Aliens and spirits tussling over a rural stretch of territory and disturbing the locals? A strip club where the owner wants the girls to keep their clothes on?
Only in southcentral Pennsylvania.
And only in “Route 30, Too,” the sequel to director John Putch's now-classic “Route 30.” The sequel will have its York premiere on Saturday, Feb. 16, and Sunday, Feb. 17, at the Capitol Theatre downtown. The “Route 30” films are part of a creative journey of independence that began in 2006 with “Mojave Phone Booth,” a movie Putch describes as “my first rebellion against the Hollywood machine movie.”
“I call them my artistic relief from show business,” the 51-year-old Chambersburg native says by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “They mean a lot to me because they're solely and completely my own doing. I'm not directing or making the film for someone else.”
Though he had a partner for “Mojave,” the “Route 30” films are all Putch.
“I wanted to do it alone the next time. ... That's when it occurred to me that I needed to go home, where everything's familiar to me,” he says. “That's how the first (‘Route 30') started.”
A trilogy: The idea that the 2007 film was the beginning of a series came as a surprise even to its creator.
“It wasn't until I was standing on the stage at the Capitol in Chambersburg that I blurted out it was a trilogy,” he says.
With two of the three movies now complete, Putch is aiming to finish the cycle in spring 2014.
“I want to get that third one out a lot quicker,” he says. “The second one took too long to get out; it took almost two years” from filming to release.
Although the films are linked by their setting, Putch says moviegoers who haven't seen “Route 30” shouldn't have any trouble following the hijinks in “Route 30, Too.”
“It does connect with the first film with a few of the characters and scenarios. ... All three parts will interweave but also stand alone,” he says. “You'll only see how they tie together if you watch them together,” but it's not necessary for understanding either movie by itself.
Each movie has its own mood and attitude, as well.
“The comedy was very low-key in the first movie, and there was a lot of melancholia,” Putch says. “This movie is way more silly and dumb and funny. ... It's kind of tongue-in-cheek and irreverent.”
The sequel: “Route 30, Too” is unrated, but the director describes it as PG-13 appropriate. There's no swearing, he says — and despite the strip club setting for one of the plot lines, “there's no nudity. There's no stripping.”
Though the characters are entirely fictional — with the exception of York native Ed Gotwalt of Mr. Ed's Elephant Museum, who plays a caricature of himself — the ideas running through the movie come from Putch's real experiences growing up in the area.
“It all came from what to me was a big wonderment as a child,” he says. “We chased the White Woman on Pond Bank Road; we never saw her. ... I was fascinated with UFOs as a child, and I could've sworn I saw one once while driving down Route 30.”
Even the strip club has its roots in local history.
“A long, long time ago, an adult bookstore opened on Route 30” between Gettysburg and Fayetteville, he says. “It was the outrage of the area. It was the talk of the nation back there ... on the land where Wild West shows used to be.”
The shoot: Naturally, capturing the proper atmosphere for “Route 30, Too” required filming on location.
“The entire movie depends on that area,” he says. “It's no fun if we don't go shoot it there.”
It might be tough to recognize specific trees from a stretch of woods, even for locals, but some locations will be instantly recognizable.
“I got to shoot at the Round Barn in Biglerville, which looks so good in the movie, and I got to shoot at the Long Pine (Run) Dam,” Putch says.
He enthuses about the joys of shooting in southcentral Pennsylvania, and laughs about even the film's worst bane: the weather.
“It was the coldest December in history,” he says. “Our fingers were freezing. The cameras would freeze up. None of us were ready for the biting cold.”
But whether the weather for Feb. 16 and 17 graces York with balmy breezes or winter's chill, Putch hopes Yorkers will come out to see the show at the Capitol.
“I love York. They were a great audience (for the first film's premiere), and I think they're gonna love this one,” he says. “I put some jokes in just for York.”
Premiere“Route 30, Too” will make its York premiere at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, at the Capitol Theatre, 50 N. George St.
The first 50 through the door at each show will receive a free movie poster. DVDs of both “Route 30” movies will be available for purchase. A question-and-answer session with director John Putch and several cast members will follow each screening. The film runs 90 minutes.
Tickets are $10.
For more information, call (717) 846-1111 or visit www.strandcapitol.org or www.route30too.com.
The making of a moviemakerJohn Putch's love of movimaking is a combination of nature and nurture.
“I grew up at this theater, Totem Pole Playhouse (in Fayetteville). My father was the artistic director and my mother was an actress,” he says. “I was an actor; I got thrown onto the stage early, and I also did crew work.”
Mom, by the way, is Jean Stapleton, best known for her long-running role as Edith Bunker on the TV sitcom “All in the Family.” It was Putch's father, William Putch, who brought the cinema home.
“My father, as a form of entertainment for me and my sister, he'd shoot 8 mm films of us. He would edit them together and show them in the living room,” Putch says. “We didn't have good television reception up there in the mountains.”
As Putch got older, it was his turn to hold the camera.
“When I was going into sixth grade, (my father) handed me a movie camera, a Super 8, and said, ‘here, go play with this on the weekend with your friends and make some movies.'”
So Putch did. He took a filmmaking class in school that year, and his interest took off.
“From there, I was like, ‘forget it, that's what I'm doing on the weekends' all through high school and college,” he says. “I used to spoof ‘Star Wars' and ‘Batman' and ‘Dirty Harry,' and they're full-fledged 20-minute movies with sound effects and dialogue and everything.”
Even while he pursued acting, the passion for directing was always simmering underneath.
“As I became an actor in L.A., I used to spend my money, my savings, on making a 16 mm film, because I thought that's what I needed to do next to be taken seriously,” he says. “The third one was actually good, and was written by Scott Frank, the screenwriter for (the John Travolta crime comedy) ‘Get Shorty' and (the George Clooney thriller) ‘Out of Sight'” among others.
That third 16 mm film even has a special connection to “Route 30” and its sequel.
“It starred Lee Wilkof, who plays Rotten Egg in the ‘Route 30' movies,” Putch says.
Those 16 mm films eventually led Putch to steady work as a film director.
“Then I used that to break into television,” he says. “It took me about 10 years to get from that first movie to an actual television show.”
More than a decade later, he has the privilege to step away from work-for-hire projects that use his skills but limit his creative control. With the “Route 30” movies, he can recapture the childhood feeling of freedom, even if the lack of distribution channels for the films keeps them from raking in the dough.
“These movies are a joy,” he says, “and it's even more of a joy to show them than it is to make them.”
— Reach Mel Barber at email@example.com.