Jerry White Jr., producer and subject of 20 YEARS OF MADNESS - Documentary
Twenty years after the success of a 90s cult TV show, 30 Minutes of Madness, founder Jerry White Jr. brings the rag tag team of misfits back together to film one final episode – only to find the majority of his cast now suffer from a variety of personal struggles.
Tell us about your film, but not in a plot-centric way, please...
For me, 20 Years of Madness proves a point. It proves that the people I grew up with and collaborated with as a teenager, and who I believed were special, really are.
I believed in all of us and the fact that we didn't "make it" has sort of always haunted me. I only say "sort of," because I'd basically made my peace with it. Twenty years older, I proved to myself, if no one else, that what I believed as a teenager not only was true then, but still is. The difference is, it's no longer important to me, or even relevant, whether anyone else agrees with that, because it's something we believe and something we experience.
We proved this point for ourselves and I think this makes a larger point about community. Sharing something special with a group of people, making something for each other is good in and of itself. The act of creating brings you together, even if it sometimes threatens to break you apart.
So while 20 Years of Madness explores individual characters, shows this beautiful vulnerability both in the footage of us as teenagers and now, and while it's a film very specifically about this group of people from Metro Detroit and their crazy little TV show, it can speak to anyone who has a group of friends with a shared interest, no matter how fringe. I hope it encourages people to embrace their own version of cool and own their weirdness, and not get weighed down by the (often imagined) expectations of others.
Share with us a pivotal cinema related experience or moment from your childhood/adolescence.
March 5th, 1992. Me and about twenty other teenagers pack into the living room of my friend's parents' house and huddle around their TV set. At 9pm, our Public Access TV Show, 30 MINUTES OF MADNESS, premieres on United Cable, Channel 52. We'd all seen the show dozens of times at that point, and some of the individual skits we'd watched far more than that. And yet: now we were watching it air, live, on TV. This meant something. Somewhere, people we didn't know were sitting in front of their television watching it too. This made everything fresher, funnier, weirder—electric. Even the weaker bits were punched up by the context of "being on TV." The absurdity of it all was elevated and underlined. Those mistakes that had bugged me, now got a laugh! Accidents read as intentional. And while I could tell a hundred stories about different fun times making videos as a teenager, this was my first glimpse of how a work can gain its own life when you release it and experience it with an audience, that it can actually improve despite, or even because of, its flaws.
I got into making movies by choosing to make them—even without a budget, with non-professionals, with consumer equipment...we didn't wait for someone to cast us or validate us—we casted and validated ourselves. This was right around the same time a group of first-time filmmakers in the mid-90s were like, "Sundance won't program us? Well then let's program ourselves!" There's a DIY and even revolutionary spirit baked right into the core of Slamdance that speaks to my soul and my earliest run-and-gun teenage public access days. And since our movie is a doc about those days and an attempt to rekindle that spirit, Slamdance couldn't be more fitting.
What does the notion of a sustainable film industry mean to you?
I don't know what it would take to make any industry sustainable. I know what I'd love see in a utopian society—an environment where film and all the arts are able to flourish, where people who want to say something can, and do! And where everyone can earn an honest living by doing what they love. But since I don't know how to make that happen, I just have to think of it this way: make films if you want to—find a way.
You can't make a sprawling epic with thousands of paid extras with a go pro on the weekend (necessarily), but you could do that with animation, or crudely with puppets, or just don't make that script and instead shoot something more feasible. Like the Robert Rodriguez 10-Minute Film School, use what you have already. Don't get hung up on chasing perfect tech or exotic locations (every location is exotic to someone anyway). If you do that, I feel you've got a sustainable ability to make films.
That doesn't mean making a living from them, I'm not doing that myself yet so I can't say how we all could, but I do think there is a way to make sure you can sustainably make movies as long as you're willing to be flexible with the kind you make.
Your essential Park City survival kit
This will be my first time to Park City, so assuming I survive, that'll mean the kit I plan to bring will have done its job. I'm bringing a knit cap, a bunch of zines about our movie, a VHS camera, a half-dozen batteries and tapes, more clean socks and underwear than I'll hopefully need, and a notebook—I find I remember things better when I write them down by hand.