I missed the lottery. I missed the Ticketmaster sales. If not for stopping by a production company to visit some friends, I might not have even heard until too late that Phish was getting back together. Almost immediately, I started to feel that “feeling I forgot,” and I shut off my “adult” brain and listened to my heart, let myself be drawn back in. As the days progressed and I started wondering why I cared so much about seeing this silly little band, I started seeing the same phenomenon occurring around me among other adults who should have long ago passed the giddy stage. With the economic meltdown in front of us, a new president on the horizon, and the realities of life knocking on most Americans’ doors, I couldn’t help but notice that Phish seemed to overpower all of this despair, to bring us together in a time when we feel so distant from each other.
It seemed like the same people greatly affected by Phish’s return (at least the vibe that kept coming back to me) had a lot in common aside from a shared love for the music – children of the same generation: predominantly Caucasian, middle to upper class Americans, born 1970 – 1980. I had to know why. Was it our hippie parents? Nostalgia for days of carefree fun? Or was it something deeper? I realized that our story has not been told, and could not be told prior to this point for the simple reason that our generation needed time to pass for us to reflect on the transition from teenagers to adults coming into their own, professionally, politically, and in many personal ways. It was then that I decided to make a movie. To find answers for myself and for so many who feel the same feeling and have never truly been represented with any three dimensionality.
HT: You mentioned last time we spoke that you wanted this film to be more than just a documentary of the Phish lot scene. Perhaps you could take us through your vision for what the film should mean to people and what type of footage you are seeking to shoot?
NW: As a Phish fan, I take it very personally when we are put into a box. Sure, it’s easy to take the Dead scene and portray phans as the logical heirs to that scene, or even to portray the scene as an out of control drug free-for-all, but it’s just not the whole picture. I’ve always seen the Phish scene as very divided in terms of the lot scene vs. the crowd inside the shows. The lot is stereotype fodder. Vendors, nitrous mafia, wooks; it’s got it all. But breaking down those stereotypes isn’t enough. We’ll visit fans at home to get a sense of evolution, but even that’s not enough. We need to get outside the Phish community to put the band and the scene in any real context.
What I want to highlight is the journey this community has taken. This includes taking a look at other grassroots music communities and how they reflect generational issues and their influences on the jam band scene. I also want to capture the perspective from academia that has examined these kind of cultural phenomena. My generation is a generation of change, from analog to digital, from a dozen bunny-ear channels to 800 HD satellite channels, and witness to the birth of mass media and commercialism on a scale never seen before. All of these issues have to be a part of a serious examination of why we are who we are and what we’re seeking to hold onto through both our shared and personal Phish experiences.
While I have to give some screen time to the negative side of the scene to be balanced, I primarily want to examine the positive contributions that stem from the Phish community. We’ll highlight parts of the experience, from the simple concept of “getting together,” in a world where a live show is one of the last places to commune with thousands, or using Phish as a catalyst to see your country, to talking to exceptional individuals that have used their passion towards charitable ends; it’s all on the table. The movie isn’t the retelling of a collection of experiences, but an attempt to visually translate the journeys in all of their diversity. I want phans to find insight about their own lives that help them connect the dots of their own experiences while those outside the bubble get a chance to see beyond the stereotypes and witness a significant cultural movement.
HT: Will the bulk of the footage be post-Hampton or do you have some older footage from before the band broke up that will be incorporated as well?
NW: The bulk of the footage will be post March 6th, but will definitely be supported whenever possible by archival footage. As the project evolves and continues to film, I hope to gather as much archival footage as possible. I know it’s out there and have talked to several people with extraordinary footage. My approach is to focus on producing quality material knowing that integrity will open doors in the long run.
HT: According to the Maybe So, Maybe Not website, it looks like you are targeting a budget of $3,000. Can you really make the movie for just $3,000; that seems awfully low? I assume you are covering a lot of the financial obligations out of your own pocket?
NW: I wish! That $3,000 figure you’re referring to represented the budget needed to get through Hampton unscathed. We made it through Hampton and continue to fund raise moving forward. $30,000 – 50,000 is a much more realistic number for the completion of field production and post production. There will be a fund raising update on the website and Facebook page very shortly.
While I am covering many of the costs, the generosity of donors has really been amazing. Fundraising made Hampton filming a reality. Now it’s time for the second push to get through summer tour and the fall, so stay tuned! This is a project that truly fan-based in the respect that it is being made by the love of fans. From those volunteering to hold a shotgun microphone or tote a bag of gear, to professional producers and editors who share a love for Phish – or someone who has a spare $5 for a project they’d like to see get made – it’s the love that will make this movie a reality. Of course we can use as many of those $5 donations as possible so our volunteers can eat.
As impressive and as greatly appreciated as the financial contributions has been the information and networking that I’ve experienced. Almost without exception, people have spread the word and generously contributed what they can to make the project a success. My heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who has helped the movie out without a second thought.
HT: Do you have a real job besides MSMN?
NW: Since receiving an MA in Film, Video and Digital Media in 2001 from American University in DC, I have been freelancing in the production world, primarily for broadcast cable series for networks such as Discovery, TLC, History Channel, Court TV, E! Entertainment and National Geographic. Over the years I’ve embraced just about every side of the production process and have kept busy as a post production supervisor, producer/director, editor, and coordinating producer. With a recession causing a drop off in freelance work in the DC area, it seemed like the perfect time to focus my energies in a positive way and start on a passion project. Moving forward I’ll be doing both, finding a realistic balance between work and MSMN (which is not joy, not work).
HT: What are some of the other notable film/video projects you have worked on in the past?
NW: This story tells you a little bit about networking within the Phish community and recent work in “the biz”…
Early on in the process, I was introduced to Andy Bernstein through the daughter of a close family friend. Andy introduced me to Peter Shapiro, coincidentally a Northwestern alum who also knew my sister from school (small world). Par for the course, both Andy and Peter were incredibly inviting and generously offered to do what they could on film or off to help the project. A few days later, Peter emails me to call him and he asks me if I’d like to volunteer some time and gear to produce some material for the film being shown at the Lincoln Memorial before the big “Bruce” concert celebrating Obama’s inauguration. You don’t turn down an opportunity to work on an inaugural project. I grabbed my gear and a producer buddy and we hit the streets of DC and MD over three days, ambushing strangers on the street to capture the energy of the inauguration. Our footage received high praise from the post producers of the project and it was quite an honor to be included. It feels great to be a part of something so positive and historic occurring during our lifetimes.
In general, just to keep this short, I’ll focus on 2008-2009. This past year was definitely eclectic. I began the year working on an episodic series for History Channel, “Surviving History,” as post production supervisor. After delivering that series I took a break from TV and produced two projects for the US Dept. of Transportation before jumping into post supervision of a political documentary before the presidential election. I began consulting with another production company at the tail end of that documentary on the National Geographic series “Car Czar.” Somewhere around this tie period was when I began devoting time to “Maybe So, Maybe Not.”
HT: How are you approaching the issue of using Phish’s actual music in the documentary? Have you been in touch with “the powers that be” thus far? In the unfortunate event that you get the “no can do” response, what type of music can we expect in the film?
NW: I have always assumed that this is a “no can do” situation. My experience as a producer guided me to plan a movie that I can finish. That means that the project doesn’t rely on Phish concert footage, Phish music, or any rights held by Phish. MSMN is about our journey primarily. Having said that, it certainly would be nice to use Phish music, some footage and hear what the band has to say about the journey we’ve all taken together. After all – it is THEIR music that evokes all of these feelings within us. Understanding the roots of their music is important. To that end, my approach is to make a professional quality project that the Phish organization doesn’t flinch from. In the end, Phish is still a business and the organization will have to make a decision in their best interest.
NW: At this point I have been in contact with the organization to keep them informed about my intent and progress as well as to garner cooperation. I was given unofficial cooperation to film in the lots at Hampton, which means that security knew we were there and ignored us. Organization and Foundations such as HeadCount, Waterwheel and Mockingbird have been very supportive. However, management has very clearly expressed that the project isn’t a priority to the organization nor will they officially endorse it. If anything, the context of Phish playing to a depression era audience as they turn to Phish for spiritual sustenance, seems like the perfect time for a serious fan based documentary.
I’ve attempted to gain a media pass to film non-concert footage inside the venues (booths, fans, etc) but was denied. Time may change things, but all info points towards Phish really closing all doors, backstage and otherwise. It’s not a bad thing. They don’t need to be behind a movie like this. The truth is that it’s unlikely that Phish will produce a fair and three-dimensional movie that critically examines the scene any more than I could write an autobiography with perspective.
HT: I understand you are incorporating some animation into the film. Could you expand a bit on what types of segments will be animated and the style be in live action, cartoon, C.G.I., etc.?
NW: The movie will contain the standard animated elements, such as, lower third titles and animated title sequence. It’s really the scope that is yet to be determined. Luckily, in my professional bubble I have many solid relationships with animators, motion graphics artists and sound designers. Time will tell the level of contributions, but I can say that there are several broadcast professionals on board and I’m optimistic.
Of course, at some point the project will be looking for higher level funding and distribution. If that occurs I will fulfill my fantasy of opening the film with a cartoon animated music history leading up to the birth of the “Phish” generation,
HT: Finally, what is the one Phish song you’d most like to hear this summer (and where if you want to get specific)?
NW: Oh, I’ll get specific. I’d love to tearfully wrap up my nostalgic summer tour with a Mango Song encore, standing next to my father at Merriweather Post Pavilion, fifteen minutes from the house I grew up in.
Thanks to Noah for the great interview and we look forward to watching “Maybe So, Maybe Not” progress. Keep your eyes open this summer for the guy with the camera and in the meantime, drop by the Maybe So, Maybe Not website and/or Facebook page, as the seven minute teaser clip is up and ready for viewing. Also, if you can afford it, chip in a few bucks to help keep this project moving.