Of Pigs and Panic
An Interview with Film Maker Geoff Hanson
by Michael Buffalo Smith
Christopher and Geoff Hanson are turning out to be an excellent pair of movie producers.Their first film, "Scrapple" is an excellent comedy surrounding some kids living in Colorado during the seventies, their drugs, their music, love and one little pig named Scrapple.
The brothers are finishing up their latest movie The Earth Will Swallow You, a documentary on the band Widespread Panic, which is highly anticipated by the legions of WP fans worldwide.
Geoff was kind enough to speak with us about his movies.
How long have you been following Widespread Panic?
I saw my first Panic show on July 20, 1991 when they played at the Telluride Mid-Summer Music Festival. I was instantly hooked. I saw as many shows as I could over the next few years, but by no means was I going on tour and following them. I remember seeing a show in 1994 and thinking that they had kind of made a step backwards. I probably just caught them on an off night. The next few years, I was hyper-focused on making my first movie (Scrapple) and I didn't see any shows. Then, in 1996 I went to a show in Grand Junction and was just blown away. I started getting heavily into collecting live tapes and such and began chasing them around a lot more aggressively. By 1997, I was a full fledged Spreadhead. I had finished making Scrapple and was driving and flying around to catch the big shows- Halloween, the Warfield, etc. They're my favorite band hands down.
What was your fondest WP concert memory?
My fondest memory was Halloween 1997, now known as Nolaween I. I went as a flying Elvis. I snuck into soundcheck before the show and heard them perform two tunes that they had never played before -- "Use Me" and "Long Live Rock." The whole night I was in my full Elvis persona saying, "Elvis is back from the dead with a message. And that message is long live rock. And when they say rock is dead, you say not tonight." I ended up falling in love with my wife that weekend. We're now married and expecting a baby in August.
Is your Widespread film being done as a concert film or as a documentary?
Essentially, we're about to open the flood gates and release a concert video/dvd and a full blown documentary on the band.
We set out to make something more than a concert movie. Our goal was to take a behind the scenes kind of look at Widespread Panic. We also wanted to link them up with their influences -- people like Taj Mahal and Jorma Kaukonen --and fellow co-conspirators -- Vic Chesnutt, Jerry Joseph, Danny Hutchins and Eric Carter from Bloodkin, and of course John Keane who has engineered most of Panic's studio records. Our idea was to create unique performances just for the movie with these folks. And they are serve the movie quite well.
But when we started the project, Panic was in between labels. They've since signed on with the Sanctuary Group -- a division of BMG, one of the five major labels. Sanctuary is an international company and is very focused on breaking Panic worldwide. And they felt that what would compliment that effort was a concert movie.
We shot two concerts in their entirety in 2000 -- Red Rocks on June 24, 2000 and Oak Mountain on August 12, 2000. So now what we are going to do is release one of those concerts in time for Christmas. I'm fairly sure it's going to be Oak Mountain. We're also going to play part of that concert on Direct TV in the fall.
As far as the documentary, which we're calling The Earth WIll Swallow You, we're going to blow it up into a 35 mm print and take it to film festivals and screen it around the country over the next year and release that in October 2002.
We've set up on the web at www.wpmovie.com. It will be a very dynamic site with lots of video clips to entertain visitors. We shot 500 hours of footage and the internet is a great place to put some of the stuff. We're hoping to entertain spreadheads everywhere when they are at work or surfing around in cyberspace. We plan to go live with the site on August 1.
Is this going to be a theatrical release, or video only?
You want it? We got it! We've got video/dvd only releases (the concert movie).
We've got theatrical releases and video releases (The Earth Will Swallow You).
Have you seen Dave Schools perform with Gov't Mule? What did you think?
I caught the New Orleans show Jazz Fest weekend. It was incredible. Dave smiled the entire night. He is very pleased to be playing with Gov't Mule and the playing reflects that. Their sound is very dirty and Dave likes it dirty. He is a wonderful human being and deserves every bit of happiness and success that comes his way.
When did you get the idea to do a movie? What steps did you take to get the project underway?
I am a big fan of the genre of rock n' roll movies. And I always felt that Panic's music was very visual and that a movie about them was a natural fit. I first approached Panic with the idea through Mary Armstrong, who works with Brown Cat, the band's Athens office. Mary was kind enough to set up a meeting with me and Buck Williams, one of the band's managers (along with Sam Lanier), at the Panic Halloween show in 1999. By this time, Scrapple had gained a little renown amongst the fans of the band, and Dave liked the movie quite a bit. We used a Panic song -- "The Take Out" -- in the movie and put it on the soundtrack so their was already some crossover.
Buck was interested and asked that we put some ideas down on paper. The idea really gained momentum in May 2000 when we went to them with an idea to shoot one of the Red Rocks shows. We got the green light four days before we shot the show. And by that time, we had expanded the scope of the movie to be more than just a concert movie. We basically hit the road for most of the summer 2000 tour and compiled hundreds of hours of footage.
Is it endorsed by the band, or are you guys doing it on your own?
We're working with Widespread Panic.
Who all is involved? Are you guys professional filmmakers?
I work with my brother Chris. He is the director of the movie. I am producing it. We shot it together along with lots of help. Another big fan of the band, Peter Couhig, has helped me quite a bit with the producing aspects of the movie. The sound is being mixed by John Keane, Panic's sound guru, and Andy Kris, our sound editor from Scrapple. And the movie is being edited by my brother Chris and a New York based editor named DaveFrankel.
Dave is an amazing editor who edited a movie called Instrument about the punk band Fugazzi. He has edited some really cool features as well and has a great artistic sensibility. He is also a stranger to the Panic scene which we felt was a good thing. The movie was shot by people who love the band and is being edited by someone who is trying to make a film that is accessible to everyone -- including people who've never heard of Widespread Panic. The movie features Widespread Panic along with Jorma Kaukonen, Taj Mahal, Jerry Joseph, the Dirty Dozen Brass band, Danny Hutchins and Eric Carter from Bloodkin, David Blackmon and Vic Chesnutt. We tried to get Sharon, the boneless woman circus dancer, to appear in the movie but she held out.
Bummer. Tell us more about the filming process. Have you been touring with the band?
We attended 23 shows of the summer tour in 2000. We shot Red Rocks 6/24/00 and Oak Mountain 8/12/00 with a very sophisticated video set up with 12 cameras, bells and whistles galore. We went to Athens in January and shot some stuff of the guys recording with John Keane. We also brought the guys together with the folks I mentioned above. Widespread Panic loves to deflect attention away from themselves. They are very humble people. We liked the idea of bringing them together with people who influenced them and some of their coconspirators over the years. Those collaborations are fantastic and provide a focal point of the movie.
I just got done watching your first movie, Scrapple. It is funny and very well done. How did you get started in film making, and what inspired you to do this movie?
My brother Chris and I grew up in a media family. Our grandfather was a magazine publisher, our dad was in radio, and our uncles are very successful television producers and directors. So we were always exposed to media and knew from an early age that we wanted to be involved in the family business as it were. I got an autograph from Henry Winkler as the Fonz when I was 7-years old. It said, "Geoffrey, drink milk and be good to your teeth." That was a big inspiration for me.
As far as what moved us to make Scrapple in particular, we were very inspired by the Brothers McMullen and Clerks, independent movies that found their way to the multi-plexes around 1994. We thought that was the next movement toward no-name casts in these quirky little movies. But it turned out to be an aberration and there hasn't been one since (save for Blair Witch which was a fluke).
You appear in the movie, right? Are you a trained actor?
I studied acting in Atlanta at the Alliance Theater. I've also taken a bunch of acting classes. I love it. I'd like to do some more of it. I'm developing a children's television show/video series and I plan on being in front of the camera. I'm also hoping to do some more movies. What I think would be really cool would be to be in like three of them. One as a 27 year-old (Scrapple), another as a 40 year-old, and a third movie as an old codger. That would suit me fine.
How long did it take to complete the movie? It looks like it took a while.
Scrapple was definitely, and still is, a labor of love. We started writing it in December 1994, shot it in October 1996 in 28 days, re-shot for 4 days in December, edited it in 1997, played film festivals around the world in 1998, did a few tours of our own with it in 1999 and got it to video in June 1999. It hit spreadnet in the fall of 1999 and finally found it's own little audience that claimed the movie as its own (outside of ski towns). That made the Panic collaboration a natural fit.
Did you guys foot the bill or did you have an investor?
We had 30 investors from Scrapple, all waiting patiently to get their money back.
Is film making a hobby or a full time gig? Do you count on it to "bring home the bacon?"
It's a full-time gig. And we count on it to bring home the bacon. It has been an uphill battle trying to make a living as a filmmaker. But most people in the arts struggle so it comes with the turf. Emerson once said, "If a man have a genius for painting, poetry, music, architecture, or philosophy, he makes a bad husband, and an ill provider." I'm not sure what he was saying in regard to the bad husband part of the equation, but I can relate to the ill provider part.
And Emerson didn't live in the digital age where people copy your work incessantly. The whole burning CDs and copying videos and such is just brutal on independent artists like my brother and myself. We're producing work for a segment of the culture that is totally dialed into sharing and trading content. Unfortunately, as a creator of that content, it makes it very difficult to get by.
What I'm ultimately getting at is I hope that the fans of Widespread Panic will buy what we create and not simply trade it and copy it. Fortunately for us, the fans have been very good historically about buying Widespread Panic's commercial releases. But it really scares me.
Did you write the Scrapple movie script yourself?
I wrote the first draft of the script, (based very loosely off of a wonderful short story which I hope to have up on our website soon) and served as the head writer during shooting. But film is an incredibly collaborative medium, and in that spirit I shared the writing credit with my brother Chris and our third partner George Plamondon. I do want to say that I think Chris did an incredible job as a director. He is a very, very talented visual artist, always has been.
Any other comments on Scrapple?
The dharma pig lives.
Back to the Widespread film. What are some of the fun moments during the process of filming the Widespread Panic movie that you could share?
The whole thing has been fun. It's been like two kids in a candy store. We've gotten to play with expensive equipment and we've really enjoyed our fellow playmates. The Jorma Kaukonen encounter on the Fourth of July is something I will cherish forever. Shooting the guys with Jerry Joseph at the Alice and Wonderland sculpture was amazing. Meeting Vic Chesnutt, Col. Bruce Hampton, Danny and Eric, Dave Blackmon, John Keane and working with them all was fantastic. But most of all, I am honored to know the six guys in Widespread Panic. Their dedication to their craft and their principals is awe inspiring. Colonel Bruce Hampton (retired) puts it best. "The quality that sets this band apart, and has since they first started playing 15 years ago, is their intention. They live collectively for playing live and everytime they take the stage they just flat out rock. It doesn't matter if there is one person in the house (and they played to one person once -- a bartender in Tennessee) or 10,000."
Why do you think there is a need for a film like this?
There is a need for a film like this because it was important that someone document Widespread Panic and record for posterity the fact that it existed. The fact that it has remained largely unnoticed for 15 years is worth exploring. Panic is about to explode with their new record deal with Sanctuary but for 15 years there has been a little known community of musicians that have made some of the best rock n' roll music that has ever been made. To me, that is very interesting. And again to quote Col. Bruce Hampton, the fact that they are not just "imbeciles" makes them even more fascinating.
Thanks Michael! We appreciate your time. We love Gritz!
VISIT SCRAPPLEMOVIE.COM and WPMOVIE.COM