Updated: Jun 14, 2020
Back in 2017 I was going through a tumultuous time, as I was unceremoniously removed after 7 years from my post as Concertmaster (String Section Leader, first seat violinist) in an orchestra that I helped to form. It put me in a seriously dark place, and my mind was awash with drastic thoughts. I had been making short films and videos on YouTube since 2006, and just for friends since 1999, and editing video was always my stress ball. It was my way to unwind and create something lasting. Playing music is something capricious that happens in that very moment. Once the last note fades, it's over. But creating videos was my way to paint on a canvas, to leave thoughts and memories for future generations, and a way for me to have something lasting.
As time went on, my video projects would change. From silly skateboarding videos, to a 5 part documentary about Freshman life in college, to a set of European Travel Logs, and more serious skateboarding epics, to short films and a set of absolutely insane videos I produced for my cousin. He's an amateur wrestler who's persona is a split personality, and I created a set of promos for him. They're weird, they're crude, they're hilarious, and a couple are actually thought provoking. But they were borne from my love of abstract, awkward and observational comedy like Tim and Eric Great Show. As music was always at my core, I began producing my "One Man, One Violin" series with Tony Macaroni. I would spend weeks researching the music, then transcribing a full orchestral score down to multiple violin parts. It would take me multiple nights to record myself performing, and more nights to edit this all down, audio and all. I had no audience for these, and my videos weren't being viewed. But that didn't matter to me. I was having a ball with the process, and I didn't care if the video got 1 view or a million views. I was producing content and flexing my creative muscles. But, the Quite Studios creative space was broken into mid-production of the One Man series, and the place was wrecked, and most of my belongings were stolen. So...that was taken from me too.
In the summer of 2017, I was playing at a music festival in Shippinsburg, Pennsylvania in the first violin section. Now...out in Shippinsburg, there's really nothing to do except go to a few dive bars like Wibs, which we did pretty much every night, or grab a gnarly hotdog at Sheetz. Other than that, you can take a quick trip into Chambersburg to go to the mall there. My friends and I would go to the Chambersburg Mall to just walk around, mainly to go to the comic book shop for some comics, games, or some trading cards or another. As a matter of fact, Wibs was where it was first suggested that I go out and film malls by my friends. They all knew of the films I would make, and after I told them about my Chambersburg Mall experience, and about finding Dan Bell, they all suggested I start going out to malls to film them and give my own take.
But I would always find myself just walking around the mall aimlessly...it felt comfortable...
It gave me peace knowing that I was inside a safe space without the noise of people, where I could get lost in my thoughts and really figure some things out that were on my mind. The only comparison I can think of is that feeling of visiting your parents house during a stressful time in your life, and mom cooks up a big pot of gravy and meatballs, and brings out the salad and bread, where you have mindless badinage about minutia, feeling like a beat was never skipped. The aroma of the thick tomato sauce (it's gravy) fills the house and the dogs are running around playfully fighting, inching closer and closer to the table in hopes of getting a secret taste of that dank pasta. But you're safe at home, eating hot food cooked by mom, and it feels comfortable.
That's the feeling I got walking around Chambersburg Mall, and subsequently, every mall since then. But what's more, were the charming visual aesthetics that would remind me further of the past, in such a way that I felt I was able to travel back in time to visit my childhood, but for just a moment. The light beige to dark brown gradient tile work that would line concourse, leading to the conversation pit seating areas with worn maroon fabric on the benches. Decades old palm trees that reached for the now cloudy plastic skylights, blocking the sunlight from coming in, but photosynthesizing every photon, only to grow more cramped in the small square ceiling cutout. The empty storefronts from 90's favorites, and empty courtyards guarded by the aphotic omnipotence of the massive shuttered anchors. It all wrapped me up in a hot neon blanket, with smells of stale frying oil and dried up chlorine, and a distant smell of mold in the air. The experience stayed with me, and marked my soul.
So we would head back to Shippensburg to spend the night playing poker, drinking like pirates, and playing music into the wee hours. But after everyone went to bed, I was always left with that feeling of loss...that the thing I had spent my entire musical career building was taken from me, and that I was wearing the scarlet letter in the musical community. It was a very dark place. So, in the dorms we were staying in at the time, I was sipping on a twist off can of Blue Moon beer, browsing YouTube, when for some unknown reason, a Dan Bell video of a dead mall was recommended to me. At this point, I really didn't even know the term "dead mall". I never thought of them like that. They were just...malls. There were nice malls, and there were...malls. So I watched his video. And then I watched the next, and then the next. The sun was coming up, and I was entering the dead motel series realm. The presentation for what I thought to be an otherwise non eventful topic was mind-blowing. He took a mall...something I never thought about twice until the events unfolded to place me in Chambersburg to be comforted in that time of soul sucking stress...and showed me a way to present these places in an entertaining way.
My first thought was, "I want to do this". Unfortunately, it was the last day of the festival, and I had to get back home for work, so Chambersburg wouldn't be the first ExLog...Chambersburg Mall was ExLog Zero. It was at that moment where a new creative project lit up like a lighthouse in my soul. I could go out on expedition around the area to some malls and film them, while putting in the detective work on the back end to find out what really happened, since Dan would only scratch the surface with the facts, and I knew that there was more to the story. The fire was burning inside me, and as soon as I got home from the festival, I went to Best Buy, bought a GoPro, and went out filming the next day, on August 10, 2017.