Roadtrips are as old as the roadways, people have taken to the road in search of opportunity and/or adventure since time immemorial, millions took to the road during the Great Depression and the Dustbowl, the Northern Migration of Black Americans, and let’s not forget the Trail of Tears. Road trips are as unique and as similar as as the next one. Authors such as Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck and Charles Kuralt all took to the road and wrote about it but as much as each is similar in some ways, each is different in many more ways.
When we began planning our year long road trip in the Spring of 2007, we searched the internet far and wide to see who might be doing or have done something similar, for example we found ‘A Year On The Road’, and at first our hearts sank but then we read their website and found it was a family traveling the USA for a year to spend time with their kids and give them an experience like no school books could. We found another couple RVing across Europe in a tiny trailer, and another couple RVing across America while making money as day traders. We found My Name Is Bill, a fellow doing daily videos from a variety of locations around the world and showing the cultures of the world. It seemed while lots of people were traveling the world and documenting it, none were doing it like we were planning to.
Our plan was going to utilize Craigslist to find jobs and places to stay, we planned from the very beginning to interview Craig Newmark founder of Craigslist, and talked about it in video we posted way back on July 4th, 2007 (http://www.myspace.com/video/shane-bugbee/a-year-at-the-wheel-demo/12171306).
We would stay not just with friends, but with people we met via the internet. We wanted to stay with folks we didn’t know to really get a taste of America, and while we hadn’t planned to travel with no money initially, we ended up leaving on our year long adventure with $180, no savings, no credit cards, and no one to call if shit got bad.
We inspired many people during and after our trip, some people we met on the road went on to do their own projects and travels – a fellow in Texas did “A Month In The Air” flying all over the USA on Jet Blue Airlines, he also did a video series called “I’m a Real American”. An older artist we met in Oregon got in his van after we left and drove 800 miles to visit an elderly uncle. We also received emails from people who had been following along with our blog, and they did trips such as Eco-Jaunt, or Bus in Motion. We collaborated with Flux Rostrum who’d by 2007 had been traveling in a bus and reporting real news for several years, his Mobile Broadcast News was not unlike our project, but nothing like it at the same time.
There were also a number of unsuccessful attempts to follow in our footsteps. Two girls started out about the same time we did with the goal of visiting and sleeping in Walmart parking lots, they lasted a month or two before giving up. After our sponsor Podshow failed us we found out they were planning to use our idea to get their “safe” and under contract shows to do a road trip, they pushed “Dawn and Drew” to do one. “Geek Brief” raised some $20,000 off of their viewers in order to do a similar trip, but then decided that wasn’t enough money to give up the comforts of home for an extended period and cancelled.
In all of our marketing we talked of taking a snapshot of real America, being a litmus test for America, testing the power of technology to bring people together, and searching or answers to the pressing issues of our time – does the American Dream exist? Is revolution possible? Is Capitalism a cancer or a cure? Where do we go from here? And we did ask those questions and we did discuss those things at length, and by the time our trip ended in November of 2008 we had more than a thousand hours of video footage, and over 150 short videos up on the internet for free which had received well over a million hits, as well as several of them being played on various alternative news shows on cable. Our footage included in-depth coverage of New Orleans and the effects of Hurricane Katrina, an interview with Craisglist founder Craig Newmark, and numerous additional interviews with a variety of Americans from all walks of life.
By the time we finished the trip, we were aware of at least one direct copycat of our project, it was a short lived series on Crackle that began in Sept. 2008 called ‘American Dreamers’, apparently the network decided there was no money in it, or they ran out of ideas. We had approached Crackle with our idea about the same time we had approached Adam Curry, and this was how show biz worked, one studio starts shooting a Robin Hood movie or a Wyatt Earp movie and “poof” another studio is doing the same thing.
Some time after our project ended, we contacted one of our subjects, The Roadium open air market in Southern California, to inquire about the name of an employee that we’d interviewed, the owner who we’d met while on our trip told us out of the blue, “Have you seen that TV show ‘Storage Wars’? My wife and I saw it and knew it was a rip off of your video about The Roadium! We knew it!”
We were shocked, as we did not have a TV and we’d never seen the show, but this man who owned The Roadium, where so many auctioned storage units end up, saw our video about his market and it’s economy and felt with complete certainty we had inspired a TV show. He told us we had to see it and we would see that it was true. It’s been a couple years we still haven’t seen it, but we have been told there is now more than one show covering this same subject.
Unbeknownst to us, a mere three weeks after out project ended on Election Night 2008 in Washington DC, a young man set out for 31 big days with no money using Craigslist as his tool of survival. This is not to be confused with Craigslist TV this is something different.
In the last week or so, three or four friends contacted us to ask if we’d seen this movie ‘Craigslist Joe’ because it seemed to them to be a big rip off of our project. No, we hadn’t seen or heard of ‘Craigslist Joe’ but we were of course curious, so we fired up the Netflix and gave it a watch. The opening narration alone had my jaw on the ground as he paraphrased and nearly directly quoted our press materials and website text. Yet as we watched the movie, Joe did very little to back up his narration, his question of how people were surviving the recession, it was not about the people of America, it was about him, all him.
We watched in dismay as he went to his childhood home outside Chicago – just as we had done in our pre-trip video ‘Shunned’. We sat in horror as he talked about the devastation of new Orleans, and even cried a few alligator tears over something we’d made 4, 5 , 6 or more short videos covering, and really talking to people. When he began to type out his letter to Craig of Craigslist, well that was the last straw, this was a total and blatant copy of our project, and while he used our premise, and even our words, his execution paled in comparison, which in the end was the most upsetting part. Here this kid lifted our idea, basically remade our project in a typical, and condensed fashion and captured very little of the true emotion of the people he claimed to be documenting, and none of the sincerity. Over and over again the people whom he claimed were the subject of the film fell into the backdrop as we were only given his reactions and his hardships. Every moment there was an opportunity to really tell someone’s story, it all went back to Joe.
We were shocked when it was all over, there he was sitting with Craig Newmark just as we had done mere months before, but he was asking no interesting questions.
Shane did a google search and found a review on the Hollywood reporter website, several of the lines in the article by John DeFore were quite curious, such as “Garner, for reasons unexplained here, decided in the wake of 2008′s financial crisis to simulate life without a safety net.” That line said a lot to us, a whole lot. His reasons were unexplained because he was imitating and not genuine.
Shane posted a comment on the movie’s Facebook page and almost immediately got a message from Joe Garner the film’s star. “I’m sorry you feel the way you do. Unfortunately, I have never heard of your project A Year At The Wheel. So I can’t speak to the similarities. But I can assure you this was an original concept conceived in 2008 and have been working on it until it’s release in August.”
He suggested we were speaking without ever having seen his film, but Shane assured him that we were upset only because we HAD seen his film, and the similarities were too too many to be accidental.
He wrote back again, “I can understand your frustration if someone did in fact rip you off. That would be terrible and wrong and I also can imagine how many years and months you spent making your film, only because I went through the same thing. But instead of helping each other out or saying hey I know how hard it is to get a no budget documentary made congrats. You instead feel it’s necessary to attack me for no reason. Frankly, I don’t see why both films can’t co-exist?” (I guess he meant co-exist like my earlier example of ‘Wyatt Earp’ and ‘Tombstone’.)
Shane wrote him back again with a little bit of common sense, “I can of course only speak about Amy and myself and how we decided to go about things when we came up with the idea, especially because it was rooted in the new tech world, we used technology and researched… We dug deep to see if anyone had a similar idea or if a similar idea was in production. Hell, we didn’t want to invest time in something that was already being done, we wanted to make our own mark.
“Seems you, a media savvy person who works in the entertainment industry and has been schooled would have done the same thing? Now, I’m a high school drop out, but it seems to me a teacher somewhere would have schooled you on that and if not, the experience you have working with and in an industry that harvests ideas would have helped guide you to make an educated and smart decision like researching the subject you were about to spend years of your life on… After all, you’re a seasoned professional.”
This was reminding me of another experience we’d had with “show biz” back in 2002, when we heard David Spade talking about his upcoming movie, ‘Dickie Roberts’ on the Howard Stern show. He was describing scenes that Shane and I were shocked to hear – He was outlining an unreleased Judy Tenuta movie we’d just so happened to see a few month before as Shane and Judy Tenuta share the same entertainment lawyer. I had just launched my TVisGod.com website and knew I had a “scoop”. I contacted Judy Tenuta who was fuming, and she put me in touch with the movie’s screenwriter Greg Glienna. He told me that they had screened the film in LA when trying to get distribution, and even though Spade was denying it, he knew he and his writing partner had seen it. I went ahead with the story on my website, which at the time had about 300 hits, and soon was threatened with a lawsuit by Spade’s attorney, in fact he tried to sue not only me, but my husband, mother and sister, each for a million dollars in an attempt to shut us up. The “Slap Suit” didn’t help him though, the release date of ‘Dickie Roberts’ was postponed and the studio had to put millions more into reshooting and reworking the movie, it was finally released some 6 months later.
That might sound paranoid, BUT Greg Glienna was the comic genius behind the movie ‘Meet the Parents’, (seriously, look it up) and he also told me when he’d been originally shopping that script around Hollywood in the early 1990s one studio ripped off the idea and produced the Pauly Shore movie ‘Son In Law’ from it, so he had experienced this first hand already.
The difference now was technology, as Shane says, “The technological revolution is making society transparent, where harvesting ideas and stealing ideas will no longer be possible. Instead Hollywood SHOULD be sending out recruiters to find the creative people out there that are on youtube and on the internet and hire them, rather than having these petty thieves that steal ideas”, because as Shane continues. “They will be caught and exposed today.”
So it goes back to basics, sure there are many, many road trip movies out there, all are similar BUT all are unique, as each is coming from the creator’s different perspectives, even say Beat poets and writers who maybe all came from a similar place, or had a smilier point of view, all of them expressed their views in completely different ways. The fact that ‘Craigslist Joe’ has so many unbelievable similarities, and exactly the same happenings, and near word for word comparisons, there is no way that the filmmaker was not aware of and lifting from A Year At The Wheel. Great minds may think alike, but not this much, this was just too, too much for coincidence. We are from completely different points of view and walks of life, so there is no way, this young man would be saying the exact same things and covering the exact same ground as us by chance. This is a copy, a poor copy, and an obvious copy to more than just us, as stated previously, the project was brought to our attention by others who were upset.