ART DRUG - A feature film
A fictional film about artistic self-discovery and the havoc it can wreak on young artists living in Downtown Manhattan in 1987.
WE NEED YOUR HELP TO MAKE THIS FILM.
"What you don’t see a lot of are music-drenched period pieces. Yet, that’s exactly what’s happening with a project called Art Drug, a fictional peek into the underground New York City art and music scene of the late 1980s." - WIRED
The WIRED article: New Film Project Art Drug Spins a Tale From NYC’s ’80s Underground
Our short list of actors, musicians and crew who have signed on so far!
- Demián Bechir The Hateful Eight, Che, The Heat, Weeds
- Isaach De Bankolé Ghost Dog, The Limits of Control, Casino Royal, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
- Martín Hernández Birdman, The Revenant, Pan's Labyrinth, City of God
- Jim Stark Down By Law, Coffee and Cigarettes, Night on Earth
- Medeski Martin and Wood Get Shorty, The End of Violence, Manny and Lo
- Vernon Reid Say Anything, The Proposal
- Steven Bernstein Kansas City, Get Shorty, Excess Baggage
- Cyro Baptista Across the Universe, Rachel Getting Married
- Hal Willner Saturday Night LIve, Kansas City, The Junky's Christmas
- Arturo O'Farrill Men With Guns, Chico and Rita, Hollywoodland
In Winter, the Knitting Factory opens its doors and Andy Warhol dies from a cardiac arrhythmia. In spring, Reagan chides Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall!” In summer Michael Jackson releases Bad. In fall, on the same day, the stock market suffers the largest crash in history and US planes bomb Iranian oil barges in the Persian Gulf.
These are the very early days of the near-perpetual war that will officially begin with Operation Desert Storm in 1990. These are the middle years of the World Trade Center, which has stood for fourteen years and will stand for fourteen more. These are the last days of the pre-internet age. Performance art has yet to penetrate pop culture, and “outsider” artists don’t have access to the global online audiences that have the potential to make insiders of them all. Hyper-local artistic movements still thrive, and the “Downtown” scene is just one of them. Generations of Downtown artists have already come and gone. God Save the Queen is a decade old, and it’s been twenty years since Miles Davis went electric. Artists on the vanguard can’t afford to push these old revolutions any further. In 1987, in New York City, young artists are seeking revolutions of their own.
Art Drug follows just a few of these artists, but it’s not a story of the fight for fame and fortune. It’s much smaller than that, and much bigger, too. It’s the story of artistic self-discovery and the havoc it can wreak. It’s a tale of the high-stakes, personal fight for originality, authenticity, and recognition, and a look at what happens when an artist can only have one or two of these things at a time.
Or start here to get an idea of the characters and what they're about.
Harris is a drummer. He's been on the road with an international smooth-jazz superstar for months, and he's burnt out and miserable. When he gets back to New York, he has one goal: to make music that matters. He reaches out to his friend Gus, who is the closest thing to a leader the current musical revolution has. Gus sends Harris to Thirsty, an improvisational composer with a quick temper and uncompromising vision. The pressure Thirsty puts on Harris precipitates the break from reality that was probably coming all along. Harris begins to hear music everywhere around him, and that music speaks prophecies of a future that is dire and terrifying. When he turns to Gus to help make sense of these prophecies, Harris is forced to question everything he knows about himself and the world around him.
Maya is a writer. She loves the quiet. She loves the gray area between the extremes that seem to dominate the scene around her. She writes and thinks with empathy and subtlety, but it seems like everyone else is spitting venom or strung out or turning tricks while calling for revolution. So Maya keeps her stories to herself, imagining vivid scenes that feel as real to her as the world around her. Real people—her boss, the sculptor who lives across the street from her and Harris in DUMBO, a man in a ground-level apartment she walks past every day—come alive in her mind and begin to reveal things about themselves and Maya herself that she never would have figured out on her own.
Juana is sixteen and shares in a two-bedroom apartment in the Alfred E. Smith houses in Loisaida with her mom, two brothers, great-uncle, older sister, brother-in-law, and infant niece. With no place of her own, she saves up her money and buys a walkman from a junky on St. Mark's and retreats into recordings of her own making—the lunch room, the subway, her street. When her uncle Victor gives her cassette tapes of performances at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, all of Juana's ideas about herself and her possibilities are upended for good.
As the lives of these characters intertwine, we see an art scene that has a life of its own, a city on the verge of irreversible change, and a glimpse of the community of artists that expanded the available modes of musical, verbal, and visual expression forever.
Many young musicians and artists often tell me they have a hard time finding a place where they can feel at home expressing individual and perhaps radical ideas. Most of them are looking for a community where artists and mentors live outside of the mainstream and academic circles. For me, that place was the Downtown scene in the Lower East Side of New York City in the late 1980’s. I can’t say that I sought out this ‘place’. Somehow I got invited to be part of it and I was completely consumed with it. In general, the Downtown music scene felt inclusive. The very first Knitting Factory (an experimental performance space for music and poetry) was like a home with an extended family. Some of the regular performers were very confident and took advantage of any opportunity booking their own bands. They also curated and collaborated with art exhibits and performance series. Some of them were the mentors. They needed good players. If you were available, and could play, you got the gig. This is where I learned a lot from those uncompromising visionary DIY artists, bandleaders and conceptualists. And they all seemed to be allies in the war against the status quo. No sell outs in this crowd. After several years, I hit the road in a van with Medeski Martin and Wood. We were born out of that Knitting Factory / CBGB’s Gallery scene. We didn’t compromise much musically or otherwise. We avoided the old model jazz venues with that two-drink minimum. Most of our Downtown ‘family’ was proud that we ‘represented’. This was a time when ‘jazz’ was becoming more and more conservative and commercial. We never felt comfortable calling ourselves Jazz. It was ‘instrumental music’. Guess what, no one outside of our beloved Downtown scene wanted us in their family anyway. But we found the coffee houses and alt rock clubs in those college towns with an artistic community. I remember that the Baltimore Jazz Society literally banned us from their organization. We read it in a newspaper article that preceded our show. People showed up. We were very proud. We felt like some kind of anarchists. We always play from the heart. Of course, back in New York the scene could become too hip, elite or fashion oriented at times. There was competition, infighting, love affairs, obsessions, and some felt taken advantage of. But, if you grew up in New York, it was par for the course. It’s a Jungle in there! There is something about being in the Big Apple, (sometimes called the ‘rotten apple’ back then) which just leveled anyone. No one was safe and I loved that. This film will share some of these stories. It’s all fiction but truer than what could be told as a documentary film. And it’s gong to share that experimental spirit. Now, I tell my young friends that there will always be an art scene – a movement, and there will always be lost souls. I hope they find that place. Or better yet, I hope they create the next movement!
TEASER VIDEO CREDITS
A very special thank you to Henry Hills (experimental filmmaker) who enabled us to use his fabulous footage (MONEY/SSS 1985-88) of legendary experimental Downtown musicians and dancers for the second half of this video teaser. A big hug to John Zorn, who pointed us to Henry and has been very supportive to many Downtown artists and the community for a long time. Also, Glenn Branca for granting the rights to use his music Lesson #1. We also had many friends help with acting and creating some impressions of characters in this teaser and in test shots. We want to give credit and thank them from the bottom of our hearts: Siw Laurant (Maya), Atticus Orsborn (Harris), Steve Cannon (Thirsty), Steve Dalachinsky (Toilet Man), Rene Ruffini (Juana), Sarah Beckham Hooff, Aaron Latos, Cory Metrick. 'Maya on Fire' animation by Andrea Pierri. Photography by Marco Franzoni and Billy Martin. Edited by Billy Martin.
Film treatment cover photo by Brian Rose. All other photos public domain / limited licensing.
- Mark Andrew Ferguson and Billy Martin
- Mark Andrew Ferguson (Lost Boys Symphony, a novel)
- Billy Martin (Life on Drums, Music is My Mother Language, Fly in the Bottle, Crustaceatron)
- Isaach De Bankolé (Ghost Dog, Limits of Control, Casino Royal, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)
- Jim Stark (Down By Law, Mystery Train, Coffee and Cigarettes, Factotum)
- Demian Bichir (The Hateful Eight, Ché, Weeds, The Heat)
- Tyler Davidson (Take Shelter, Compliance, The Kings of Summer)
- Matthew H. Wiesner (Girls, Elementary, 7E, Cell Phone Range)
- Marco Franzoni (Stranger: Bernie Worrell on Earth, The Third Wave, 7E)
- Marco Franzoni (Angels, The Boys Of Baraka, 7E)
Music composers, arrangers
- Billy Martin (Blue in the Face, Get Shorty, Mirage, Maps to The Stars)
- Hal Willner (Kansas City, Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, The Junky's Christmas)
- Steven Bernstein (Get Shorty, Excess Baggage, The Backyardigans)
- John Medeski (Altman, Get Shorty, The End of Violence, Manny and Lo)
- Arturo O'Farrill (Men With Guns, Chico and Rita, Hollywoodland)
- Cyro Baptista (Across The Universe, Rachel Getting Married)
- Vernon Reid (Say Anything, Grand Theft Auto, Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell)
Supervising Sound Editor/Designer
- Martín Hernández (Birdman, The Revenant, Pan's Labyrinth, City of God)
Optional backing questions? Other information regarding this film: firstname.lastname@example.org
Risks and challenges
Film completion is projected for November 2016. Securing a location or having the best actor available on schedule can slow production down. As insurance, we have many talented friends (actors, musicians and crew) living in New York City who are passionate about this project and willing to make sacrifices to insure this film gets done. I will make this film. When I set a goal, I complete it. - Billy MartinLearn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (29 days)