I had the pleasure of sitting down with some of the makers of Green Fever, a true-to-life thriller encapsulating the array of threats that marijuana legalization has posed to small farmers. It’s no secret that the grey area created by California’s new marijuana legislation has been leading many into debt, but there’s now an increase in danger to the lives of farmers, who are often disregarded due to the many preconceived notions surrounding them.
Through the lens of a home invasion, weed farmers in Green Feverare represented, not as hick outlaws, but as the struggling, blue collar, hardworking farmers they truly are, now thrust into the unreasonable demands spurred by imprudent regulations.
Sitting down with me were Gerard Roxburgh (Director, Datura Studios), Misha Crosby (Producer, actor), Rick J. Lee (Producer, Prime One), Paul Telfer (Writer, actor) and “Rob”, who I’ll identify by his character name since he’s been forced to operate in the grey area of the marijuana industry. It is Rob’s true life experience depicted in Green Fever, and it’s a real wonder he survived.
Hannah Ward: I’d love to start with asking you guys if you can tell me a little bit about Datura Studios, Prime One and how you guys merged together to create Green Fever.
Gerard Roxburgh: I had done a documentary in 2011, Misha (Crosby) and I met on the back of that, I did a short film with Misha through a friend who had met me at a festival. I met Paul (Telfer) at the exact same festival, Rick (Lee) actually went to high school with my wife and got introduced to me through that same documentary from 2011. So that one documentary put me in touch with these three and then I did Jiu Jitsu with this guy (points to Rob).
Misha and I started Datura Studios with Urijah Faber, who’s our other producing partner; we had another couple films we were trying to get going for a while and due to financing issues and Rick came to me saying we should just partner up on our own and not rely on other financing companies. Rick actually originally pitched me an idea of a home invasion crime story and when he told me that I thought, I know a guy who kinda went through this about a year ago and that was my friend Rob here.
Rick J. Lee: That was December of 2017 when I approached Gerard with the idea. In February, we started writing the script and getting financing, March we did a location scout, and we started filming in May.
HW: So you got funding for Green Fever before the script was even done?
GR: Yeah, none of our financiers read the script.
HW: What?! How did you get this financed?
Misha Crosby: People really believed in us. We went out, literally, person to person and talked to them about the project and between all of them we had enough to get going. We didn’t actually have the full budget before we started shooting.
RJL: What was funny is we approached a lot of investors and a lot of them were just like “Eh” but once we had the trailer done there were people knocking at our door.
HW: So obviously film investors are generally very hesitant to give away their money but do you feel like there was more or less hesitance to do so because it was about cannabis?
RJL: I think what it came down to, is that they believed in us. We’re all very busy in the industry and i think everything that we all work on is successful. So it wasn’t like oh we’re going to let this die. We could’ve done a movie about anything, they weren’t hesitant about cannabis.
GR: One of our investors who I just got the “OK” to mention, is actually involved in the cannabis industry itself. Our executive producer Rob Hickman is one of the Founders of Tyson Ranch, Mike Tyson’s company. They have an entertainment division which is going to support new filmmakers in both the cannabis and the film space, because Rob was actually a movie producer before getting involved with Mike’s company.
PT: If anything, there’s a lot of money floating around cannabis right now in northern California or California in general. I know that our film isn’t necessarily a weed movie in the stoner sense, but people that like weed also like movies. It’s not that much of a jump to get them to be interested in investing in something like this.
MC: Yeah and it definitely feels of the right time. A lot of great stories are told in the time that they’re set and this is definitely part of the culture that we have in California now.
RJL: I mean we lived in the prohibition of marijuana, right?
PT: The specific issues in [Green Fever] came about because cannabis is legal here but still illegal federally. So on both sides, on both the criminal and the legitimate side of the marijuana business, there are people caught in between two sets of laws and two ways of being, which is kind of the big theme of the film.
Rob: Prohibition is the catalyst for the violence most often times.
HW: So with that in mind, how do you guys as a collective feel about the legalization of recreational weed and how has that affected the industry?
Rob: Well I think that anybody that has any real roots or involvement in the industry want it to be decriminalized more than re-criminalized, and the decriminalization feels more like re-criminalization. It’s a lot of taxation without representation, for lack of a better word. Nobody knows where the money is going, nobody knows why the taxes are so high.
GR: And so how that directly affected the story of our film, you have these characters that are farmers that would otherwise not be involved with people who are criminals, who are dealing with people that may have to traffic weed across state lines, which thereby opens them up to be exploited at the hand of criminals who know that it’s a cash based business.
MC: Not being able to put money into a federal bank account and having to deal in cash is a huge catalyst for why people are going to come and try to take it from them.
HW: So with this movie, is that a question that you wanted to pose to the audience? Or is there a specific opinion?
PT: Definitely more of a question. I think we tried to not engage in a specific message. I’m very pro-legalization, I just think it should be done responsibly and that all levels of the industry from the farmers to the distribution should be given every opportunity to succeed—which doesn’t seem to be what’s happening. So that was a big part of at least getting into the characters’ immediate dilemma. Here’s a guy who seems to be doing everything right by the laws of the land and has brought in his brother to do this thing together as a family, but the specific nature of the way legalization has played out in northern California means that what he’s trying to do is actually impossible; he’s going to get out-bought and out-produced by large corporate interest that’s coming in. There are loads of great things coming out of legalization, but at the same time we can’t ignore the individuals that are getting hurt by it. It’s not going to just go away. These are real people who have their livelihoods threatened.
HW: Non-fiction content is very trendy right now, so what was the decision here to make this into a narrative?
GR: It was entirely based on my relationship with Rob. Rob and I did Jiu Jitsu together for years, and none of us are weapons experts, except, you know, we took a couple classes under our coach, Lee McDermott. He was always harping on us about learning weapons stuff; we were more interested in hand-to-hand. We learned a couple of specific moves and those moves ended up being the ones that saved Rob’s life in real life. Our friend lived this crazy event and we were like, we’re filmmakers, what do we do, we tell interesting stories, so it just made sense to tell it as a narrative.
GR: We took Rob’s event and used that as the inciting incident for a lot of the stuff that happens for the first and second act. For the third act, we decided to take creative leeway. The event that happened to Rob happened over the course of 30 minutes; to tell a 90 minute feature film, you want to be able to have the creative leeway to make it more cinematic.
HW: What was sensationalized and what formed those decisions?
PT: I don’t think sensationalized is the right word because we weren’t necessarily boosting up events that didn’t happen. It was more just digging in to give the characters more life beyond just being these drug-addicted thugs.
Rob: I mean we have my story, everyone here knows my perspective, but what we don’t have is the exact perspective of the criminals—the guys that wanted to steal from me.
GR: There was actually a guy who was tortured, his penis was cut off, and that was kind of the inspiration for [Paul’s character] Ticker. So we combined real stuff, so even the embellishment is based on truth. In terms of the truthfulness of Maria, did Rob have a pregnant girlfriend? Yes.
RJL: Do we really want to focus on what’s sensationalized?
HW: Well the reason I ask isn’t because I think that anything was sensationalized, but I think that people don’t realize that there is a lot of danger in this crossover of legalization. It’s just to say that this stuff really is real, this is the cause and effect.
GR: The actual guy that robbed Rob…
GR: (Laughs) Yeah attempted. He had spent years in prison, maybe 19, 20, for having a small amount of cocaine. When he got out, he was left with very little opportunity and seemed like an empathetic character. He seemed like not a bad guy, just a guy caught up in a bad situation, which is why we made [the character] Swift. A lot of that is based on the real guy that was involved.
PT: The only thing I would say is totally sensationalized, to use that word, would be the Ticker character, whereas Swift and everyone else, ultimately have some basis either in the reality of what happened to Rob, or in some of the other research materials that we came across about that specific region of crimes. Ticker was a purely movie creation that really came out of a previous iteration of the home invasion idea that we had had, but the reason that works is because the rest of it is based in reality. We tried to keep it as grounded as possible.
RJL: The other thing too is [that] people send us private messages [on Instagram and Facebook] saying “This really happens, thanks for taking this and putting it into film.” We had one five-paragraph message from a guy saying this was the life he lives and he wanted to be involved.
HW: And this is from people just seeing the teaser?
RJL: Just the teaser, yes, and the photos and reading the synopsis. We get messages all the time.
PT: A buddy I had worked with years ago [reached out] and when I got back to LA and got back in touch with him, he was basically living out the inverse of the Green Fever story. Instead of being robbed by criminals that assumed he wouldn’t go to the police because he was operating in a grey area, he was essentially robbed by police who knew he wouldn’t go to the feds to snitch on them because everyone is operating in this grey space.
The laws are in such a state of flux and there’s a dissonance between state and federal. There are so many negative and positive things coming out of legalization but as it affects specific individuals involved in the industry, [there’s a] lack of clarity about the laws. Part of our hook on this was that the farmers in the movie just want to be law-abiding citizens who are forced by the nature of the laws here, to become outlaws in order to make money, to smuggle across state lines. It’s the only way they can see a path out of the crippling debt they’re getting into, while trying to do the right thing.
Rob: We’re just at a time and place where it’s pre-track-and-trace and post-local permitting. You can grow it but what do you do with it? A lot of the tax money and the reason why the taxes are so high and burdensome is because they’re going to re-allocate a lot of that money into new enforcement, which is unprecedented.
PT: I was listening to the governor’s State of The State address, and he was saying that he’s pulling all these troops from the border, but a lot of them are being re-tasked to go after illegal growers. Which again, just falls into the question of what is a legal [versus] illegal grow in California at this time.
PT: I mean, look, we weren’t trying to have a specific opinion about any of this, but I do think that a lot of it is confusing.
HW: Is that the message?
PT: Well yeah, no one’s really looking at the friction. There’s so much emphasis on the positive side of things, but there are just so many more stories of people getting crushed between the forces of criminality and legality as it moves forward. And the fact that no one’s telling any stories about it just left more room for us.
HW: Even though it’s pretty accurate, was there a concern that showing the violent aspect of this business would add to any negative stigmas that are already there.
RJL: I mean we’re just telling a story that really happened. We’ve talked to other farmers that have said that this happens all the time.
Rob: There’s nothing that’s in the story that hasn’t happened.
HW: Since decriminalization in particular?
PT: The specific nature of [Green Fever], especially the events of the first and second acts, are really born out of the dilemma of decriminalization.
MC: Federally, cannabis is still a Schedule I substance, which is another conversation entirely, but if it was not restricted, then people [wouldn’t be] put in these situations when they have to work in areas of grey. That’s when demons come out. You don’t have the law on your side.
PT: If they were tulip farmers and there was some issue with tulip laws in California, the same story could happen. The film treats cannabis quite neutrally, as a crop.
GR: And the weed is the backdrop of the film.
HW: What do you think is the primary focus of your film?
GR: The relationships, Rob’s story. It’s tapping into peoples’ fear about feeling safe in their house. The last place you want to feel attacked is in your own home.
HW: What’s next for you guys?
GR: We submitted [Green Fever] to about a dozen film festivals, so right now we’re trying to figure out when and where our premiere is going to be and then see where it goes from there.
MC: Working on the international rights right now, and we’re talking to some sales agents with regards to the domestic deal and some big VOD players, so we just have to make the right decision for the film. Ultimately we feel the best decision for the film is where it’ll get the most eyes. We want it to be seen and treated in the right way.
PT: Then we just want to gear up and do another one.
HW: Will that one be cannabis focused?
GR: Probably not.
PT: I do have a non-fiction cannabis related thing, but it’s the sort of thing that through whatever success we get through Green Fever, that would certainly help with this. It’s more centered on the corrupt cop side instead of the corrupt criminals.
GR: For me as a director I just like to make films that feel a certain way. I like to pack in emotion and for this movie I wanted people to feel uncomfortable in a lot of it. I just want to elicit a reaction which I feel like it will, but the next film may elicit something completely different.
Rob: Everybody wants what’s right, but what’s right is not clear
HW: So for an audience who hasn’t seen Green Fever, what can they expect to walk out of a theater and take away from it?
PT: To feel really uncomfortable a few times but in an enjoyable way.
MC: It’s a white knuckle ride that will not let you go until the end. I feel that that’s what we wanted to accomplish, I know Gerard had an idea in his head that it was going to be a gripping thriller and it was certainly that.
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