There is a fan-driven documentary, We’ve Got It Simple, in pre-production. Michael Ryan Lawrence, quite a Phish fan himself, is directing and producing it. It is about fans and the Phish community, especially our artistic community, and Mike’s efforts inspired me to ask him some questions about the film, as well as the Kickstarter campaign to help fund it. Speaking personally, the beautiful and positive aspects of our community are usually not noticed or appreciated by non-fans. I believe this film has at least the potential to enlighten and inform in a profound way, and I hope you support it. -charlie
What was your inspiration for "We've Got It Simple"?
When I began my film career, there was not much “work for hire” out there, and so I became an independent documentary filmmaker by directing a film about a subject I was and continue to be very passionate about, craft beer! BEERADELPHIA - The City of Brewery Love was that film, and the reason it was so successful was that it truly was a labor of love for me. As a home brewer, bartender and self-appointed Beer Ninja, I was a part of a sub-culture that existed and, in my opinion, not enough people were informed on just how amazing it was. So Beeradelphia was my own way to creatively share the world of craft beer culture to those that were on the outside looking in, and to celebrate that culture for those of us on the inside.
Beeradelphia was lucky enough to screen at festivals in Europe and across the United States. When it eventually was picked up for distribution by Hulu.com, it was time for my next film. Initially, I had no idea what that would be. One night while sitting in a bar in Philly, having some beers with friends, a buddy joked that I made an entire movie about beer, and followed with, "the only thing you like as much as beer is probably Phish. So what's next for you Mike, a Phish movie?”
The thoughts that followed that lone comment were nothing short of an epiphany! I knew immediately he was right. I was going to make a Phish film next! I didn't know how, and I didn't know the angle of the narrative, but I knew in the bottom of my soul that he was right. I Love Phish and have since the first time I heard them in the early 90's. They have basically been the soundtrack to my life and have directly helped shape and sculpt not only whom I have become as an artist myself, but also really whom I have become as a human being. The sub-culture of Phish and its fans has made such a powerful impact on me and on my life that it is hard to even remember what I was like before I had Phish. So once the thought was there in my consciousness, this film became a no-brainer. I was going to make a Phish film. But we have all seen Bittersweet Motel and there was no need for a sequel documentary about the band. What I wanted to do was tell the true story of us, their fans, and the amazing world of art, culture and never-ending creativity that seeps out of us all. That was all I needed to move forward, I was going to make a film about Phish fan culture.
How and when did your small indie film company get started?
After serving five years in the United States Marine Corps, I used the GI Bill and moved to Hollywood for film school. While there I focused my studies on writing and directing film, and knew one day when I graduated that I would need my own company to create what I wanted to create. Being a very proud lifelong Philadelphian, and knowing I would take my Hollywood education and experience and eventually head back home, “Philly Philms” was born. My thesis film at the Los Angeles Film School, Jack in the Box, was a Jack Nicholson kidnap comedy, and would be considered the first “Philly Philms” project. So, 2009 was when it technically all began for “Philly Philms.” After I graduated and moved back to Philadelphia, I brought in a partner, Kelly Jobes, to help produce Beeradelphia. Philly Philms has basically been the two of us, along with some freelance artists, ever since.
How many hours of film footage have you collected, and when/where is the footage from (shows/tours)?
While I have been seeing Phish since 1994, I knew I wasn't "known" in the scene as a professional filmmaker, so I spent the Summer Tour of 2013 with Dave Cohen (my sound guy and tour brother), basically promoting the idea, getting to know the various artists and people from the scene on a personal level and really trying to spend as much time on tour finding the narrative thread that was going to run through the film. We first started shooting on Fall Tour of 2013, and we continued through both the Summer and Fall Tours of 2014. All in all, I'd say we have about 50 hours of footage, and much of that is from lot …and some is NSFW!
Have you already started editing the footage and creating the film? Is there a central theme or concept that you're using to focus the editing of the film?
We're starting to go through the footage, yes, but we are not going to begin the edit until we have all of our key interviews in the can, which will come after the Kickstarter campaign ends. As far as a concept and theme, I really wanted the film to be about the amazingly creative and unique world of the Phish fan with a strong focus on the art that fans create, which is inspired by the band and their music. Furthermore, realizing that I’m slightly biased, I can't think of a more energized and absolutely loyal and passionate fan base than Phish fans. So not only do I want the story to be about the fans, but I also want the fans to be a part of the story. We're currently accepting submissions of photos and videos from fans’ own "Phishtory" that will be used in the film. All of our art for the film, from our posters and tee shirts to our end credits and motion graphics, are being created by fans. We also have a contest coming soon on PhanArt.net that will provide cash prizes to various artists who help design our film's logo.
Even the title of the film was one of about a 100 titles that was submitted by fans via Twitter to @WeveGotItSimple, and once narrowed down to a dozen finalists, we held a survey with the help of Surrender to the Flow magazine to pick the winner. After over 5,000 votes, “We've Got It Simple” was the runaway winner taking nearly 75% of all first place votes. So everything from the title to the content to the end credits is being sculpted in real time by the fan base. I think the idea of a Phish fan film being about Phish fans and created and made by Phish fans is really a microcosm of the communal spirit of the entire scene and the unique angle a Phish fan film deserves.
I couldn’t agree more!
We want you to be happy: this is your film, too! (sung to the tune of “Joy”)
Any sense yet of how long the film will run (or at least what you're shooting for assuming you get all the funding you need)?
Well the story of us is definitely too massive for this to be a short film, so we are shooting for feature length. While that will be officially determined in the final cut, I'd hope we end between 70-90 minutes.
Is there anything you can share that might “whet the appetite” of fans for this film, e.g., interviews with anyone notorious or noteworthy in the Phish community?
We have some surprises in store for sure, and we are trying to represent each and every area of Phishtory so there will be plenty of variety in the film. Some noteworthy people that have agreed to take part in the film are Phish lyricist Tom Marshall, Phish artist Jim Pollock and, from the very beginning in Burlington Vermont, the legendary Nectar Rorris! Also, one of the coolest things is that our “official movie poster” will be a limited edition print by the one and only Jim Pollock! Having been witness to his artwork for decades, and with his strong connection to the earliest days of the band and the fan base, I couldn't think of a better artist to design the poster that will represent the film!
That’s awesome and exciting! If you could speak directly to someone in a position to really assist this project, either with dollars or distribution, what would you tell them? What's your “elevator pitch”?
First, this is not only a story that I believe needs to be told but a story that personally I need to tell. I'm 38 years old and my first Phish show was at the Philadelphia Civic Center on 12/28/94.
That’s 20 years ago, meaning I have been listening to, seeing live, and living in the Phish community for over half of my life. If there ever was a labor of love project for me to create, it is this one! Plus, a film like this serves two purposes. It celebrates this world for those of us in it, but more importantly, it sheds a much-needed light onto our culture for those who are not. There are not many things in my life as positive as Phish, and the people I interact with, because of the band and the music. With so many stereotypes and misinformation out there, I think this is a great chance to not only tell a great story but also to record for the annals of history a very important part of Americana. Phish is and will always be one of the most successful American bands in history, and their fans are such a huge part of that. They need their story properly told from someone on the inside.
But aside from the warm, feel-good aspect of this film, from a business point of view, there is much to be excited about. Phish, without any proper advertising, music videos, radio airtime or anything that resembles a normal musical business model has quietly become one of the top grossing musical acts of all time. This is largely in part to an excessively loyal, dedicated and extremely passionate fan base. This is the same fan base that the film is about, and the same fan base that will support this film once it is finished. Plus, with significant funding, the film can only get better with the ability to use post production houses to finish the film and have a distribution reach that would far exceed anything we could muster on such an indie level. Having said that, Phish fans are as resourceful as they come, and we WILL make this film, regardless of the assistance we get from the outside, although it certainly will help! A lot!!
Is it true that new Kickstarter rewards will be added closer to the funding deadline of Dec 5 (or whatever the deadline is)?
Yes! We have two very exciting rewards that are coming up that are directly related to the art-side of Phish fans, one I mentioned above will be the Jim Pollock Print. This will be a very limited edition print, created by Jim in the spirit of the fans and will serve as our official poster. So, in the spirit of fairness, we will announce a date and time that this reward will be posted, so that everyone, regardless of time zone or location will have a fair shot to get one of these prints. I've said it a thousand times over, but having Jim on board as both a participant in the film and a creator on the project as well means the world to me as I have been a fan of him and his art since I first saw his work. It’s impossible to think of Phish art and not think of Jim. There is nobody else who could have filled his shoes.
The other reward I am excited to announce is a "mega pin drop" reward, which will feature 10 unique pins designed by some of the top pin artists in the scene, all created for the film and inspired by the fan base. As a "pinner" myself since they exploded on the scene a few years ago, I knew I not only wanted to feature the pins and their artists in the film, but I also hoped to find a way to directly support those artists themselves. What we came up with is very unique in the Kickstarter world, as these pins will serve two purposes: they will not only support the film but also kick-back to the artists who made them. Using the Kickstarter to spotlight fan art and support small independent artists is easily the part of our Kickstarter campaign that I am most proud of.
That said, our base reward in the Kickstarter is only $7, which makes it affordable for everyone to participate. For the cost of a decent pint of beer, you get a few stickers, access to our production blog, and the satisfaction of knowing you were part of crowd-sourcing (or shall I say Phan-Sourcing) the film.
And if in the end we can raise a proper budget for the film, bring some extra attention to the amazing artists in the Phish scene, create art inspired by the fan base, and support the artists in our community, then I think that this demonstrates the very cyclical energy that keeps our entire scene together, and I couldn't be more proud to help facilitate it!
Thank you, Mike, and I hope you win an Academy award!
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