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Summerfest: Ben Steinbauer On “Winnebago Man;” Watch Now for Free!

Summerfest: Ben Steinbauer On "Winnebago Man;" Watch Now for Free!

SnagFilms’ 3nd annual SummerFest, an online festival with free on-demand streaming, features exclusive, limited-duration runs of popular new documentaries. “Winnebago Man” became available on Friday and will remain on the site until the 25th.

[Editor’s Note: SnagFilms is the parent company of indieWIRE.]

Jack Rebney, a.k.a. “The Winnebago Man” – an ‘80s RV salesman’s hilarious, profanity-strewn, on-the-job meltdown was captured on video and passed around on VHS tapes, before exploding into an Internet phenomenon seen by millions. Filmmaker Ben Steinbauer journeys to find Rebny, discovering him unaware of his fame, and capturing his response to his unintended celebrity. [Synopsis courtesy of SnagFilms]

SnagFilm describes it as “An outrageously funny and unexpectedly redemptive tale of one man’s response to unintended celebrity.”

[indieWIRE will invite more directors with films in Summerfest to submit responses in their own words about their films. To prompt the discussion, iW asks the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They are also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

“Winnebago Man”
Directed By: Ben Steinbauer
Producers: Joel Heller, James Payne, Malcolm Pullinger, Ben Steinbauer
Cinematographer: Bradley Beesley, Berndt Mader
Editor: Malcolm Pullinger
Music: William Anderson, Lyman Hardy, Andrew Hoke, Taylor Holland

Responses courtesy of “Winnebago Man” director Ben Steinbauer.

Your movie: In 140 characters or less, what’s it about?

“Winnebago Man” is the true story of one of the first and funniest viral video stars whose hilarious outbursts have delighted millions.

OK: Now tell us what it’s really about…

Winnebago Man follows my journey to find Jack Rebney — a former TV news journalist who became a viral sensation, and an unlikely folk hero of sorts, after a 4-minute clip of his outrageously profane outtakes from a Winnebago sales video turned up on YouTube. I discovered Jack living a hermit-like existence on a remote mountaintop in Northern California, unaware that his outtakes had been seen by millions of people worldwide. Jack turns out to be more intelligent, funny, and loveable than people would ever imagine if they have only seen the viral video.

I don’t want to say too much about the rest of the movie, because I don’t want to ruin surprises for people watching the film the first time. I’ll just say that it’s the kind of movie that’s great to watch with group of friends, and I’m thrilled that all the fans of the Winnebago Man clip will now have a chance to see the movie.

Always a storyteller…

I grew up in Edmond, Oklahoma and didn’t realize at the time it was even possible to make a living working in film. I studied creative writing at the University of Kansas. Fortunately, my fiction professor urged me to switch over to the film program. In hindsight, he was trying to get rid of me because I was an unquestionably bad novel writer, but I’m thankful for the advice. My first assignment was to make a documentary short, and ten years later, I’m happy to still be making films. I love the art of storytelling and believe that stories are necessary to be able to make sense of the world. I love how movies blend music, literature and art, and can be such visceral and communal experiences.

What sparked his curiosity…

The first time I saw the ‘Winnebago Man’ video clip was around 10 years ago, late one night after a few beers at a friend’s house. He had a VHS copy and said, ‘You have to see this!’ I was instantly transfixed. It was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen. At the same time, it was like I was watching something I wasn’t supposed to be seeing, like stepping out of a time machine into a forgotten moment from the past. There were other underground videos being passed around at the same time, sometimes on the same tape as the Winnebago Man clip. Some of my other favorites were ‘Larry Williams,’ ‘The Gassy Preacher,’ The ‘Jackass’ Pilot, ‘Jesco The Dancing Outlaw,’ ‘The Best of the Worst of Star Search,’ and the amazing ‘Heavy Metal Parking Lot.’ Around 2005, the online video revolution took off, and the video, which had been an underground phenomenon, was suddenly seen by tens of millions of people. I couldn’t stop wondering what happened to this man, and how his unintended fame would affect him. The fact that Jack had completely vanished, further fueled my curiosity.

Biggest challenge?

The film took more than four years to make, and on each and every shoot, we never knew what would we would get with Jack. As you see in the film, there were endless conflicts during the shooting, and things teetered on the edge of falling apart numerous times. Imagine how difficult it was to rally a crew or try to raise money for a project when we weren’t sure if our main subject was going to even let us continue filming. We knew that Jack was incredibly compelling as a character, and his story was unique and timely, and we stuck with it. It is incredibly gratifying that Jack eventually found a way to embrace his fame and ultimately the documentary.

What to love about Rebney…

Jack Rebney is such a fascinating, complex and funny character. I’ve heard people describe him as everything from an angry Yoda to a cross between Robin Williams, John Wayne and a Royal Tenenbaum. I think people love this film because they love watching Jack. The combination of his voice, his vocabulary, and his comic timing are mesmerizing.

On a completely different note, in light of the world financial events unfolding this summer, it’s astonishing to watch the scene where Jack is talking about his view on the precarious state of the world. We filmed that interview back in the Spring of 2008, even before the first stock market crash. And I remember that during the shoot Jack was going on and on about how he thought the banks were going to fail, and that the government would one day default on its debt. I was like, “Sure Jack, like there’s any chance that the United States could ever default.” Well…

Other inspiration:

“Nobody’s Business” by Alan Berliner, “King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” by Seth Gordon, and “Sherman’s March” by Ross McElwee.

What’s next?

There are a number projects in various stages of development: one is a narrative comedy called “Quickie” that’s about two friends who rob a convenience store and unintentionally become viral video celebrities. The other narrative is a suspense film inspired by my own dealings with a notorious European con man. I’m working on a couple non-fiction TV projects as well. One is about the search for a famous comedian-turned-recluse, and the other is about an unusual group of folks I discovered while reading the classifieds. I also run a commercial production company in Austin called “The Bear.”

Check out the film for FREE on SnagFilms now (available until August 25)

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