EXCLUSIVE: Deadline can exclusively reveal that Bill Hader is narrating the feature documentary Beaver Trilogy Part IV, a meta-movie centered on cult director Trent Harris that’s set to come full circle when it premieres Friday night at the Sundance Film Festival.
Director Brad Besser’s new docu explores Utah filmmaker Harris’ years-long obsession with the story of Groovin’ Gary, an enigmatic performer from Beaver, Utah. The two met by chance in a parking lot in 1979 and Harris started filming, resulting in the cult documentary The Beaver Kid, a study in hopes and dreams highlighted by Gary’s performance in drag singing Olivia Newton-John’s “Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting.” A distraught Gary shot himself soon after the first film, but survived.
The film went on to earn cult status on the underground circuit, where fans traded VHS tapes of Harris’ once-in-a-lifetime film and the subsequent shorts he made re-creating it, first featuring a young Sean Penn playing Gary and then with Crispin Glover in the role. The full Beaver Trilogy premiered in 2001 at Sundance.
Now 32 years old, Salt Lake City native Besser was one of those kids trading Trent Harris tapes starting with the 1991 weirdo road comedy Rubin & Ed, the film that had star Glover karate-kicking his way through an infamously awkward appearance on Late Night With David Letterman years earlier.
“In my brain Trent was this mythical figure, a guy from Salt Lake City who made this Hollywood film,” Besser told me as he embarked on his own road trip to Park City last week. “He was super huge among a very small group that never got the memo that he wasn’t actually that super huge.”
Besser eventually met his hero when he took a college class on filmmaking that Harris taught. Harris went deep on his own films “to teach us where an idea might come from,” Besser says, and that’s when inspiration struck: The Beaver Trilogy deserved a fourth installment.
Largely self-financed and shot on HD video cameras, Part IV focuses on Harris’ career and the ripple effect his trilogy had on his and Groovin’ Gary’s Hollywood dreams. “Trent will always call it his tragedy, but some people think it’s a comedy,” Besser said. As Harris told VICE in 2009 shortly after Groovin’ Gary himself (birth name Richard LaVon Griffiths) died, the never-released trilogy came close to landing distribution after its original 2001 Sundance debut before “Sean Penn came in and stuck his big, fat f***ing stupid face in it and killed the whole deal.”
Beaver Trilogy Part IV has another Sundance connection: Besser volunteered at the festival last year “partially so I could get shots for this film – I figured I’d have a little bit less red tape.” Hader came aboard to narrate after the film landed a Sundance berth and Submarine’s Josh Braun and Dan Braun are repping the title this week in Park City. Besser will be in attendance at the film’s screenings along with Harris.
Film is produced by Besser, Jonathan Duffy (Hellion, Pit Stop), Don Swaynos (Cinema Six), and Kelly Williams (Hellion, Pit Stop). Russell Long and Julie Parker Benello (Land Ho!, The Queen of Versailles) are executive producers. Tanner Beard (Hellion, Knight of Cups) is co-executive producer.
Watch the exclusive Beaver Trilogy Part IV teaser above.