Dave Dark meets Dave High: Baltimore rock hero loves HIGH THERE!

The most recent sighting of High There was late night at the world-famous BAR bar in Baltimore’s historic pub capital, Fells Point, as rock star Dave Dark showed just how the gonzo film is literally gaining traction by word of mouth!

The bassist for the hard-rocking band Flag of The White Rose (aka “the Lemmy of Fells Point") took time to download High There from Amazon.com on his iPhone and show his affection for the comedy before heading out to another recording session and more gigs in the area.

Flag of The White Rose is one of the most popular bands on the Baltimore music scene.

With great reviews from independent review sites and real word-of-mouth across the country, High There is turning into a cult film, both on VOD and limited edition BRINKvision DVD.

Documentary Dude: An interview with Burt Kearns, producer of HIGH THERE

High There Producer, Burt Kearns (left) with Writer and Director, Wayne Darwen

“... the content was shocking. It was beyond raw. 
It was Wayne Darwen acting out his own Apocalypse Now!”
– Burt Kearns

As part of my follow up series to the review of the “Gonzo” style documentary ‘High There’ I was able to ask renowned Television Producer, Burt Kearns a few questions about his experiences while producing the film.

Burt has had a long and varied career in the film and television world, working on programs such as ‘Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura’, ‘Guinness World Records Unleashed’ and ‘Joe Rogan Questions Everything’. He has also worked on many documentary films including Basketball Man and The Seventh Python which won him the Golden Ace Award  at the Las Vegas Film Festival for “superior and standout filmmaking.”

In 1999 Burt published a memoir titled ‘Tabloid Baby‘ chronicling his years working in tabloid television. The book was described by CBS’ Mike Wallace as “sad, funny, undeniably authentic. …….tells the tale of what befell too much of mainstream television news over the past couple of decades as the bad drove out the good”

Documentary Dude Can you give us some background on your connection with Wayne Darwen? I understand he was mentioned in your book Tabloid Baby.

Burt Kearns I met Wayne Darwen more than twenty-five years ago in an edit bay for the television series, ‘A Current Affair.’ He was drinking vodka from a milk carton and putting together a story package in a way I’d never seen. I had more formal training in television news. Wayne came from print with the mandate to take his stories and present them visually. Without prejudices or bad habits, he was reinventing the form on the fly. We quickly became friends, collaborated on many segments, including one on our trip to the ‘World’s Second Largest Ball of Twine,’ and for a while ran the show together. In the time since, amid moves among various cities and continents, relationships and families, we’ve remained friends. We’ve hired each other on various shows, and collaborated on outside projects, most of which were reality television ideas that were ahead of their time, and watched the people we mentored get rich.

DD What was your first impression when you saw the footage Wayne and Henry (cameraman Henry Goren) brought back from Hawaii?

BK I first saw ‘High There‘ as a seven-minute trailer that Wayne and Henry produced in hopes of turning all their footage into a television series. They’d done it themselves and once again it wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen. First of all, the content was shocking. It was beyond raw. It was Wayne Darwen acting out his own Apocalypse Now. It was Fear and Loathing in Reality Television. And visually, it was like some stoned combination of Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie and Jonas Mekas, totally out there. It was gonzo. There was no way a television network beyond IFC or Sundance would even consider it. I told them it was a movie. An independent film. Then they posted the trailer on YouTube and it racked up something like a million hits. I asked them to let me be the producer. I wanted to be part of this. So when the TV options played out, Wayne and I were back in business. We took all the hours of footage and I helped Wayne and Henry turn it into a movie. Wayne wrote the script. Henry started to edit what he’d shot.

DD Some of the footage looks quite raw? What challenges did you face putting it together into a finished product?

BK Oh, it was raw all right. Henry Goren is a brilliant news cameraman, underwater photographer and cinematographer, but for this project, he deliberately left all his fancy equipment at home and dreamed up these little non-threatening personal cams because he knew that they couldn’t get the reactions or relationships on camera with a big intimidating rig. So most of this was shot on consumer grade equipment, natural light, low light, on the fly – but not hidden camera. Henry is proud that everyone knew they were filming – but didn’t care. The real challenge came in post production. After Henry edited the first cut of the film, we hired an editor we’d hope would take it to the end. He turned out to be a disaster. He attempted some Final Cut conversion and wound up corrupting files and causing all kinds of problems. We had to reach out to one of the gurus to save everything on the drives. Then I took over the editing and drove home on a very bumpy road.

DD Why release the film as an Indie and not seek the backing of a big studio?

BK Our entire careers, we’ve worked in and around the system. Some projects are for studios, some projects are definitely not. The studios wouldn’t know what to make of this – just as the television people found it incomprehensible. When it came time to get the film out there, we hit our first film festival (the Action on Film International Film Festival in Monrovia, California) and were lucky to find BRINKvision. We needed someone who “got” High There, and BRINKvision got it from the start. They are probably the coolest distribution company around. The last of the indies. True partners who do what they promise. They got ‘High There’ out there.

DD How do you feel about the response the movie has garnered since it’s release?

BK To be honest, I’m surprised at how many people get it! We’ve gotten rave reviews from places as far-flung as Sydney, Australia, Anchorage, Alaska and Slupsk, Poland. Yes, the film is raw. its rough, it’s deliberately outsider art, it’s’ not slick or polished. But it is real and people appreciate that and Wayne’s performance. And the reviews we’ve gotten from online critics have been crucial! It seems there’s been another shift when it comes to critical influence in cinema. Back in the day, it was Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris and the serious cinephiles and great writers, then the TV critics like Siskel and Ebert and bite-size consumer reviews in People Magazine. Now, after years of hype and cheerleading from the Entertainment Tonights, the critics who make a difference, from indies to superhero blockbusters are the independent reviewers online. The last movie lovers. And without obvious conflicts like having your newspaper or TV show owned by Time-Warner.

DD I’ve asked this question of Wayne too. Based on your experience what advice would you give someone wanting to start a career in TV journalism today?

BK The TV part is easy. It’s the journalism part you should learn before you get in. You can take a scruffy newspaper reporter and turn him into a TV news star, but you can’t take a squeaky TV talking head and turn him or her into a journo. Then again, it depends why you’d want to go into TV news. The money can be good, but don’t expect to be covering much news. Or reporting anything the competition isn’t. It’s not even showbiz.

DD I understand that you and Wayne have another film in pre-production titled ‘Area 420’. Can you tell us a little more about it and when we can expect it on our screens?

BK ‘Area 420’ is a sequel of sorts to ‘High There’. It will be starring Dave High and Roland Jointz. But it won’t be set in Hawaii and won’t necessarily remain on this planet. We’re in pre-production now, and plan to begin filming in late fall. We hope to premiere at the Cannabis Film Festival in Humboldt County. The best little film festival in America. Great people and a great time.

DD Now that you have released ‘High There‘ will the response and feedback you have received change anything about how you produce ‘Area 420’?

BK This film may actually have a budget, and sadly, elevated production value. And Wayne may have to start drinking again.

DD What are your favourite documentaries?

BK Well, I have to go back to the ones that stuck with me since I was a kid. There used to be documentaries on PBS, Frederick Wiseman’s Hospital. I remember Seven Up! about the British kids. Gimme Shelter. Best Boy. But the one that stuck with me was An American Family, the PBS series that followed the Louds, including Lance Loud, who wasn’t only gay but went across country to find Andy Warhol. That series started it all. Twenty years later, I got to set up a reunion of sorts for an ‘A Current Affair segment’. There have been some great ones recently, and they’re all more like dramatic films only better. The Seven Five, The Wolfpack, The Act of Killing — and Marwencol, directed by Jeff Malmberg, whom I worked with on Conspiracy Theory. He was editing Jesse Ventura’s adventures while creating that masterpiece. That one deserved an Oscar.

DD What next for you?

BK I directed a documentary film on the singer Chris Montez that I’d love to complete. A story of a Mexican American kid from Hawthorne California who went to high school with The Beach Boys, met his hero Richie Valens, toured England with The Beatles as his opening act and wound up singing standards. And he’s still out there. A wonderful guy. We interviewed everyone from Herb Albert to Brian Wilson, but ran out of money a few years ago. That, the story of a woman who was murdered a block from the Vegas Strip, and a documentary series on the history of stand-up comedy. And producing television. To pay for all the rest.

DD How can people follow/find you online?

BK You can reach me or Wayne at hightherethemovie.com or goodstoryproductions.net.

Documentary Dude: An interview with Wayne Darwen, Writer/Director – HIGH THERE

Documentary Dude 8.18.2015

“…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.

Press Release: HIGH THERE star Wayne Darwen causes a buzz at Echo Park Rising fest


The man behind Dave High meets Hannibal Buress, the man who helped bring down Bill Cosby

HOLLYWOOD (August 17)  Echo Park Rising, the three-day music, art and food fest celebrating Los Angeles' hipster neighborhood, got a double dose of star power this weekend with the meeting of Wayne Darwen, director and star of the hottest nonfiction indie film of the summer, and hot comedian Hannibal Buress.

Darwen, who stars as Dave High in High There, met with Buress backstage Saturday after the comedian finished a surprise free show under a blazing afternoon sun. Buress wished Darwen well on his new film, and Darwen congratulated the comic on his work on the Comedy Central hit, Broad City, and his new series, Why? with Hannibal Buress.

Darwen, a veteran tabloid journalist and television producer, saw some irony in his kinship with the young comic who helped bring down Bill Cosby by bringing up rape accusations in his stand-up set. "There are a few degrees of separation here. Twenty-five years ago, I was getting my picture taken with Cosby after shooting a story on him for A Current Affair."

Darwen proved a favorite among the crowd of thousands, some of whom mistook him for his character Dave High.  He posed for photos with festivalgoers and performers alike, including hot local band Mister Elevator & The Brain Hotel, as well as the culinary stars of the festival, Anne Chen and Cindy Pao of Bing Bling Dumpling.

High There is a Sam Peters International Productions Unlimited and Good Story Productions presentation of a Rat Lung picture.  It's distributed by BRINKvision on limited edition DVD and VOD.

The film's success has been helped immensely by positive reviews and news articles in the alternative press, and reviews from the new breed of independent digital film critics.  High There has received many rave reviews indie movie websites, including  A Bucket of Corn, which called High There "a perfect film," Movie and TV Series Geek ("A perfect example of a memorable and really good piece of filmed cinema") and Documentary Dude ("Wildly entertaining!").

A sequel to High There, Area 420, is now in pre-production, with filming expected to begin in late fall of this year.  Meanwhile, Darwen plans to make more appearances at public events and is available for radio, television and online interviews.

Find additional photos from Echo Park Rising at hightherethemovie.blogspot.com.

CONTACT: Sam Peters