Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark traces the life of music pioneer Guy Clark, who, with his wife Susanna, shaped the contemporary folk and American roots music scene much like F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald fashioned the jazz age in Paris.
I have spent the last seven years working with Guy on his definitive biography, a book that has taken both Guy and me on a journey we could not have imagined. I used to be Guy's publicist. I was working with him on his Workbench Songs record when he was diagnosed with Lymphoma. From my view, that's when things started changing with Guy, when he realized that it just might be important to leave his story behind. You know if you've seen Guy in concert a few times that he tends to tell the same stories from the stage. There's the one about the crazy landlord in Los Angeles who made his own bullets and cut down the grapefruit tree. Then there's the one about Richard Leigh going to boat building school in Maine, a present from his wife, who then divorced him. As Guy likes to say: "Richard has one hell of a boat, and Verlon and I got a good song out of it." And, of course, "Homegrown Tomatoes" is a love song. These are all stories we've heard time again and I always thought that was about as deep as Guy Clark was willing to go on telling intimate stories.
You know how sometimes you'll get signs when things are meant to be? Well, as I was thinking about whether or not to take on this project, three big things happened. 1) My husband, Paul Whitfield, who is the co-producer and DP for the film, found out that his boss (The Boss) was going to go on hiatus from touring for awhile. That means Paul is free to do something else. My husband is talented. Talented enough that he's been working on the road for Springsteen for all these years so I'm not the only one that thinks so. 2) Some ultra-talented documentary film makers are in the middle of producing a documentary on country music. They've interviewed Guy and my client Kris Kristofferson for their film and in the course of this work, we've gotten to be friends. And they've been amazing friends and informal advisors to me on this Guy documentary—in the writing of the script, the technical details of using photos and other ancillary content—you name it, they've been there for me. 3) Connie Nelson came on board. I've known Connie for years through our mutual friends and when I saw her at an event last year, I asked her if she would have any interest in helping us. When she said yes, I knew it was time for me to say yes. And so here we are. Even more amazing, Guy gave me the exclusive rights to his story and I have those rights for 14 years.
There is a new Music City brewing underground. Outlaw songwriters are bubbling up into the mainstream and Guy is about to become a lion in this modern breed of Nashville Cat. The film reveals Clark’s role in the rise of songwriters in Nashville and how that influence stretches back to his home state of Texas.
The documentary chronicles how Guy’s early years in Monahans, Texas affected him as a storyteller. You'll meet Guy’s colorful and beloved grandmother, Rossie Clark, a divorced, amputee, former bootlegger who ran a hotel for oil drillers and bomber pilots. Rossie’s boyfriend Jack Prigg—a fascinating wildcatter who lived at the hotel—showed young Guy a world of pool halls and taverns and oil wells that gushed black gold.
Without Getting Killed or Caught includes exclusive interview footage with Clark and his friends and family. The film integrates audio and video footage from personal interviews, unique never-before-seen photos and images from Clark’s private collection, and unique historical footage. We reveal how Guy spent his formative years on the South Coast of Texas in the beach town of Rockport as captain of the football team and student body president. He learned to play guitar from his father’s law partner, worked for the shrimp boat builders in the harbor, read poetry, and was awarded a National Science Foundation grant for summer study at M.D. Anderson Hospital.
Guy released Old No. 1 in 1975, an album rooted in the culture of the West Texas desert. The documentary analyzes Guy’s struggle with the mainstream music business as Nashville tried to figure out how to fit him into commercial country music. The film explains how Guy finally took control of his own recordings with 1989’s Old Friends. It was a gutsy move at a time when the major label business was making money hand over fist. The film explores how Guy made an even a stronger commitment to his art as the next seven albums unfolded. After several GRAMMY nominations for Best Folk Album, Guy’s 2014 album My Favorite Picture of You finally prevailed in 2014. The title track is a profound, final tribute to Susanna, who died in 2012 after spiraling downhill following Townes’s death in 1997.
The documentary closes with a scene from Guy’s 73rd birthday in 2014, an intimate in-the-round of stories and songs featuring Guy and his Texas compadres Terry Allen, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Joe Ely, Robert Earl Keen and Jerry Jeff Walker. The troubadours lovingly recount their own stories of Guy and how he shaped each of them.
We have filmed Guy at his house on four different occasions. We produced the Old Friends Reunion (a piece of it is at the end of the promo video above) for Guy's 73rd birthday. Later this month we are doing on camera interviews with Guy's colleagues and friends. We'll do more of those in Texas in June and will also shoot in Guy's hometown of Rockport.
Paul and I have been bootstrapping this thing so far and the funds are running low. In order to make this film a reality, we need your help! As I mentioned, the music licensing alone is a considerable cost. I'm meeting with folks who may be interested in supporting this thing, and have found a little seed money that way, but we still have a long way to go to reach the goal. We're reaching out to you, Guy's biggest fans, because we know you get that this is an important story to tell. With $75,000, we can reach our goal of covering the music. Meanwhile, we'll continue to figure out creative ways to pay the other bills, including an auction (we are gathering items for that). Anything above our stated goal will help us with equipment rental, paying the crew, insurance, accounting, legal and everything else that comes along with a project of this magnitude. If anyone wants to see a detailed budget, I'm happy to share it.
Risks and challenges
Our biggest challenge is going to be to clear the music for the film. We can certainly clear it, but it is the biggest line item on the budget and because the music is extensive, we will need to hire a music supervisor to handle all of the paperwork. I've worked in the music business for more than 20 years and understand synch licensing and master licensing and all the stuff that comes with it. The sooner we can raise money, the sooner we can get someone working on that item. If we raise more than our goal, it will allow us to also license historical footage and photos. Meanwhile, we are negotiating the best rates we can on all of the above.
I expect to have a film ready to pitch to film festivals by the middle of 2016 but not ready for the public to purchase until late 2017 (if we roll it out for film festival season in early 2017). That is a long time to wait for fulfillment for our Kickstarter backers but I hope everyone will be patient with us and understand that it is important to do this film right. I think some of our other items are cool enough that it will make the film worth waiting for.
I promise that whatever setbacks we encounter, we will handle them as professionals and we will always stay in touch and keep everyone posted on what is happening. One of the greatest joys of working on the Guy Clark book and film has been meeting the community of people who love Guy as much as we do.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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