma Into The Past – Inspiration

Auditions are officially one week away for the Southern Hills Community Theater production of “I Sent My Grandma Into The Past (And Other Chronological Conundrums)” or, put simply, “I Sent Grandma” or “ISG,” as I’ll refer to it in the future. Although that wasn’t the first title it went by anyway, (that was “The Grandmother Paradox”) but I’m getting ahead of myself.

After premieres and performances, I (like millions of writers before me) have inevitably been asked (either immediately after the show or at a gas station somewhere a few days later) how I come up with the ideas for the shows, or how I write them. I’m not not sure of any more blunt way to put it other than to just say that I make it up. Literally. That’s how simple it is.

Well, it really isn’t. You do have to understand a lot of things going on under the hood – narrative structure, character, and in the case of theater, the technical elements of what’s possible on a stage in real time and staying within a budget – but essentially it’s highly organized making stuff up. But anyone can learn these things.

Dialogue is tangible. You can listen to the people around you, or watch videos of people talking and pick up on nuances – cadences, vocabulary, and so on and just imitate that in your writing. Story beats are tangible. Similarly, you can watch other movies and plays and eventually pick up common structures… it’s just like learning about choruses and verses in songs.

Inspiration, on the other hand, is intangible, and I don’t really think it can be learned in the same way. I think it can be learned but I don’t think there’s a set way of learning it. That’s something I have more trouble explaining.

Where do you get your ideas?

Sometimes, like with Never Been to Graceland, I go “this is going to be a story about a fan who goes in search of a lost Elvis recording because that would be cool if that happened to me.” Not to downplay whatever narrative merits it actually has, but that’s the truth of what that story is at its core.

It’s partially based on ideas or people or things that are real – an Elvis fan, lost recordings being found – and partially fiction, and then sort of meshed together.

So, one week out from auditions, where did the idea for “ISG” come from?

Well, leaving out the obvious influences as far as structure and handling the logic of time travel, (*cough* Backtothefuture *cough*) I honestly don’t have a more clear answer.

When Betsy and I were talking about the shows for 2017, I mentioned I had a couple ideas. One was an adaptation of The Big Play, a short that we never completed, and the other I just mentioned as “a couple” because I wanted the flexibility of coming up with something else. I actually had no idea until probably a few hours after I sent the email. Faced with committing to “a couple ideas,” I just made one up. I wrote a draft outline, took it to the board, read them both synopses (synopsises? Synopsii?) that I had written, and they picked this one. So I rolled with it.

How’d I come up with that synopsis in the first place?

Heck if I know. Some things are certainly pulled from life. The main character in “ISG” is inspired by my four year old niece Zoey and my observations of her very literal “character” development as an actual person. But beyond that… you got me. The show’s titular Grandma is only barely influenced by my real grandma and, frankly, probably not by anyone I actually know, either.

I was telling Deana last night, I couldn’t even possibly speak about the show in terms of “executing a vision” because it wasn’t like there was ever really a “vision” so to speak, just an idea I thought would be cute, funny and maybe have a little heart. That’s not to say the story isn’t personal or doesn’t reflect me or my values… it absolutely does, in every much the same way as my previous efforts.

And the script is, I think, funny, cute, and touching. But more than that, it’s proof to myself that I don’t have to stop writing when I’m run out of “real” things to write about.

What I think I’m getting at is that as someone who spent 2006-2016 chasing old narrative threads, it’s both strange and invigorating to be writing something pretty much completely from scratch.

I hope everyone likes it.

Jamie Klotz’s Origins 6: Production Day 2

May 25, 2013.


Aspen, Isaiah, Sam, Garett, Deana and I were out at Butler Park and had already started shooting the tail end of the chase scene that would begin at the local public library when we got the  bad news: our Kaitlyn was having to drop the project. Work conflicted again and I could not possibly compromise – we were already going to have to backtrack a lot of what we’d already shot to put Kaitlyn back in, not to mention having completely cut one major scene which I had no idea yet how to rework.

Okoye reads over her lines before her first scene as Kaitlyn.
Okoye reads over her lines before her first scene as Kaitlyn.

Thankfully, our original Kaitlyn, Okoye, was back in town and so our other cast members went off to rouse her from her slumber and drag her out to Chautauqua Park, where we immediately started filming the first half of the prior day’s scene where Jamie’s treasures are stolen.

Funnily, we shot the payoff to the soccer ball joke, where Sam throws a ball at Kaitlyn and it comes back and hits him, before the setup, in which she kicks a ball that hits him in the head. Fun fact: the shot used in the movie in which Okoye kicks the ball and hits Sam is the sole take. Not because it was great (it was) but because the ball actually bounced off Sam’s head… and onto the camera – and me. Ow.

With Okoye in tow, we blazed through the two action/chase scenes in the morning and I started to feel much more positively about the way the project was going. Sure, there were things I knew could have been done better, but it had a direction, and for the first time since starting, I really started to think we might actually make this work, but I knew there was always the possibility that things could still go wrong.

The first scene I had completely edited together was the chase scene filmed on Day 2. The joke with Sam getting tended to was improvised on the day of.

We took lunch break at around a quarter to one and met back up at the Hot Springs Public Library, which was normally closed for Memorial Day weekend, but the head librarian, Cindy Messenger, made a special case just for us and opened it up for us to film. I cannot stress the gratitude I have for her. The library is a beautiful log and stone building, often referred to as “ski lodge” in style.

Finally, Garett, who had been tagging along with us since we started

In an alternate shot, we see a little more closely the "look" Brandon gives Jamie that Kaitlyn references later.
In an alternate shot, we see a little more closely the admiring “look” Brandon gives Jamie that Kaitlyn references later.

filming, was able to step into his role as Brandon, who’d changed in the script from an admiring songwriter in an earlier draft to a more laid back bookish kid with a slight crush. The best part about the afternoon shoot was everything stuck to the script. I wasn’t worrying about who wasn’t present, wasn’t limited to half-scenes and didn’t have to work around effects shots. And because of this, we shot really efficiently… except one shot.

This shot came back to haunt me unexpectedly.
This shot came back to haunt me unexpectedly in post. Well not THIS shot, but the take immediately following this.

This shot. I wanted a better angle for the scene when Jamie gets the treasure out of the historical exhibit, and so I quickly ran around to the outside of the room and called action. With a pane of glass between the actors and the camera. You do the math.

After filming the beginning of the “training montage” scene outside the library (allowing Cindy to leave), we went to the Fall River Pioneer Museum and shot a brief section of the “treasure hunt” scene which was supposed to be a Legend of Zelda reference, then it was time to meet back up with Bridgett and finish filming the climactic battle scene.

While the original plan was to spread the fight out and end it closer to totally real abandoned mine on that location, tying into Dr. Lawrence’s story, we opted to contain it to the more central flat plain. The biggest problem that day was that I had completely

In this deleted shot, Sahera would have deflected the shots from Eric's gun.
In this deleted shot, Sahera would have deflected the shots from Eric’s gun.

forgotten my tripod after arriving and hadn’t bothered to go retrieve it, or send someone to. Everything was handheld, for better or worse. On the one hand, some shots that should have been stabilized were wobbly, but on the other hand, I got creative with certain shots that I don’t know I would have necessarily done had I brought the sticks.

Bridgett turned in a perfectly evil performance and choreographed the minor sword combat undertaken by Sahera and Jamie, and Aspen scared us by delivering a blood-curling scream and we ended the day with the good guys beating the bad guy with nachos. At worst at this point, we had an awesome looking climax and a fairly fleshed out middle section. Now we just needed to flesh out the beginning.

Alternate angle of the sword fight between Jamie and Sahera
Alternate angle of the sword fight between Jamie and Sahera

The script had called for Ryan and Eric to come to Jamie’s house disguised as salesmen – frozen food salesman specifically. The problem was, our contacts with possible leads on either a giant parrot or giant chicken costume fell through. So on the way back to our cars at Cold Brook, we started listing off other potential disguises, but only found one that everyone could find funny: makeup sales ladies. And Bridgett, only confirming her awesomeness, volunteered to do the boys’ makeup and hair!

daythreescheduleI came home and did the same as the night before: I watched the dailies, edited a reel, posted a schedule, and did the math on how much we had filmed. The total for May 25? Four Hours worth of footage. I was thrilled and, after quickly rewriting the frozen food sales scene to makeup ladies and rewriting the hotel scene to be set in another location and without Dorn present, I went to bed in a much better mood than the night before.

Jamie Klotz’s Origins 5: Production Day 1 or; How to Film a Movie with Nothing

After an ambitious pre-production process, we finally got underway with filming The Incredible Search for Jamie Klotz’s Diary on May 24, 2013.

The last time I had really “shot” any sort of narrative piece had been in 2009, working on Adventures in Hot Springs with Jesse Needham, and even though I had done documentary work and music video projects with Sailed to Break and Save the VA, I have to say I was nervous as to whether I could even pull this off. The shooting script was roughly 60 pages long and going by normal movie standards, that meant the movie would be an hour long – a feature film, something I’d dreamed about doing for years, but had never managed to do.

Our first morning's cast: Aspen, Alex & Garett
Our first morning’s cast: Aspen, Alex & Garett

Aspen, Garett, Deana and I met at Chautauqua Park bright and early at 8:00am on May 24, with Aspen bringing along Alex Phelps to play Jamie’s 12-year-old date for a cutaway gag.

Garett did the voice for the frog puppet for the other “bad date” joke and we waited patiently for our original Kaitlyn to join us before our first major scene needed filmed. As it turned out, she’d been called in to work and would be unavailable all day. My stomach dropped.

Of all the problems that plagued every project I’d done thus far, scheduling and people missing shooting was the one that was a cut to the jugular of almost everything.  I’d confirmed schedules again and again and again, but convincing a short-staffed employer to let a worker go at the last minute was an impossibility. I talked it over with Deana, and looked at the scenes that were scheduled for the day.

We could try to shoot the scene with Dr. Lawrence cleverly enough so that you never needed to see Kaitlyn and we could shoot shots with Kaitlyn in them later to intercut. After lunch, we would be joined by Bridgett and Michael for the build-up to the climactic battle between Jamie and Sahera… again, nothing with Kaitlyn we couldn’t shoot later. I decided we could make it work and continued to press forward, but I couldn’t help but worry.

As 10:00am rolled around, we headed out to my grandpa’s house on

Aspen gives the camera a face as the silliness ramps up with Matt.
Aspen gives the camera a face as the silliness ramps up with Matt.

Fall River Road just outside Hot Springs to meet Matt, who’d driven down from Rapid City and our real first test of filmmaking would be underway: it’s one thing to shoot a couple funny scenes, it’s another to plan a scene that will be shot on two different days and intercut later… on the fly.

Matt joined us and we began filming Dr. Lawrence’s scenes. We felt better as Matt’s positivity combined with the silliness of his character – the large glasses, the intentional campiness, and slight creepiness – made it so we couldn’t stop giggling. We got the silly out the way, tried to think of creative camera placements to avoid Image2showing where Kaitlyn would later be at, and pushed through Matt’s stupendously long-winded exposition dump about the diary and the treasures (a carryover of the expanded backstory from an earlier draft) and just before lunch, we filmed what I had scripted as the heart of the scene: Jamie watering the flowers that Dr. Lawrence can’t get to without getting an electric shock. The payoff to this would be Dr. Lawrence noticing her kindness and repaying it by tweaking the watch before handing it over to Dorn.

I had no idea how to handle the special effect of Dr. Lawrence going 2D, so I improvised. We had Matt make the poses and I just filmed the poses, followed by a blank “plate” of the background.

Screenshot of Matt filmed for one of the "2D" effects.
Screenshot of Matt filmed for one of the “2D” effects.

We broke for lunch around 2:00pm and everyone took a lunch as we waited for our villain, portrayed by Michael Minor, to arrive. As it turned out, Michael was delayed in his travel so he didn’t arrive until about 4:30pm. Because of the delay, and because we only had one day shooting with Matt and Michael, we rushed through the scene in which Dorn was supposed was to confront Dr. Lawrence and fill in a little plot of why Dorn himself was looking for the treasure.

Because we rushed it, some alternate angles were missed and we never got Michael saying some of his most important lines onscreen, just Matt’s reaction. However, I didn’t realize this until well after filming was complete.

Bridgett, our most amazing actress who would be playing the

Matt and Bridgett pose for a quick pick before Matt wrapped and headed home.
Matt and Bridgett pose for a quick pick before Matt wrapped and headed home.

sorceress Sahera, arrived as we were shooting that scene and we snapped off a couple pics before we headed back into town and sent Matt back home, his scenes having been completed.

At 5:00pm, running way later than I had expected and having cut an entire scene (set at a hotel where Jamie and Kaitlyn would sneak into Dorn’s room and overhear his evil plans) due to delayed and missing cast members, we met up with Aspen at Chautauqua Park and filmed part of a scene where Dorn steals Jamie’s collected treasures and sends her into another dimension. As the ending of a chase scene that we had yet to choreograph around the location, I put Aspen in a place where I figured she would have just finished beating up Isaiah’s character and had her turn around to find herself face to face with Michael. I made a mental note of how we would need to film the rest of the scene later to get her to that spot.

A deleted alternate angle of Dorn stealing Jamie's satchel.
A deleted alternate angle of Dorn stealing Jamie’s satchel.

While the shots didn’t take long at all, the herding of actors and crew actually burnt up quite a bit of time between locations. We left Chautauqua around a quarter to six, picked up Sam Martin along the way, who wanted to observe, and by the time we arrived at Cold Brook and got back into the walk-in area it was already nearly 6:00pm. I was grateful for the long late spring day that let us film later in the day, but I was in full panic mode that we wouldn’t get everything shot with Michael that was needed before he left, and then that was compounded as we encountered a diamondback rattlesnake just a short ways off the walk-in trail.

While it was easy to avoid and wasn’t aggressive at all, it triggered a realization to me that I hadn’t in my life thought of before: I am responsible for the people on my set, and especially these kids. I am entrusted with their safety and well-being. Suddenly the project, which up till then had felt like an extension of the silly Adventures in Hot Springs videos I’d done years earlier, felt significantly different.

I set up several shots, again knowing they’d be intercut with shots of

Yet another effects shot I filmed without really having an idea of how it would be executed.
Yet another effects shot I filmed without really having an idea of how it would be executed.

Kaitlyn and Dorn’s two lackeys. The final shot of the day was the shot of Michael and Bridgett as Sahera throws Dorn off into the distance. Again, I had no idea what I was doing or how I was going to pull off this shot. We had Bridgett pretend to throw Michael and he basically ran backwards until he was out of the shot. It looked really silly and I was so worried and distracted that we wrapped the day and I completely forgot to film all of the scenes with Dorn talking on the phone with Ryan & Eric.

We wrapped around 6:20pm and sent everyone home… and rather than going home and collapsing, I immediately unloaded all the video and began not only watching, but editing. I wanted to see what shots looked good, what didn’t. Whether this whole thing would work at all or not.

nightonepostAround 8:00pm, I uploaded the first daily “reel” for the cast & crew to watch, and at 9:30pm, I sent out a suggested schedule for the next day, then promptly crashed, exhausted but exhilarated.



-Be ready to think on your feet. And not just about the normal stuff like camera placement, cast, or making sure you have everything with you. Be flexible enough to completely change your approach to shooting a scene and meet it as a challenge.

-Have someone around who can make the best of a bad scenario or has a great sense of humor, but can still be serious when you need.

-Make sure your actors have memorized their lines, or in the worst case scenario have at least read the script and have a passing knowledge of a gist of something close to the written line. Nothing worse than struggling longer than needed for an unprepared actor. But the burden for their lack of preparation is on you as a director, not something to blame them for.

-Plan shots, especially effects shots, ahead of time. We didn’t storyboard JKD but it worked to our advantage since so much changed on the day of, dropping scenes left and right, but there were certain scenes that it would have helped on.

-Along with that last thought, planning or at least keeping track of coverage will help you make sure you don’t miss anything you might need later on during post.

-People are slow movers, especially when they are socializing. If you’ve got a lot of locations to get to but not a lot of time, set ground rules in advance or designate tasks so that people are using time judiciously.

-Don’t put your actors or crew in danger. No story is worth it.

-If you can, watch dailies to get a feel for what’s working and what’s not. You’d be surprised what even minor things you can pick up on to apply on the next day’s shoot.

Jamie Klotz’s Origins 4: Pre-Production or; Planning a Movie with Nothing

The Incredible Search for Jamie Klotz’s Diary was, as I’ve stated before, a title that had been in my head for nearly a decade prior to actually completing it. But after discussing the origins of the story in previous blogs, I’d like to zero in on the few months leading up to the filming and the days of to discuss how the whole thing actually came to fruition.

In February 2013, after having spent an entire year compiling footage and completing one major firstpostproject that I was very proud of that continues to be left essentially unreleased, I was creatively frustrated after a year of being really productive. I decided to focus my frustrations on a quick, fun project just to prove to myself that I could even make a movie and that my shorts and projects up till then hadn’t just been workshops and flukes. On February 17, I invited several of my closest creatively-minded friends and several young people I had just recently met through Southern Hills Community Theatre to a Facebook event called “The 72 Hour Movie Project” and said, hey, let’s shoot for three days in May and see what happens. It might suck, it might be entertaining… but at least the process will have been fun.

theplotawakensThe original plan was to improvise the entire movie over the course of those three days. In discussing story ideas in advance, within two days of starting to organize the shoot, it became rapidly clear that this was a horrible, awful idea. So, with the ideas for locations, wacky supporting characters, from friends and collaborators streaming in story-wise, I started formulating a basic outline.

The Characters, as described during story development

Image1Jamie Klotz: “Jamie Klotz is your average teenage girl. And by average I mean she falls into absolutely none of your typical cliques.”

“A quirky dork.”

“She carries around a bag and when things get tough she pulls out some odd looking hats and is like ‘lets get our thinking caps on ladies.'”

Dorn:Maybe the villain could be someone who knows the secrets in the diary and is trying to find it O_o”

“Perhaps the diary is one of a pair that are both needed to decipher each other and that the villain holds the second

Kaitlyn: Jamie’s “best friend/sidekick/reluctant partner-Image17in-awesomeness.”

Brandon: “Maybe a boy who is a friend who secretly likes her and that’s why he is so persistent in helping her?”

“A hopelessly romantic young man who writes Jamie terrible love songs.”

Dr. Lawrence: “a Museum guide who later turns into a mad scientist like a Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hide transformation.”

Other characters that ended up being cut: Jamie’s mom, the ghost of a teenage girl, a museum docent, a thief who thinks he’s a pirate, a crazy old hobo, two bumbling undercover cops (later became Ryan & Eric – sort of), and Jessica Klotz, Jamie’s wild-eyed old west outlaw ancestor.

The location of Jamie's confrontation with Sahera.
The location scouting photo of Jamie’s confrontation with Sahera.


Suggestions were also taken for possible filming locations and one day of scouting was done by myself and my buddy Jesse (who had played Gump in the Adventures in Hot Springs). Jesse showed me a stunning location north of Cold Brook Reservoir, just minutes north of Hot Springs and I immediately wrote it in as the location of the final confrontation between Jamie and a supernatural sorceress named Sahera.

In this outtake of an unused shot from the movie, we see Ryan & Eric watching Jamie & Kaitlyn from afar, while showcasing the downtown Hot Springs area.

As location suggestions rolled in from participating collaborators and cast members, it was clear from the get-go that one of the most important characters of the movie was Hot Springs itself, a town that lends itself beautifully to the camera. From attractions like the Pioneer Museum, Southern Hills Golf Course and Evans Plunge to the distinct sandstone buildings, murals and sculptures downtown to more obscure locations like Chautauqua Park, I wanted to make sure the film showed Hot Springs’ best side.

Story Counts

903049_10151424493003585_524760918_oFrom mid-February to mid-March 2013, I worked daily on hashing out the details of the script based on my basic premise and everyone else’s suggestions into the first draft of a script. The first outline was typed, the first draft was handwritten and completed on March 26 and I didn’t let anyone read it – I knew there were fundamental issues with the plot. So I called in Daniel Crossman for a story development session and we reworked nearly all the characters, their motivations and simplified the story we had, which had included scenes that would be time and resource intensive, let alone the fact that they weren’t important to the real story about Jamie and her diary; they were setting up a backstory to explain the diary and its origins: a backstory that didn’t need to be shown for the story to work. The amount of ideas and reworking Daniel & I did together more than sufficed for a co-writer credit for someone who truly was “The Man.”

It was an interesting meeting.

One of the original ideas for Jamie Klotz’s Diary included making it a 6 part webseries that would be bookended during each episode with Jamie stopping time and talking directly to the camera, and filming a number of vlogs in advance of the release of the main movie itself to establish the character.

One thing that stayed the same almost until shooting was a different spelling of Jamie’s name. Ultimately we reverted to the original “Jamie.”

Another involved solving riddles and puzzles before being able to find the “treasures,” a la adventure movies like National Treasure. This was simplified and discarded in early April to go straight to the treasures (coincidentally aligning it more with the earlier Quest for the Lost Treasures.) This would allow us to go to more locations quicker and add in some visual jokes instead of stopping to explain the significance of a location or a clue.

This wasn’t shared with the group, but somewhere between April and May, I completely lost it and started rethinking the whole project, worrying that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I even reconceptualized the whole project as an interactive “choose your own story” movie which would branch off at points during the adventure – a logistical nightmare for something supposed to be filmed in three days. With the help of my girlfriend Deana and a massive dose of common sense, I chucked that idea and we focused in on a final draft.

IMG_1140On May 18, just a mere week before shooting, I locked in the final draft of the script, which we still had pegged to shoot for 3 days, May 24-26.

CAST: Casting was, for the most part, fairly easy. Daniel, Bridgett, Michael and Matt I’d known since high school, Aspen and Okoye I had met through the Community Theatre, Isaiah was Daniel’s younger brother and brought Sam and Garett along with. Simplifying the script also mean simplifying the cast, so keeping it to a grand total of 10 (including Alex, the kid brought in the day of to play Jamie’s “pony ride” date) and keeping to the three-day plan made coordinating schedules a breeze.

Coincidentally, at one point, Okoye had thought she was going to be unavailable for the shoot, so we had another girl who had been in the community theatre’s first production planned to play Kaitlyn, even at our sole script read-through on May 23! At the last minute the following day, she went AWOL due to her new job and we shot as much as we could without Kaitlyn… but without knowing whether we’d even HAVE a Kaitlyn. The next day, the other girl confirmed she’d have to drop out of the project but Okoye was back in town so she got roped back in.

But I’ll save more about those stories in the next few columns covering production….


-If you’re frustrated with the way other things in your life are going, do something you have complete control over.

-Don’t ever plan to improvise. Always back yourself up, even with a loose outline of dialogue to have structure to fall back on.

-Budget: Jamie Klotz’s Diary didn’t really have a budget. We begged and borrowed, paid for special props, water and snack foods to keep the cast hydrated and happy. Sometimes you have the fortunate of investing a ton of money in a project. Sometimes you just gotta roll with what you have.

-Writing a story based on suggestions from a bunch of people is really fun, but also totally maddening and disappointing because good ideas have to get thrown by the wayside to make the story work.

-Know your limits, budget-wise, time-wise and energy-wise.

-Don’t be afraid to admit you’re wrong and start over (or rethink it if you can’t just scrap it and go again)

-Schedule everyone ahead of time and confirm their participation. Confirm it again. Confirm it again. Confirm it again. And always expect them not to be able to show and have a contingency plan.

-If you can, do a read-through with your cast of the whole script, from beginning to end. It not only helps your cast find their character better and improve interactions, but it gives you a chance to get a feel for the pacing of the entire project in a different way than reading it to yourself does.

Jamie Klotz’s Origins: The Adventures In Hot Springs, Part One

The original concept for Jamie Klotz was created in around 2004, with a simple title: “In Search of Jamie Klutz’s Diary.” It was scribbed in a notebook along with two other possible movie titles: “Where the Heck is Bermuda Anderson?” and “Gibbers.” Of the three, Gibbers was written as an ambitious film about an alien crash landing and befriending two young boys and having all sorts of zany adventures. However, it was a little TOO ambitious, and when it fell through, I was wondering what project I was going to work on next and I found it helping two of my best friends, Jesse Needham and Taylor Lund, with a school project in May of 2006.

hot springs south dakota a day in short film movie
Taylor, Jesse and Jim for scale

Tired of hearing students complain there was nothing to do in Hot Springs, their teacher assigned her class to partner up and make a video showing what they do on an average day in Hot Springs. Being the type of people they were, Jesse and Taylor decided to be completely subversive and make a video showing things that would never and could never possibly happen on an average day, and in doing so, prove a point: making the video itself was what we did for fun in Hot Springs. They came to me with a pitch and scene ideas, and I scripted out the rest and after rounding up our friend Jim Cunningham to make up a haphazard trio, as well as numerous other friends, we spent three days filming and two days editing “A Day in Hot Springs,” in which our protagonists try to go about normal, everyday things like picking up friends, eating lunch, walking through downtown, and hiking except things going completely crazy, with random ninja attacks, angry hobos, musical numbers, and more. It sounds funny, but it’s pretty silly to watch, but I was ridiculously proud of it. At the time it was the biggest project I’d done. And they got a near-perfect grade, with it being docked for being a little too long – somewhere closer to 40 minutes when everyone else’s was a tenth of that.

That summer, Jesse and I sat down and wrote a sequel “Another Day in Hot Springs,” and then planned to do a total of 7, count ’em, SEVEN, episodes, each increasingly more complex than the next. We started filming before scripts were even complete and continued through our senior year and into the following summer, but got hung up on incomplete scripts, cast members dropping in and out, and my general inexperience as a filmmaker. Left with a hodge-podge of bits & pieces of the remaining 6 episodes, little did I know that they would evolve and become part of the lifeblood of both Jamie Klotz’s Diary movies.


I am the Mutant Peanut Butter Ninja of Doom from the Planet Salmon!
I am the Mutant Peanut Butter Ninja of Doom from the Planet Salmon!

So, if you watched the upper video from A Day in Hot Springs, and had also watched the trailer for Jamie Klotz’s Diary 2, this probably stuck out to you right off the bat:

That, my friends, is the Mutant Peanut Butter Ninja of Doom from the Planet Salmon, the line that Jesse cursed me over and over for while filming, and even actor Sam Martin, who plays him in JKD2, has a bit of trouble with. Scott Akers was the original ninja in A Day in Hot Springs, and early drafts of scripts for later episodes had him returning to get his proper revenge on Jesse Gump for beating him.

When I starting thinking about doing a sequel to JKD, I immediately knew that no matter what else the story was about, it had to start with Jamie coming home from college and almost immediately being attacked by the Ninja. Not just any ninja, mind you, but the Mutant Peanut Butter Ninja of Doom. It’s a great homage that maybe 5-6 people will get, but it tickles me every time I see it. Perfectly cheesy.

Top - Matt as the Mt. Dew Monster, who says the meaning of life is soda; Bottom - Matt as Dr. Lawrence, who says the meaning of life is watering your flowers.
Top – Matt as the Mt. Dew Monster, who says the meaning of life is soda; Bottom – Matt as Dr. Lawrence, who says the meaning of life is watering your flowers.

Although not the same character, one link between Jamie Klotz and her predecessor is the appearance of Matt Luebeck. In A Day in Hot Springs, he appears as the “Mountain Dew Monster,” a supposed local cryptid who, near the end of the video, appears and gives Jesse what was supposed to be a dry ice bomb in a Dr. Pepper bottle.

Matt was given a much meatier role in Jamie Klotz’s Diary as Dr. Lawrence. It was always intended in the script toestablish that Jamie and Kaitlyn had gone on a multitude of other adventures prior to this one, including beating Dr. Lawrence, the slightly off-kilter mad scientist who once tried to take over the world, but has since retired to a quiet life of minor inventions and house arrest.

Having Matt come down to play this part was amazing because it was a sort-of passing on of a torch, or treasure finder, as the case may be. Plus, since going off to college, Matt had grown to be a pretty capable actor. His creepy-Doc Brown-esque performance had everyone on set cracking up.

Chautauqua Park comparison shots
Chautauqua Park comparison shots

We reused many locations while filming Jamie Klotz’s Diary, partly as an tribute to those original videos, partly because the locations are awesome anyway. What was, in 2006, Indiana Jake’s hangout, is, in 2013, the location of the last treasure and the first real confrontation between Jamie and Dorn.

The drainage tunnel Jamie finds a treasure in is in A Day in Hot Springs as a warp to the Mushroom Kingdom (don’t ask, there’s no real explanation.)

Top - Jesse and Jim enter "Ender Paradise"; Bottom - Jamie goes looking for Elvis glasses
Top – Jesse and Jim enter “Ender Paradise”; Bottom – Jamie goes looking for Elvis glasses

It was like déjà vu coming back to some of these locations, and to the sole person on set most days who knew the connection, it felt like we were remaking or re-envisioning The Week in Hot Springs. And in some ways we were. Jamie Klotz Diary is what The Week in Hot Springs was supposed to be: a cute, funny, oddball story about kids learning to appreciate their home town, their friends and relationships, and understanding the brevity young people have with all of them before growing older and becoming adults.

If we were to ever make a Jamie Klotz’s Diary 3, it would be the thematic conclusion to that arch – if JKD1 is the random, fun part of being both a kid and a teen, and JKD2 is learning appreciate what you had when you were that age, especially valuing real, true friendships, then JKD3 would have to be finding your place in the world.

Most people won’t get that out of the Jamie Klotz movies, but it’s something I’ve kept in mind for a long time. My own sort of coming-of-age story, I guess.

Next Origins column, we’ll cover what happened to Jesse Gump in “Quest for the Lost Treasures” and just how many elements from that and its later iterations made their way into the Jamie Klotz’s Diary movies. (Spoiler: it’s a lot.)


Announcing: Once Upon A Time In Hot Springs

The next novel-length tale from Skeeter Bite Productions… takes place 120 years in the past! When a hot shot historian rolls into the small South Dakota town of Hot Springs claiming to have found rare and pristine artifacts from the time of Hot Springs’ formation, long ago thought lost, Jesse Gump is skeptical. A series of mishaps (and wormholes) land Jesse and his friend Jim in Hot Springs – only on Friday, October 16, 1891! Nearly as soon as they arrive, they are torn apart and while they try to locate one another in a place so familiar yet so foreign, they also get entangled in the political turmoil caused by the rivals of the town’s controversial founding father, Fred Evans, who set out to upend Evans’ legacy.

It’s a thrilling adventure in the real old west as the town of Hot Springs plays a larger role than in any other Skeeter Bite story. The historical events occurring during the two weeks Jesse and Jim are in 1891 were meticulously researched and the book includes era-specific photographs including many taken by photographer John C.H. Grabill between 1890 and 1892.

Stay tuned for more information including articles about the real Hot Springs during the timeframe in which the book is set, character profiles, location profiles, book, film and music recommendations and other exciting news!

Refried Ideas; or the Montage Scene.

I began writing scripts with the movie version of “Gibbers.” I clearly and distinctly remember sitting on the couch at Jim’s house after going to see the movie National Treasure. I had already written the main outline to the Gibbers movie, but something about National Treasure gave me a focus. Something about treasure hunting enthralled me, and I loved the setup of the smart lead, his tough love interest, and his wacky sidekick buddy. That’s how the three main characters of the Gibbers movie (Justin, Ruby, and Jesse) ended up being the focus instead of background characters, as they had long been in the comics I’d been drawing.

Jim and I wrote that first draft in one night, I think. I was so ready to just go out and film, I didn’t understand what it meant to do rewrites. I thought rewrites were just fixing the grammar and spelling errors. I learned. Quick.

It’s funny reading all my stuff I’ve written since then in order. I have a habit of reusing some of that older material again and again in hopes that we can eventually use it. The one scene that comes to mind most frequently is a scene that I always loved and wanted to do: a searching montage.

It was covered in the first draft of Gibbers like this, verbatim:

“(Several shots of Ruby & Justin asking people if they’ve seen Chris. They use a pic of SERB. Many of these shots are short sequences w/guest appearances by characters. Make up these scenes later. They come up negative.)”

There was no music meant to be included, I think. Mostly it was intended to be dialog. I got only a few pages into the second draft of Gibbers before I realized what a rewrite was and that things needed changing to make more logical sense. In the third draft, the scene is written as so:

“(Jesse turns on the radio.)

ANNOUNCER: And this is the Del Shannon classic, ‘Runaway!’

(Runaway begins. Insert sequences here as Ruby & Justin ask several people if they’ve seen Slanted Eyes Rice Boy. When they come up empty-handed, they are seen walking down the street.)”

And of course the intention there was to actually use the original Del Shannon version. So I’d found a song, but I kept thinking there could be a better version. Something with some more “kick.” While I searched, I wrote the draft that took the longest time – the fifth draft, which actually fills two notebook (one has the main script, the other additional scenes and modified versions of scenes. The fifth draft version, marked as scene 116 (I was learning to organize the movie by acts and scenes) reads like this:

“(Jesse turns on the radio.)

ANNOUNCER: And here is one of my grandma’s least favorite songs. This is for you grandma! Del Shannon’s Runaway!

(Transition. Runaway. Montage. Justin and Ruby ask the people of the town if they’ve seen SERB. The only answer thye get is no. After the montage, Justin and Ruby are left sitting on a bench. Justin gets up and paces.)”

The sixth and final draft, written to finalize the story after it had pretty much been decided we weren’t goint to film it, was similar. By that point I had found a version of Runaway instead by country music artist Gary Allen with that little extra kick I always wanted. After a year of other videos and script ideas, we did A Day In Hot Springs, which led to the scripting of the other six episodes in the “Week In Hot Springs” series.

We filmed some of the Paradox scenes prior to the script actually being completed, but as I worked out the story, I knew the Gumpmobile was going to get stolen in the first scene, and then a couple scenes later be destroyed. The question was how to transition from one point to another. Back to Gibbers!

The original shooting script for Paradox has this:

“(They both stand up and start walking down the road to town. Fade into a montage in which Jim and Jesse go around town, presenting every passerby with a crudely drawn picture of the Gumpmobile. Of course, no one has, and as they near the end of their search, both begin to get desperate. At the end of the montage, cut back out to Cold Brook, as Jim and Jesse walk up to another outhouse.)”

Of course, we never finished Paradox, or the Week In Hot Springs, but just prior to beginning the Adventures in Hot Springs shorts, I began piecing all of whatever I had from the WIHS together. The only scene from the first part of Paradox I was missing was this. So I called up Gump, and called up Jim and we did finally shoot it. Between the first draft of Gibbers, written in November 2004, and the actual completion of the scene, in July 2009, nearly five years had passed.

Sitting back and watching that scene play out, has probably been the highlight of my experience making short films. It turned out funnier than I ever imagined. I think of all videos I’ve made, even though I really like Kazoo Hero, this one is the one I’m truly most proud of. After all, it’s been with me from the start.

2015 Edit: Well… nobody reads these, but we ended up incorporating this in Jamie Klotz’s Diary 1. Who knew?!

Where it all kinda began…

Okay, so this wasn’t the first video we ever did, but it was a huge turning point in the direction that we took our videos.

The Day In Hot Springs was created primarily as part of an assignment for Ms. Starr’s English 2 class. Jesse and Taylor were given the assignment, which was to make a video showing what they do in an average day in Hot Springs, since Ms. Starr had gotten tired of every student complaining about how there was nothing to do in Hot Springs.

Then, while sitting together on a lunch break, Jesse and Taylor suggested to Justin that he could help. After all, he’d been doing a couple videos before this project rolled around. He agreed.

Now Taylor and Jesse had a few great ideas for scenes, but nothing really to tie them all together. Just the idea to do a video showing not only what we never did, what what could never actually happen.

So Justin gathered all their ideas, added his own, and came up with a approx. 14 page rough script. They invited their friend (and Taylor’s then-bf) Jim to join them, and they all set out to make the video.

Day one of filming, which was on Thursday, May 18, 2006, produced only one useable scene, and the best two events of the day (both of which involved Jim falling and getting hurt) weren’t even caught on film.

The next two days were spent filming all the other stuff. They called upon friends Josh “Tater” Tatum to play a comical version of himself that was in reference to “Taterfied,” Scott Akers to play the peanut butter ninja (was was originally going to have a showdown with Jesse actually slinging peanut butter and jelly at each other), Matt Luebeck as the “old man on the rock/Mt. Dew Monster,” and Jake Pannill as Indiana Jake, a reference to another video involving the same character.

Basically, a Day In Hot Springs was supposed to be Skeeter Bite’s greatest hits, though the hits had yet to even be completed.

Justin worked through a grounding to rush the video to completion. By the end of filming, Taylor was very aggravated, and everyone else was getting tired and just wanted to get finished. After filming was done, the video was quickly edited together on Sunday evening, and Justin went home before even reviewing the footage.

Fortunately, Matt and Jesse watched it through and caught a lot of mistakes Justin made, including a couple scenes where he forgot to cut around certain footage and left the outtake footage on there! The sloppy edit is still in the archives here.

The video was shown in class and got a near-perfect score; it was docked only a point because it was way too long. Later edits to the video, as Justin tweaked and perfected, made the video more manageable than the original, which had no music and poor editing, and made it seem to drag on forever, even though later edits ran much longer.

In 2007, Justin did a finalized edit, which is the version used in showings today. It contains all the correct dialogue, edits, and music that had been missing or had been changed since the original edit in early 2006. A “YouTube only” edit of part 4 of 5 of A Day In Hot Springs is on its way, eliminating the background song that gets filtered when the video is posted online.