Still: Ongoing Mysteries/YouTube

Last August, some SpongeBob SquarePants fans caught wind of the existence of a strange bootleg film about their favorite talking rectangle, only the vaguest traces of which could be found online, and began an obsessive search for the movie. Now, one year later, it has been revealed that A Day With SpongeBob SquarePants: The Movie never existed in the first place.

When I first wrote about ADWSS, as it is known to its fans, it was November 2015, after I’d stumbled on a thread on a website called Lost Media Wiki, where users discuss movies and other ephemera that existed at one point, but are now impossible or extremely difficult to find. Even for this crowd, ADWSS was a special conundrum: there was a sold-out Amazon listing (complete with customer reviews), entries on the websites of two independent film distribution companies, and some promotional images and videos whose authenticity was impossible to verify. The further you dug into the collected ADWSS evidence, the sketchier it seemed: quotes on the DVD covers came from film critics that didn’t exist, writing for outlets that didn’t exist either; the excited boy shown jumping on the cover was a stock image model, the photo the first Google Images result for the phrase “excited boy jumping.”

Despite the scant trail, a community of fans sprung up around ADWSS, attracted by the mystery and the promise of finding some Tim & Eric-style late-night stoner kitsch, hunting for the film and creating imaginary scenes and theme songs and uploading them to YouTube. “I’ve had a lot of strange people contact me lately,” Jason Boritz, a filmmaker whose web presence vaguely connected him to ADWSS told me at the time. “I’ve had to block a lot of people on social media.”

I, too, got caught up in the search for a while, but lost interest after hitting a few brick walls. The true believers never stopped looking, however, and this month, they reached what seems to be the end of their search. On August 3, an ADWSS hunter who goes by Bedhead Bernie uploaded the following video to YouTube. It contains audio of an interview with a man who identifies himself only as “Mr. Orange,” because he fears he’d face the same nagging questioning from fans that befell Boritz if he were to reveal his real name. In the interview, Mr. Orange credibly lays claim to being the creator of the mysterious movie.

You can listen to the whole thing if you want to—it’s a little long-winded—but the gist of it is pretty banal. Mr. Orange had an idea for a SpongeBob parody film, but couldn’t finance it, and was worried that he’d be sued by Viacom for copyright infringement. Still, he wrote a script and shopped it around a bit, and Reagal Films—a small film distribution company that lists ADWSS on its website—agreed to publish some promotional materials for the film online to gauge interest from viewers. The Amazon listing, he said, was used strictly to test whether anyone was interested in pre-ordering ADWSS. The DVD cover, with its fake critic quotes, was a placeholder that he used for pitching financial backers.

Mr. Orange says in the interview that he conceived of ADWSS as a Curb Your Enthusiasm-style take on SpongeBob, in which he is revealed as a real person with a life outside the TV show in which he stars. Another YouTube video, published this month on a channel called Ongoing Mysteries, reveals the first several pages of Mr. Orange’s script, which center on SpongeBob’s friendship with a boy named Andy (good name):

The script, frankly, does not seem like it would make a very good film, but then again, the jankiness was the whole appeal of ADWSS in the first place. It is a happy occasion for those of us who invested energy into finding ADWSS, but also a sad one. It was pretty apparent from the beginning that the film as such probably didn’t exist, but not that its origin story would be so unsatisfying and normal. For every one of the ADWSS hunters’ wackiest conspiracy theories about the film—that its marketing was a money laundering scheme, that Reagal was a front for a prostitution ring—Mr. Orange provides a perfectly reasonable explanation.

Mr. Orange also says that thanks to the enthusiasm for ADWSS that the search ginned up, he plans to crowdfund a new production of the film based on his original script. So we have that to look forward to.