An interview with the man who did "Boyhood", before "Boyhood" even existed. Sam Klemke has filmed his life since 1977.
Before heading to Sundance, we heard all about a particular American–Australian film that had been in the works since 1977. Which is why when Sam Klemke of Sam Klemke's Time Machine walked into Street's favorite coffee shop in Park City, we immediately nabbed him for an interview.
Street: What has your experience been at Sundance thus far?
Sam Klemke: After the first screening of the film here, I’ve had four Q&As and got to talk a lot of people who poured an overwhelming amount of love on me. People are saying, “Sam, what you do is really brave, it takes a lot of courage, I could never reveal so much like that.” I never really thought it was brave. I think the real brave part was to send my footage across the world to Australia to have them edit it however they damn well pleased. It’s been like a three and a half year journey since then.
Street: You’ve been filming your life since 1977, at what point did you decide to do something with that footage?
SK: See I don’t know if you saw the original viral video that I put up, called “35 years backwards in time.” It was like the catalyst that got the whole thing going. It’s six minutes long and starts in the present (well present being three years ago) and I worked my way back through time back to 1977 and you get to see me grow younger and younger. Basically, it went viral and Matt (the filmmaker) decided that he wanted to make a feature. Actually, he originally decided that he wanted to make a short out of it, and then he saw the plethora of footage that I had and he decided (Ed. note: Klemke breaking into Australian accent), “Ah this has got to be a full length film eh…90 minutes at least!” I decided to do it and bravely sent him all my footage. We only have a finite amount of days on Earth and I have better things to do than edit my own life’s footage!
To his credit, he did a really good job with the footage. It’s his film and his take on my footage and my life. It’s not the story of Sam Klemke the Caricature Artist. It has a little bit of that but mostly what he loves is me standing in front of the camera alone, venting, complaining. He likes the dark and human stuff and with my footage he had a specific tone that he wanted to use.
Street: Once you handed off the footage to Matt and the production company, did you stay involved with the project or did you let them take the reins on the project?
SK: He told me early on that I would be involved and that we would be doing this together. After I mailed the hard drives, he would ask me certain questions and we would do interviews. I would share certain parts of my life and even film specific things for him. As time went on, however, I became less and less involved and I felt a little ostracized. He even put this part in the film.
One of the interesting things about the film is that it folds in on itself. Matt breaks the fourth wall. Suddenly he’s in the film and you see him with a camera. There’s one scene that shows the first meeting between us where he flew from Australia to Colorado (where I’m from). When we came through the door and we walked towards each other, we both had our cameras running. It comes down to the question, is he in my film or am I in his film? Generally it was a fun experience and once I saw the final film, I was really happy and delighted with what a wonderful and intellectually challenging film it was.
Street: The film juxtaposes your life’s footage with that of a voyager space journey. Could you tell us a little bit about what it was like to see that in the film?
SK: Matt juxtaposed all my silliness against this vast cosmic project with Carl Sagan’s voyager satellite going into space. It’s quite something to see yourself eating a plate of nachos and then juxtaposing that with this voyager flying off against Saturn’s rings. There’s no way to describe it. I’ve seen in three times now and it still titillates me every time I see it.
Street: Some say that humans are fluid and constantly changing and some say that at the core we remain the same. Do you believe you are changed or the same person as you were in 1977?
SK: I’ve been really self aware since early on and I loved to draw and animate. I loved the idea of creating and manipulating motion so I always watched movies and TV. I looked at it from a critical eye as a child, so by the time I got my first camera I was always filming everything. Thus, I became self aware at an early age, like my mannerisms, and I just wanted more and more of that.
Street: Could you have ever imagined this moment, being at Sundance, back when you were starting this journey?
SK: It is everything I could have imagined in a sense. I mean, I couldn’t imagine the internet in the 70s but I did imagine something would come along. The proof for that is a piece where I made half of a conversation with my future self. I filmed myself asking questions to my older self and left it there for all these years with the idea that in the year 2000, I would come back and respond and fill in the gaps of the half of the conversation. So along comes 2000 and I didn’t do it, and then 2004…2010… and I finally did it in 2013. It unfortunately didn’t make it in the film for tonal purposes but its online and will be in the special features of the DVD.
But back to your question, I kind of thought something would come along with my footage, and I didn’t ever want to sound presumptuous or arrogant but I was visionary in the sense that I could see something come from this. But you know, then you forget about it and you go on with your life and keep eating nachos and you meet people, fall in in love, break up, you have all kinds of experiences.