Jeremy Royce, director of 20 YEARS OF MADNESS, premiering his documentary at the 2015 Slamdance Festival
Jeremy Royce: Director, 20 YEARS OF MADNESS
by Gary Alvarez
Park City, Utah—Main Street
I’m here as a writer covering the 2015 Sundance Film Festival for Landscape Latino and get invited to interview a filmmaker who is premiering at the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival, across the street from Sundance.
My initial response is “Fuck Slamdance. They rejected my film into their festival last month. Why should I do them a favor?”
Then I realize I’m not doing Slamdance any favor. Bottom line is I’m here to interview filmmakers about film making.
And I’m at Sundance anyway.
So I accept the invitation to meet Jeremy Royce, director of the documentary 20 YEARS OF MADNESS (20YOM), on his way to USC’s School of Cinematic Arts’ annual Sundance reception (he graduated from USC in 2012 with an MFA in Film Production).
We greet each other in the corridor of a pizza parlor adjacent to the reception, where a long line of current and former Trojan filmmakers snakes along the sidewalk. It’s an unconventional spot for an interview, but as it turns out Jeremy is unconventional kind of guy. I quickly discover over the subsequent 15 minutes that Jeremy is as madness as the subject of his documentary.
“What’s the documentary about?”
Royce breaks down the plot: “The documentary follows a group of teens who made a comedy sketch show called 30 MINUTES OF MADNESS in the 90s on public access TV in suburban Detroit. In 2012, they got together for their 20-year reunion to shoot one more episode. The founder of the show, Jerry White Jr., reconnects with former collaborators, some of whom are now dealing with personal demons.”
I dig deeper for a theme.
“[The documentary showcases] a prophetic contrast between then and now” he continues. “I wanted to show that it’s never too late to do what you wanna do and that you can find a voice through your art, ’cause in the end art transcends [time].”
“What attracted you to the subject matter?”
“I’m an outsider myself. I left home when I was 16. At one point I was institutionalized in a psych ward” Royce shares frankly. “I went from a 4.0 student in high school to a [drug] dealer. I had no family structure…I was lost…Eventually I found my way back and earned a full ride to UC Santa Cruz. During my undergrad years I worked as a documentary editor for a private company cutting a documentary web series. I quit school, worked for a while and eventually hit the road for 6 months…I got accepted into USC in the fall of 2009, where I learned film production and first met Jerry [White Jr., the creator of 30 MINUTES OF MADNESS] as a roommate.”
It was during this eventful time spent living and going to school with White that 20YOM was conceived and developed. The idea was to follow White after graduating from USC as he returned to his hometown of Rochester, Michigan to make a new episode of 30 MINUTES OF MADNESS (30MOM) for the show’s 20th Anniversary. Not fully knowing what to expect but hoping his old friends would be willing, White planned on reuniting with former cast members, some of whom had not moved beyond the crazy lifestyle they had embraced as teenagers and which now consumed them as adults.
Sounds interesting, like one of those passion projects that can reignite a creative collaboration for another 20 years or crash and burn along with what remains of lingering friendships…
Just as we start breaking the ice, Jeremy has to hurry off to his USC reception but we agree to meet again back in LA, which we do a few weeks later.
Since then, I have watched the documentary and have a few follow up questions for him.
“What compelled you to make this film?”
“I wanted to make a film about people who are pushed out of the mainstream…When I was in my teens, I used to work in the projection booth of a small independent theater in Berkeley, changing the film reels. It was while working there that I was exposed to stories about outsiders, people on the fringes…Now I enjoy making films that give a voice to the underrepresented, to those who are searching for a sense of belonging.”
In the case of 30 MINUTES OF MADNESS, Royce is referring to the ragtag cast of outsiders who routinely played off-beat characters. Teenage misfits, miscreants, goths, skaters, detached musicians, males dressing in female clothing. A few of them now suffer from mental illness and drug addiction and the isolation they experienced in adolescence continues to isolate some of them in adulthood.
I asked because I’m curious as to who his target audience is, with such a specific subject matter.
“Online distribution and cable broadcast is our top priority…We want to get [the documentary] to the people who dance to the beat of their own drum, the people who celebrate ‘freaks.’ We made [the film] to be shown in communities that embrace and celebrate ‘the other’.”
To that end, 20 YEARS OF MADNESS is now making the festival circuit, with screenings at the Detroit Free Press Festival and Cleveland International Festival as well as further showings in the works.
Despite its very focused subject matter, or possibly because of it, the documentary is an engaging look at friendship and creativity and how the relationship between the two evolves or devolves over the years as life decisions are made that propel us along different paths—from the moment we become friends to that moment when we ask “Are we still friends? Can we still create like we used to when we first met in high school?”
As I was watching the film, I found myself pondering those same questions.
To watch the 20 YEARS OF MADNESS trailer: www.20yearsofmadness.com