Todd Blubaugh stars in his first feature film by director Trevor Hawkins.
WORDS & INTERVIEW Adam Fitzgerald
Most know Todd Blubaugh as the ramblin’ man behind the lens of some of the most iconic motorcycle photography in the past decade. In 2016, while working on the feature story about Todd’s book, Too Far Gone (Issue 024), Todd shared with me something secret; he’d starred in a movie written and filmed by longtime friend and director Trevor Hawkins. The rough cut of the trailer elicited an emotional response that had me laying in wait for Todd to release it to the world. Nearly a year later, I got the call that Todd was ready to let the cat outta the bag.
Lotawana is based around Trevor Hawkins’ life growing up on the Missouri lake of the same name. It explores one possible future in the life of Forrest, a character based loosely on a mix of both Hawkins and Blubaugh, who lives on a boat on Lake Lotawana. The film is a visceral rollercoaster of beauty and pain begging the question ‘what makes a life worth struggling for?.’
I sat down with Hawkins and Blubaugh to discuss the concept, the bitter realities of indie filmmaking, and Todd’s newfound motorcycle stunt life.
roughly based off of some personal things or is it completely fictional?
Trevor: I grew up at [Lake] Lotawana and I've lived there my whole life, and still do. I had a lot of wanderlust. The movie's kind of based around me when I was 25. I've done lots of traveling and sailing trips, all kinds of extended adventures and at one point I was going to sail around the world for a couple of years and I always had this dream of kind of living that alternative lifestyle, but if I wanted to be a filmmaker, I kind of needed a home base and a crew and a place to establish myself. I liked making films more than I liked the idea of living that alternative lifestyle and Lotawana is sort of this cathartic experience of letting that go. So in other words, the movie is kind of what I had dreamed for my life when I was younger, but just never pulled the trigger on because I loved doing film more than that. And Todd kind of has a lot of the same sentiments, but he's lived it a little bit more than I have.
Adam: So it's basically like one possible future that could've been?
Trevor: That's kind of just it. They're [the characters in the film] very idealistic in the worlds they want to build for themselves and they kind of create their own world. Then it crashes down and the whole movie's kind of a thought experiment to the viewer of whether they can rewrite their own rules of modern existence or will they find that society operates that way for a reason.
Adam: Todd, tell me a little about your character, Forrest.
Todd: He's young. He's 25. I was playing like 10 years younger, 11 years younger, which was really easy for me to tap into because I did live that way. I still do in a way. I really haven't let go of that character in my life and I've actually had the world fall apart around me with a partnership in life. What I thought would be a long term go of a relationship, failed inside the structure that I had created, so it really wasn't that hard to be this optimistic life-loving naïve 25 year old kid and I think looking back, I may have done a few things differently just with the hindsight that I have now. But it's pretty much what every young boy who suffers from wanderlust is. That's the guy.
Adam: Trevor, was it hard to direct Todd acting as a character that was loosely based off of yourself?
Trevor: Actually it wasn't that difficult to remove myself from it because when I wrote it, I did have Todd in mind for the whole thing. He didn't even know that when I was writing it. When I first called him about doing the movie, I was like, “hey Todd I got this project and you're going to be the lead actor.” And he was like, “No!” He wouldn't act in it. He wanted to work on the production. He wanted to help shoot it, and I was like, “too bad, man. I wrote this part and it's kind of based on you.”
Todd: I learned a lot in the process and I'm not an actor and I do not claim to be, but I really appreciate those actors that do that all the time now. It's unnerving. It's a lot of doubt. That's what I had to deal with. And I feel like doubt has been a companion of mine for a very long time and I think that's why these bike trips are so good for me is because if you face it head on and there's no distractions and the world's moving by, I think you take bigger bites out of it. And acting is nothing but a bunch of doubtful decisions stacked on top of each other until you start to believe yourself a little bit.
Trevor: We would always shoot an improvised take as well, so every scene we would get it in the can as the way the script was written and then we would throw the script out the window and Nicola [the character of Everly] and Todd could do whatever they wanted. No rules, they could go wherever they want, say whatever they want, do whatever they want. And so it was just a complete natural blend of Todd's real life personality into this character of Forrest. I feel like it's hard to even know where Todd's life ends and Forrest's life begins. The only part that surprised me honestly was how well he did in like the serious scenes where you actually have to act. There's no faking sadness and loss and he just pulled that out of nowhere. He took it seriously and he freakin’ destroyed it.
Adam: I noticed there was some motorcycle stuff in the film. Todd, was that really you doing all your own stunts?
Todd: Yeah. I did all my own stunts and so did Nicola actually. And that was an XT 500 that I found on Craigslist in Kansas. Picked it up for just under $900 and Trevor and I went out and looked at it on one of my trips home and it was all there. It popped and snorted when we tried to start it, so I figured it was probably not junk. So, bought it, went back to California and then I came home a week before we started shooting and got the bike right, which didn't take a whole lot of work. It was when I had gone through it, I purchased an SR head and jug in case I had to go through the top end, I wanted to put an SR head on there. It's just what everybody does just for fun. There was a lot left on that bike that hadn't been taken care of. I adjusted the valves, cam chain, and the timing was totally chewed up, but once that got right, the bike ran like crazy. I ride it all the time. It's my favorite bike right now.
Adam: Was the motorcycle written into the film because of Todd, Trevor?
Trevor: Yeah, partially it was. This is kind of an interesting story. The motorcycle was always part of it, but it was never to the extent of what Todd could do. So obviously that power slide shot, Todd just slams into the frame. I didn't write that into the script because I didn't think I would be able to find a lead actor that could do that, but then once Todd was on board, we just went wild with everything and so there's a lot of ripping around that we were able to do just because Todd is like king motorcycle rider.
Todd: I'll say this, when we got the bike, it was totally clapped out. The front forks and the rear forks were totally shot, so everything we were doing was just knocking the factory tires left and right and we even exploded a rim and in one of the shots, you'll never notice, but there's four spokes sticking out the side and a flat tire. It was just falling apart left and right. Those shots that you are talking about, Trevor, were basically the day before we got the bike tuned up and then went out and had the time because you're still in that casting fiasco that we were just tuning and shooting basically.
Trevor: There's a whole opening sequence in the movie of nothing but Todd riding the bike and it's kind of like he's going into town, but it's like this little montage detour that he takes through the woods and that's kind of how that power slide starts, is him going into the woods and that's kind of how that all starts and that wasn't in the script originally, but we had extra time while we were trying to find this actress. So Todd and I just went out and started having fun with the camera and we created a scene out of nowhere because of it and we did that a couple times actually.
Todd: Trevor was on a skateboard in that shot [laughs].
Adam: How long did it take to film Lotawana?
Todd: Long time. We started filming principle photography in February 1st of 2015 and then we had a hiatus where we stopped filming and we picked back up in the summer time and so Todd came into town I think either late July or early August and then we had this big casting fiasco with the original girl of the film, and so we had to emergency re-cast the female lead and the whole time we were doing this, Todd is just living in the Mammoth office.
Todd: I was sleeping on the floor of the office for like three months.
Adam: Was there any funding behind this from anybody helping to produce it?
Trevor: No. Half of it was paid through money that my wife and I had saved up and then we got a loan against our house to pay for the second half of it.
Adam: Wow, so this was a true passion project you poured everything into.
Trevor: We're still paying it off, so we're hoping that someone picks it up soon and we can at least pay that loan off [laughs].
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