For two Southern Illinois natives, coming home to film a documentary gave them more than they bargained for.
Benton native Ethan Talley and Zach Xanders of Fairfield are co-directors of the short documentary "Wild Bill," which made its Internet debut Tuesday evening.
While the two, who attended Florida's Full Sail University, have been working steadily in Chicago, they were looking for a project where they could unleash their creativity.
"We've done other projects but not in this genre," Talley said. "We work with a fashion designer here in Chicago and have been mainly doing lifestyle promotion videos."
"We were getting burned out just doing the corporate stuff and wanted to do something creative," he said.
The pair decided to return "home" to complete a project on a local icon, William Reinschmidt, better known as "Wild Bill."
"I grew up knowing about him, seeing him around town and at car shows," Talley said.
The pair set out to find Wild Bill last November, a week before Thanksgiving. They found him at Burg's Hair Parlour in West Frankfort, a regular stopping point for Wild Bill.
Talley said that first meeting was interesting.
"We had to gain his trust," he said. "I think in his mind he thought we were only going to film him for 30 minutes or so."
Talley and Xanders convinced Bill to let them tag along in his life for a week. "Everywhere he went, it was like you never left the town you were in because everyone knew him," Talley said.
The pair followed Wild Bill on his adventures through Benton, West Frankfort, Sesser and even to Herrin to visit Wild Bill's "girlfriend."
"He let us film inside his house," said Xanders.
As the week wore on, something "magical" happened. Wild Bill stopped being the subject of the pair's documentary.
"We became friends," Xanders said. "He offered us some interesting perspective on life. He lives a simple life, one that everyone can connect to. It enlightened me in way, showing that you can be yourself and be happy, that life is not about money."
After their week spent filming, Talley and Xanders spent about a month in post-production, editing their work.
"We've submitted the film to about 16 festivals," Talley. They are still waiting on word from at least 10 of those submissions.
Talley said they decided earlier in the week to post their film publicly so the people of Southern Illinois could watch it.
"This is our audience," Talley said.
The video was uploaded to Facebook late Tuesday evening. During the first 24 hours, it gained more than 12,000 views and more than 1,000 shares. It can be viewed on the Benton Evening News Facebook page.
The pair hopes to make the trip home soon to visit their new friend. Talley came home at Christmas and tried to visit.
"My dad went to the auction and got him some Elvis memorabilia, but we couldn't track him down," he said.
As they wait for word from the festivals, Talley and Xanders are toying with the idea of holding a local screening, but plans are not final. However, no matter how the film performs publicly, the pair is proud of their first journey into the documentary genre, and they already are getting more than they bargained for.
"He let us see him in a way people don't get to," said Talley. "He let us tell his story."
More important, though, Talley and Xanders both agree the best thing they got is "an awesome friendship."