“…I’m no Hunter S. Thompson. He was a master of his art. I am but a humble student.” – Wayne Darwen
Legendary television producer Wayne Darwen, was kind enough to spend some time answering my questions about his documentary film ‘High There‘.
Wayne began his career as a newspaper journalist back in his native Australia before moving to the United States to work in American television. He became famous within the industry for producing shows such as, A Current Affair, Hard Copy and Inside Edition. Robert Downey Jr’s character Wayne Gale, in Oliver Stone’s ‘Natural Born Killers‘ is said to have been based on Wayne.
I asked him some questions about his latest venture, ‘High There.’
Documentary Dude Why choose an alter ego?
Wayne Darwen I didn’t. The alter ego chose me. It was like spontaneous combustion. The name ‘Dave High’ just popped out of my mouth as I was trying to sell Henry (aka Roland) on a sketchy idea I had for ‘High There.’ I was just making it up as I went along, and ‘Dave High’ was what I called the host of my still imaginary comic TV travelogue for stoners.
DD It looks like you just went to Hawaii for a lark and somehow the film came out of it. How much of the film was planned?
WD We went there for the one purpose of making ‘High There’. We had the basic premise – a TV show that travels the world in search of the best places to get stoned – but in the course of experimenting with what worked and what didn’t we just started improvising as real-life bad stuff started happening and wouldn’t stop. And what was going to be a TV show evolved into a flick about the making of a TV show that never gets made.
DD I’m not privy to the intricacies of filmmaking but I would assume you need to get waivers from people to allow you to use footage of them. How do you get around making fun of them but still obtaining their permission to use footage?
WD I make fun of myself. And, in the case of ‘High There’, it got contagious. Most people we met laughed at the premise of the film and were actually very keen to be in it after they figured out we weren’t DEA agents.
DD How long did the film take to make?
WD About three months to shoot in Hawaii. Could have been done in three weeks though if I hadn’t assimilated into the community so well. Then I wrote it over about a month when we got back to LA. And we edited in about another six months I guess. So what’s that? Ten months on cruise control.
DD Were there any problems peculiar to this film that you faced during filming?
WD Well, certainly a problem I often have when on the road working, is getting pot. And I, at least, didn’t have that one this time. So every bad thing that happened didn’t seem quite that bad. And once we figured out that bad stuff was good for the film, we actually welcomed it.
DD Is there anything you would do differently if you were to do it again?
WD No. But that’s not to say we couldn’t have done it better. It’s to say I think if ‘High There’ was better it wouldn’t be ‘High There’.
DD I don’t want to give too much away to my readers but one of the things that confused me was that, at times when your faithful cameraman Roland Jointz wasn’t with you someone was still filming you. How?
WD I got the people I was shooting to take the camera and shoot me for a bit, and I’d kind of direct them. And at one point in the film, I say I’ve given someone the camera to audition him for Roland’s job after the bastard walked out on me.
DD The style of this film has been compared to the work of Hunter S.Thompson and I can see the similarities. How do you feel about these comparisons?
WD I love the comparison, but I’m no Hunter S. Thompson. He was a master of his art. I am but a humble student. I didn’t try to be Hunter either. It only occurred to me it was kinda like a Hunter S. Thompson story as it began to unfold as we shot it. Then I began to see Dave High more as a character Hunter might have created than I saw myself as Hunter.
DD Was this a conscious decision on your part and how much of an influence has he been on your work? I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere that he was a colleague of yours?
WD When we saw what a Hunter S. Thompson kinda story it was, I felt obliged to try to write it with a touch of Hunter, as a kind of homage. I love the way he wrote, but trying to get to those lofty heights is one of them there impossible dream thangs.
DD Given the topic of the film and the many scenes of apparent drug use, have you had any trouble with the authorities during the production and subsequent distribution of the film?
WD Not apart from the apparent brush with the DEA that’s in the film, fortunately. I am actually friends with a few of those law enforcement types, and, surprisingly, they loved the film. I think the stuff in it is way too small time for the DEA to concern itself with.
DD How has the film been received by the movie going public?
WD We are still waiting on the first sales figures, but regardless of that, we are thrilled with the reception we have gotten from independent film reviewers like yourself. And others that have seen the film have written some very nice viewer reviews.
DD A question I ask a lot of my documentary directors/producers but this one is a little different because of your career. What advice would you give someone starting out now as a television journalist?
WD Get a job at the post office. It’s a tough business in which to survive, and even harder to thrive.
DD What are your favourite documentaries?
WD I love the stuff Louis Theroux does for the BBC.
DD What’s your favourite hangover remedy?
WD The only one that works. Another drink.
DD What next for Dave High and Roland Jointz?
WD We have a ‘High There‘ sequel ready to go, and we are looking to start shooting that towards the end of the year. It’s called ‘Area 420.’ And I can’t wait to get at it. I can’t really discuss what it’s about, but I think you get a rough idea from the title.
You can follow more of Wayne’s adventures at hightherethemovie.com