What The Making of Orange Sunshine Can Teach Us About Documentary Filmmaking

We met on the hard courts of Venice Beach to ball. Paddle ball. Not familiar? The game is basically miniature tennis meets ping pong. It’s hot fire. All the kids are doing it. Or so I was informed by my opponent, filmmaker Andrew Fuller. A producer of the spirited documentary Orange Sunshine, Andrew is a regular at the courts, which sit just south of LA’s legendary Muscle Beach.

During our match, I asked Fuller a few questions about the making of Orange Sunshine. The film, which is directed by William Kirkley, charts the rise and fall of the world’s largest distributor of hash and psychedelics in the 1960s: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love. Here’s what he had to say (when he wasn’t smashing overhead volleys on yours truly).

(Note: The owner of this blog is also employed by the distribution company behind Orange Sunshine.)

orange sunshine

The Making of Orange Sunshine

FS: How did you get involved with Orange Sunshine?

AF: There should definitely be a titillating intro to this story that involves me living shoeless in a broken-down VW van, constantly fried out of my mind, seeking to live out some sort of real life ode to Hunter S. Thompson or Jimi Hendrix, but for truth’s sake and in case my mom ever ends up reading this, let’s just stick to what really happened. I met William 3-4 years or so ago at a Sundance ShortsLab here in LA.

FS: You guys hit it off?

AF: We did. We shared a love for great documentaries and drug-smuggling films like Scarface, Blow and Traffic, not to mention a stiff Mai Tai. William told me about a drug-smuggling documentary he had been working on, and I was immediately intrigued. We started hanging out, then went off and made a handful of ultra low budget commercials/branded content together. Sometime during that process, William asked if I’d be interested in coming on board to produce Orange Sunshine.

FS: Why did you get involved?

AF: I was looking for my first feature length film as a producer, and up-and-coming directors to work with, and thought William had a lot of talent as a filmmaker. The more we talked about the film, the more the story struck me as utterly fascinating and exactly the type of project I wanted to be involved with as a producer. We also had similar opinions about where and how documentary storytelling was evolving, so it seemed like a natural fit to work together.

FS: What were some of the film’s unique challenges?

AF: We knew that we wanted to make a film that looked and felt as much like a scripted narrative feature as it did a documentary. The challenge was that everyone basically worked for the love of the film, so we constantly had to pull favors and find enough money to pull off the look we wanted, given that the story was a period piece, set mostly in the 1960s-70s.

FS: What were some of the film’s biggest rewards?

AF: The biggest reward was hearing that some people thought the footage we shot were home movies, instead of recreations. The cherry on top is to turn a profit on a movie that our whole crew feels incredibly proud of making. That said, if you’re looking to get rich, I might suggest robbing a bank.

FS: How did you achieve the look of Orange Sunshine?

AF: Because of the nature of the story, there was hardly any archival footage of our main subjects. So William had the idea to shoot some stylized recreations on Super 8 film to mimic the look and feel of home movies that were popular during the 60s and 70s. To give the documentary a modern feel, the interviews were shot on DSLRs and a few of the larger set-piece recreations were shot on the Alexa Mini. Big props to our cinematography team: William, Rudi Barth and Rich Shafer. They did an amazing job.

Orange Sunshine Poster

FS: How did you finance the film?

AF: Like most documentaries, Orange Sunshine started as a passion project for William and Rudi, and ended up being a passion project for everyone involved. Fortunately, we managed to find an incredibly generous angel investor in William’s uncle, Mike Manser. Despite claims by Dos Equis, Mike is quite likely the most interesting man in the world. In his spare time, Mike channels Mick Jagger in a Rolling Stones cover band called Satisfaction. How cool is that!?

FS: How did you keep the budget down?

AF: We knew we needed to keep our budget as low as humanly possible in order to put ourselves in the best position not to lose anyone’s money. So to that extent, every cent we raised went right on the screen, with most everybody working for next to nothing. The majority of our crew work regularly in commercials, so we got lucky that such top notch talent were willing to contribute sweat equity just because they wanted to be involved in the project.

FS: How did you approach the distribution process?

AF: Once we got the news that the film had been accepted into SXSW, we approached a few sales companies and ended up partnering with Preferred Content. We knew from experience that they are among the best in the business, so we were thrilled when Kevin Iwashina, Abby Davis, and the whole crew over at Preferred really seemed to respond to the film.

FS: What was the distribution strategy?

AF: Our strategy was to screen the film for a few select distributors prior to the festival, but really try to get most buyers to go see the film with an audience at the festival. At SXSW we had four sold-out, packed-house screenings, and the audience and critical response far exceeded any of our expectations. Ultimately, we partnered with Amazon and GoDigital for worldwide distribution due to their enthusiasm for the film and strategy to release it later that same year.

FS: The documentary has a rad soundtrack by Matt Costa. How did that happen?

AF: We knew we couldn’t afford to license a bunch of existing music from the 60s and 70s, so the idea was to find a musician who was willing to compose original music for the film that captured the spirit and sound of that time period. Matt is actually a Laguna Beach native, and was formerly a pro surfer and skateboarder, so it seemed like a perfect fit since much of the story takes place in Southern California. William also grew up in Orange County, so he reached out to Matt through a mutual friend. Matt really went above and beyond our wildest expectations and composed around 40 tracks that ended up in the film.

FS: The documentary had an experiential 3d short film that traveled with it. What was that?

AF: The Orange Sunshine immersive experience, titled Origins, traces back to the beginning of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love when the group would go out in small groups into nature and trip on acid. The endlessly talented team at Master of Shapes helped us put the whole thing together and deserve a ton of credit. So does our other producing partner Debra Maniscalco — thanks to Deb pulling favors we literally managed to produce the VR film for next to nothing!

FS: What has the audience response been to the VR installation?

AF: The response to the VR installation has been incredible (some people even reported having flashbacks!).

FS: Where can people see Orange Sunshine?

AF: Orange Sunshine is currently available to watch on iTunes, Amazon (Prime), XBox and Vudu. We also sell DVDs via our Facebook page. For upcoming screenings and events, follow us on social media @orangesunshinemovie.

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Rory Owen Delaney is a writer, filmmaker and the founder of Man Bites Dog Films. Delaney directed the sports documentary The Rivalry: Red V. Blue as seen on ESPN Classic, and he co-produced the world graffiti doc Bomb It 2. Among other publications, Rory has written for MovieMaker Magazine and Crave Online. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Maya Meinert and their two pugs.

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