Film examines the past 20 years of ’30 Minutes of Madness’
January 27, 2015
The concept of a public-access TV show has intrigued the public throughout the years.
The thought of pirating airwaves or offering alternative viewing opportunities to local viewers has been examined and romanticized in Second City’s "SCTV," Saturday Night Live’s "Wayne’s World" and "Mystery Science Theatre 3000."
Filmmaker Jeremy Royce spotlighted a 1990s Detroit-based, skit-run, public-access program, "30 Minutes of Madness" in "20 Years of Madness."
The 90-minute piece is part of the Slamdance Film Festival documentary competition and served as the festival’s opening-night film.
Slamdance will screen the film again on Wednesday at the Treasure Mountain Inn.
"20 Years of Madness" was Royce’s first film to be accepted into Slamdance.
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"It was an honor to be selected and then to have it be the opening-night film was even more than I could have wished," Royce said during a joint Park Record interview with "30 Minutes of Madness" founder Jerry White Jr. "To have the response we did was an amazing experience."
"20 Years of Madness" documents White’s mission to make a new episode of "30 Minutes of Madness" with the same cast who last worked with each other in 1994.
"I did keep in touch with a number of people, but there was a falling out and drifting apart years back," White explained. "I had left Michigan and ended up living in California, Germany and Japan. But over the years, some of those relationships warmed."
The idea to do a film came to Royce when he heard White was trying to get the cast back together.
"Jerry and I became friends and became roommates," Royce said. "We are both filmmakers and talked about a lot of things. In 2009, he showed me a VHS tape of the show and I thought it was great."
Royce also thought it unique that White kept copies of all of the shows.
"I mean, as a filmmaker, I couldn’t get rid of my early works fast enough, and here was Jerry, who not only had the rights to his show and would show them to anyone who wanted to see them, but he also treasured the experiences," Royce said. "So, we came up with the idea of the film was to capture that rekindling of the relationships of this cast that may have been a little tumultuous in the past."
Royce realized the story was more than just the cast making a new episode.
"It was also about reevaluating those tight friendships they had when they were teens and how those friendships translate into adulthood, even after some of those friendships have slipped through the cracks," he said.
The primary relationship was that between the show’s founders, White and Joe Hornacek, who had a falling out.
"We didn’t talk for well over 16 years and it was only in the last couple of years that the ice slowly thawed, but we weren’t as tight as we were before," White said. "When I pitched the idea of doing a new show for the 20th anniversary, he could have easily said no, and that would have been the end of the idea."
But Hornacek said yes.
"Even then, however, it felt like there was still a big question mark," White said. "But when we got back together, it felt like we were teenagers again in so many ways, including the good ways and the other ways where there were stupid arguments."
In the end, the whole cast came back together, to White’s relief.
"I had approached so many and did a lot of phone calls with the idea, and as soon as I said ’30 Minutes of Madness,’ they would just start laughing and told me they knew it was going to happen someday," he said. "That made me feel good, because we had people living in Atlanta and Seattle. It also felt good that this show was important to so many others and not just important to me."
The idea of how the documentary would flow emerged from many late-night discussions, Royce said.
"When Jerry talked about the show, I found he spoke about it in a very specific way," he said. "I found they shot on the weekends for fun and that evolved into making a TV show. When the group expanded and they all moved in together, they tried to take the show to the next level, but that’s when everything fell apart in a ball of flames, the group disbanded.
"I knew we wanted to make a very structured documentary about the making of this new episode, so, we had a clear beginning, middle and end," Royce said. "So, in a sense, the documentary’s structure would mirror the show."
To put things into context, Royce relied heavily on archival footage.
"We have more than 300 hours that Jerry kept," he said.
"That’s a lot of VHS tapes," White said, laughing.
"So, the conversation of these adults that are seen in my film, in a sense, echo the conversations they had when they were teens," Royce said. "I was surprised at how organic and quickly the adults got back to that place, that mindset, they had when they were teenagers.
"I was immediately struck how these people, who have become really withdrawn and closed off, immediately jumped out with twinkles I their eyes when the cameras turned on," he said. "I was encouraged, not only as a documentary filmmaker, but as a friend, to see them get back to this place."
White always believed the group would get back together sometime during his lifetime.
"I think that’s why I never let go," he said. "I never said the show died, but said there was this really long time between episodes."
Slamdance was the best festival to premiere the film, according to Royce.
"When I first found out about Slamdance, I knew it was just a film festival, but a family," he said. "There is an enthusiasm running throughout the festival that I’ve never experienced before.
"It’s a festival that celebrates being a little on the fringe, being outsiders in filmmaking," he said. "Those are all things that are a touchstone for our film."
Slamdance will host an additional screening of "20 Years of Madness" on Wednesday, Jan. 28, at 11:30 a.m. at Treasure Mountain Inn, 255 Main St. For more information, visit http://www.slamdance.com.