Esteemed producer Mike Rosenstein admits he’s wearing his High Times shirt when we connect by phone with his creative counterpart, Donick Cary, writer/director of the upcoming psychedelic documentary “Have A Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics,” which premiered May 11th on Netflix. The project had been in the making for over a decade and is now a widely anticipated look into the world of psychedelics, their benefits, and the trials and tribulations of what happens during a “trip.” Both Mike and Donick are eager to chat and shed a bit more insight into the creation of their mind bending movie.
How did this project initially come together?
Donick Cary: Eleven summers ago, I was at the Nantucket Film Festival and was talking to Ben Stiller and Fisher Stevens, and we ended up talking about psychedelic experiences and sharing stories. I thought, “What a wonderfully funny, weird conversation,” which at the time, was very taboo. No one really ever talked about [psychedelics] in that way. Fisher makes documentaries (he just put out “The Tiger King”) and Ben is super funny and knows everybody. It occured to me to ask these guys to make a documentary [about psychedelics], and they were like, “Go for it, dude.”
My background is as a writer/producer of comedy in general, but one of the things I worked on was “The Simpsons.” I was lucky enough to write some trippy episodes like “D’oh-in’ in the Wind,” and I thought animation would be a great way to bring [conversations around psychedelics] to life.
Mike Rosenstein: I was working with Ben Stiller and his production company at the time, and we started [working on the doc] there. I’ve since left and started my own production company but we’ve been working on this project the whole time.
Donick’s animation company, Sugarshack, provided all the animation, and about a year and a half ago, we hooked up with Netflix, and they’ve just been great about allowing us to make the movie we want to make. They didn’t hold us back and allowed us to take a once a taboo subject and make it a real, cultural conversation.
Was there an importance around putting psychedelics into the limelight in a way we haven’t seen before?
Donick Cary: It started with poking around these psychedelic stories and seeing if there was something funny to share. What we found of course, is once you get into cosmic thinking, big revelations, and psychedelics, lots of things happen. You’re unleashing a bunch of people’s brains to reveal the intimate experience of what happens when the brain is on these drugs/tools/medicine and how they end up using it.
As we were making [the doc], it started to suggest this larger conversation. While leading with some funny stuff, the stories included all these other ideas. We said, “let’s have a real conversation.” [Psychedelics aren’t] for everybody, so some of the stories are cautionary tales. But for some people, [the experience] can be life changing and informative, and can actually have positive results. We were excited to see the psychedelic community kind of growing, and hoped we could take another step forward toward the mainstream.
How much has timing played in the release of the doc? Are you guys benefiting from the relaxed legislation on cannabis?
Mike Rosenstein: We see [psychedelics] following the same path as cannabis. High Times is great in that I actually see a lot of stuff about psychedelics. The path of research and normalization is happening. We are lucky to be a part of that conversation. I think now it’s better than ever for people to watch the movie with open ears. We want to make sure lessons come out of these stories and we present things like harm reduction and what these [drugs] can do for people with mental illnesses. So we’re sort of pointing to the future with this movie, and it’s a part of that wave of people talking about [psychedelics] to destigmatize it.
Donick Cary: Some of you might be surprised by the people who have had [psychedelic] experiences. Not all of them are advocates, but there’s a sense we should proceed with conversations with open ears and cautious testing. This isn’t something we just throw into the water system. Some of the mistakes of the first wave in the late sixties were that [psychedelics] scared everyone so much that we couldn’t talk about it for 50 years.
Mike Rosenstein: We are trying to have a truthful and rational conversation about psychedelics, and that’s a big first step.
Was there a methodology to uncovering who might have had a psychedelic experience?
Donick Cary: In your head you’re like, “We’re just going to talk to the 20 most famous people in the world and get their stories and they’re going to be very concise and perfectly executed and then we’ll put out [the documentary].” What you find is, not everybody wants to talk about psychedelics. Maybe they have kids, maybe an addiction to another drug and they want to talk about something else. Other people are like, “No,” and aren’t into it.
The people who do want to share stories, often they aren’t clear cut with A-B-C storylines. We had this wonderful afternoon with Carrie Fisher for two, maybe three hours. It was at her home, very intimate setting, and [she had] like one thousand recollections, none of them connecting, that told a life story as well as anything you could want to learn about psychedelics, just not in an A-B-C kind of way. As we started talking to more people, we realized, “This is a little different than just clear storytelling. This is trying to share an experience that is almost impossible to put into words.
Mike Rosenstein: A lot of these people are friends or people we’ve worked with. Donick was also a writer/producer on “Parks and Rec,” so Nick Offerman and Adam Scott played parts in the scripted section that Donick wrote for the movie. Sarah Silverman, Tom Lennon and Ben Garrant, Nick Kroll…all these people are sort of in our inner circle and so we were lucky to get a lot of them to be some of the first people to talk about [psychedelics] with, and it just sort of snowballed.
Donick Cary: As soon as we had someone like Sting, it made it a lot easier to have a conversation with the next person. When you do the math, probably one in twenty people that we asked would actually come and talk about [psychedelics]. First of all, you say “yes” to everyone who says they have a story. And then you take it on their terms. What we were finding were a lot of these stories were very personal and intimate. It really is what your brain reveals on a powerful tool. People were really opening up and made the interviews very much like, “What do you want to talk about? How do you want to share? How did [your psychedelic experience] change you?” Each person had a different path.
Just like you don’t know where a “trip” is going to take you, you didn’t know where these interviews would take you.
Mike Rosenstein: We tried to use the parts that were the most entertaining but also had some lesson come out of it. As people opened up, it was also fascinating to see how excited and nostalgic they would get, that these were really meaningful experiences in their lives, whether they were good or bad.
Did your own personal use of psychedelics impact how you framed the more creative elements of the documentary?
Donick Cary: At one point we were going to try and make the movie follow what it was like to be on a trip. Beginning is butterflies, you’re not sure if it’s going to kick in, then it kicks in and, oh! It’s way worse! Then there’s some big revelations. We realized that’s an eight to twelve hour movie. [Laughs] So we decided to go with the flow, see where it takes us and let the storytellers blend together the way they naturally feel they should. Follow the universe, if you will.
Mike Rosenstein: We also applied some lessons we learned we felt were important to share with people. For people who are familiar with psychedelics, it’s a fun ride. For people who aren’t, it’s a really fun ride and you’re maybe picking up some knowledge along the way.
Donick Cary: Psychedelics are powerful drugs. The movie is careful to show mistakes you can make, things you can learn if you do the work. As a father raising kids, I’m always like, “Start with the books, read all the books you need to, watch all the movies you need to, understand as much as you can before you decide [psychedelics] are something for you or not.”
What did you guys learn about “awakenings” and having more positive experiences with psychedelics?
Donick Cary: They’re somewhat obvious, but being in the psychedelic headspace makes them more profound again: that we’re supposed to love each other, treat others the way we want to be treated, that we’re all interconnected. I think the pandemic is a good reminder that when one of us is sick, we all could be sick. When the planet is sick, the ocean is sick. These sort of big ecological and humanistic ideas are real and are sort of more important than religion, more fundamental principles [of the universe]. You can tap into them simply by remembering, “Oh yeah, The Beatles came up with ‘All you need is love.”
Within my family, we dealt with different kinds of mental illness and addiction, and seeing [psychedelics] as tools that are possible solutions to some of those things or – at least – positive ways to tackle some of that stuff is exciting. Reading the research and learning how [psychedelics] could change how people look at anxiety or addiction or trauma was really powerful. It makes you wish everyone had those tools at their disposal with the right help and advice.
Follow @goodtripnetflix and check out “Have A Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics” streaming on Netflix now.