Circle The Wagen
CIRCLE THE WAGEN is a feature-length buddy/roadtrip/docu-dramedy that follows Dave, an idealistic adventurer and automotive ne’er-do-well, and his convivial co-pilot Charlie—on their journey down Route 66 in a baby blue 1972 VW bus. Through mishaps and murals, gasoline baths and breakdowns, the two discover a teeming underground of vintage VW diehards willing to help save “The Croc” from the scrap heap and rally her beleaguered owner on to California.
In this TRAFFIC exclusive, Charlie, co-pilot on the trip and executive producer of the film, answers a few questions.
How long did the whole journey take?
Tricky question to answer. Without giving away too much, the whole road trip took four years. The film itself took an additional two to finish. So six years in production. It’s been a long & fascinating journey both the experiences on the road & the process of making a film.
How did you guys get along on the trip?
Dave, myself, & our director, Ryan Steven Green, have all been friends since we were freshman together at USC(1999). We actually founded a fraternity chapter there together called Alpha Gamma Omega. So we’ve been friends for 14 years & at the time the production started, we already had eight under our belts. Of course, we had never all made a feature-length film together before. Ryan & I had made a lot of short films together, as we’d both studied Cinema at SC. And Dave & I had had many crazy adventures; so this was a combination of the two. The process definitely stretched our friendship in new ways & there were certainly moments of tension over the the different ways we saw the film shaping up. But in the end, (both of the journey & the filmmaking process) we’re all really proud of our successes personally & professionally. I’m very fortunate to have such sterling friends that I can count on.
The lowest moment?
We all knew that if the bus worked perfectly, the movie wouldn’t be very good. What’s a road trip without breakdowns? And the aim of the film was to explore the American vintage Volkswagen underground by reaching out to strangers when we were stuck. But even with that expectation, (& even hope), when things looked bleak, we simply couldn’t see around the next bend & know who might save us that day. I don’t want to say much more than that because it’ll give away some good stuff, but the low moments are certainly there.
These type questions, I feel, can be answered one of two ways; filmically & personally. Some of the high points can be experienced better by the audience for a number of reasons that wouldn’t occur to the casual viewer; some just don’t translate well on film. For example: Dave & I can be experiencing great anticipation over an engine issue but there aren’t any cameras in the engine compartment when things go bonkers. A breakdown isn’t a calamitous thing visually. The bus just starts to go slower! Ha! It’s a build that you could only get if it were a piece of fiction & we “make it happen” on camera. That way the audience can watch it unfold. But with a documentary, you only have a couple cameras & you DON’T know what’s going to happen. You try to roll as much as you can but obviously they’re not going 24/7. So you take all the footage you DO have & choose what’s most compelling. I mean, we had over 80hrs of footage. It’s all true, but some moments work better as a story than other parts & so you keep those moments. Again, I don’t want to give anything away, because nothing is guaranteed in this film. And I don’t want the audience to go into a screening w/ too much knowledge. Who doesn’t hate spoilers? I hate them passionately! 🙂
How did you come up with the idea?
Dave had spent two years in New York & was returning back to LA. I had a spot open in my apartment & since we’d lived together in college, it was a no-brainer. In true Dave fashion, he made the choice to buy a 1972 Volkswagen bus on eBay, for $800, in a state he’d never been to, from a man he’d never met. He didn’t get it looked at by a mechanic or anything. And I think the real reason is because, down deep, Dave likes to line up the dominoes against himself & then let em rip. He likes that adventure, he has confidence he’ll land on his feet (somehow:), & most of all, he likes a good story. Now, this was a time when Dave was younger & full of more youthful vigour for such life abuse. We ALL were. None of us are sure we’d do this sort of adventure again at this point in our lives, even though all of us are very grateful for the experience & that it took place when we had more naiveté.
So Dave buys the bus in Des Moines, Iowa & attempts to drive it back. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t make it but a couple states. He leaves the bus with his girlfriend’s parents outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma & flies back to LA with his tail between his legs. After a month or two, he & I are talking about what he’s going to do about the bus & he tells me about an underground community of vintage VW bus owners who are on a list. It’s all across the US. And when a bus owner breaks down, when they happen to be on a trip, as they’re wont to do in these buses (& as the buses are wont to do…), they call up the fellow bus owner who seems to be closest to them. This person, otherwise a complete stranger, takes time out of their life & comes to help them out. If need be, the stranded bus owner can use their driveway as a safe place to park & rest, or even crash on their couch.
I was flabbergasted! It sounded like a notion out of time; like when people didn’t lock their doors at night. What was it about these vehicles that vouched for a person’s character? Dave thought we could possibly utilise this network to help get the bus back to LA. And, of course, have a great time meeting incredible people. It sounded like the next adventure we should take. I was so encouraged about our society, I thought others might be too. And since it’s so little known, I thought it could be a fascinating documentary/road-trip. It’s a true experiment in relying on the kindness of strangers. And it’s been our experience that everyone who sees the film, has their confidence in humanity restored.
What are your current modes of transport? (Dave, yourself and Ryan)
Dave is currently driving a twenty year old Ford Explorer, I’m in a 10 year old Honda Pilot, & Ryan, our director, is actually in a 1967 Volkswagen Squareback named, “Wendy”. I hope to get a bus in the near future, but a 40 year old vehicle doesn’t really do well as a daily driver (especially with as much driving as Angelenos do). I live in a studio apartment & so there’s not really space for two cars (one which I’ll probably be under quite a bit).
Are any of you mechanically inclined?
No….. so that’s certainly fodder for filmic mayhem:)
What were the sleeping arrangements?
Dave & I slept in the Croc (Dave’s bus) quite a bit. The film crew slept in the RV we rented & in motels.
Was it junk food for the whole trip?
Yeah, definitely. You know, you’re doing the American Southwest, along majestic Route 66, & they’re an awful lot of charismatic diners speckled throughout, which, for all of us, was very fun & exciting. Each state has it’s iconic fare. As Ryan’s wife Jessica says, “traveling is eating”.
Beverage of choice?
Dave is a hard core addict of Mountain Dew: Code Red. It’s his water. Ryan loves his coffee. If it’s a DRINK drink, I’ll go bourbon, rocks, splash of soda.
WIll the Croc be restored – the rust repaired etc?
Hmmm, well, the rust is kinda the charm of the Croc. And I’m not spoiling too much if I tell you that along the journey, the Croc did get an INCREDIBLE mural job by fine artist, Matt Josef. But automotively, that WOULD be kinda nice. Hasn’t happened yet &, shockingly, we’re still not sure what continues to plague the old girl.
Will it be sold?
Ultimately, that’s up to Dave. But probably not any time soon as we have fun plans for her….;)
Where does it live now?
Right now, the Croc is at the beauty salon at San Juan Capistrano Volkswagen. The people there have been VERY cool to us & they are displaying her in their showroom (hilariously next to beautiful, brand new VWs!) We did four screenings there on their HUGE screen. 70+ vintage VWs came, we served German bratwurst, popcorn… it was incredible! They’ve been Croc-sitting & have cleaned her up a little bit. She still, charmingly, leaks oil:)
The three things you could not do without on the trip?
There weren’t any iPhones earlier in the film but they certainly came in handy in the later parts. And it got COLD during some portions of the trip. The Croc’s heating doesn’t work, so Dave & I had to use many a hand warmer strategically placed to keep from freezing. Of course any bus owner will tell you you need a set of tools & some back up parts. But we didn’t have those, so….
Mountain Dew: Code Red (for Dave:) electrical outlets (for charging batteries – gotta keep those cameras rolling!); follow vehicle (LOVE riding in the Croc, but it’s nice to have a small haven to retire to, store equipment in, and from which to get those stunning shots of the Croc against the American landscape that you simply cannot get from inside of her); Moleskine notebooks (taking notes, writing interview questions, making plans, doodles) for Ryan
The underground scene is fascinating. Any specific characters you’d like to talk about?
Oh man, that is tough to write briefly about. I mean, most the film is about these people. They truly are fascinating. And friendly & human & just downright great people. You’d want to crack open a cold one & just hang with any of them. Ryan says that they’re, “the salt of the Earth” & I couldn’t agree more. They’re really what’s great about this world.
What do we need to know about a vintage air cooled VW bus before going on a road trip?
Any 30+ year old vehicle is going to need more love than a newer one, especially if you want to go a sizeable distance in it. But bus owners would tell you that that’s part of the enjoyment; getting to know & caring for their steed. These are people who are intellectually curious & who like knowing what’s going on with their vehicle. They enjoy experiencing the vehicle they’re driving. Not to get all Gandhi about it, but it’s really about the journey & not the destination. So perhaps you’d have to ask the question, “what do you need to know about YOURSELF before going on a road trip in a vintage Volkswagen bus?”
Any future motoring related projects?
Although I love the art & design aspect of cars, I’d be lying if I said I was a gear-head. And even though I’ve come to love these charming old beauties, it wasn’t the automotive nature of the subject that interested me in the first place. I’m a “people-head” & a “story-head. I fell in love with the community, & I’m passionate about telling their story through Dave’s & my story. Also, I’m an actor & I enjoy telling stories that way as well. So you can always find me where good stories exist.
Have you been to South Africa yet?
Unfortunately, none of us have been to South Africa but we all would very much like to.
10 years ago, when I was in College, I asked a South African classmate to let me hear some music from back home. He burned me a copy of Max Normal, Songs from the Mall, which I thought was very dark but extremely good. Of course today, “Max Normal” is Ninja from Die Antwoord. So I really like him & Yolandi Visser. I think their approach to their musical, both sonically & visually, is very interesting & radically different from what else to going on in music.