Photos Courtesy of Jeremy Royce
Most of us have made videos of ourselves and our friends doing weird shit. Depending on when you were born, those videos could sit in a dusty box in the basement or float aimlessly and untouched in the cloud. The more ambitious among us produce works of art that go on to lead happy lives on YouTube or Vimeo.In the ’90s, a group of friends in Michigan decided to get serious about film and took to their local public-access studio to capture what were then landmark documents in adolescent hijinks. The show, appropriately called 30 Minutes of Madness, aired 13 episodes composed of visually and, at times, conceptually cohesive comedy skits. However, it eventually met its end, and took with it the film aspirations of most of the cast.
Fast-forward 20 years. Jerry White Jr., the producer and mastermind of 30 Minutes of Madness, met fellow filmmaker Jeremy Royce while the two were enrolled in the graduate film program at USC. White familiarized Royce with the show and the history between the 30 Minutes crew and, upon returning from a brief visit in Michigan, White relayed to Royce that many former cast members were struggling in the day-to-day. “I was struck by the fact that there was this show where these kids acted crazy when they were teenagers, and then a lot of them now were struggling with mental illness, and I was like, ‘You have to make a documentary about that,’” Royce says. Thus, 20 Years of Madness began.
The obvious framework was to document the making of the 15th episode of 30 Minutes of Madness (the 14th was completed by White and included mostly old footage) with the same key cast members. But there were many cast members whom White hadn’t spoken with for years. “It ran a gamut of ‘totally still in touch with them’ and completely estranged,” White says. The dramatic arc of the story, for better or worse, lies in the fact that White had a falling-out with key players in the show, which ultimately led to the demise of 30 Minutes in the first place.
The concept of 20 Years of Madness is quite meta in that it is a document, in film, about making a TV episode. Royce informed me that this often worked in their favor: Problems that White faced with 30 Minutes became fodder for the documentary. The documentary also works in tandem with the making of the episode. “I really wanted to tell the story of 30 Minutes of Madness and all the people on it in a way where the current relationships that they’re rekindling echo back to 20 years ago when they first met,” Royce says. “I wanted the modern-day story to be a mirror to the story of this group of friends back in the ’90s.”
The 15th episode takes cues from the early creative processes of 30 Minutes. The early skits show a methodical randomness that ranges from caffeinated monologues delivered in stream of consciousness, to a gimpish slave being towed by a lady on roller skates. The new skits are equally as whimsical. When I asked Royce and White about the process of making the film, the spirit of improvisation came up with both filmmakers. “It is a way to keep things energetic and inspire yourself, because you have to live in the moment,” White says. “If everything’s too perfect on the page, you run the risk of things feeling too scripted, and it won’t live.”
Looking back to the old episodes, there is a versatility that extends far beyond improvising lines or gestures. The credits show a rotation of roles similar to that of a band where the musicians swap instruments every few songs. This is the case with the 15th episode. White told me that none of the skits that play out in the episode are the product of one single writer—in short, it is as it ever was. “They say, ‘You can’t go home again,’ and I know you can’t revisit the past truly,” White says, “but I’m telling you, when we hit record and we were going, it really did feel the same.”
As it is a documentary about making a TV episode, process has a heavy hand in figuring the theme of the movie. It’s no secret that the cast (the people in the documentary) are going through tough times; but there is a therapy that happens for these people when they get back in front of the camera, which seems to have been at least in the back of the filmmakers’ minds. “Hopefully, in the process, some of these people can rekindle friendships and possibly some of their artistic aspirations,” Royce says.
20 Years of Madness: What is it? Well, it’s a film about an old TV show. But it’s also about youth, friendship, revisiting the good times of the past and the healing power of creativity.
Premiere – Friday, Jan. 23, 7:40 p.m.
“The Gallery,” Treasure Mountain Inn, Park City
Wednesday, Jan. 28, 11:30 a.m.
“The Ballroom,” Treasure Mountain Inn, Park City