EXCLUSIVE: Turning Blood Into Wine with Director Ryan Page!
Musician Maynard James Keenan is out to transform Arizona into a wine Mecca in this hilarious new documentary
Musician Maynard James Keenan is a notoriously elusive and very private guy. He's also a very hard interview. And he hates being on camera. Which begs the question, "Why would he want to make a documentary about himself?" Directors Ryan Page and Christopher Pomerenke provide that answer with their hilarious and heartfelt plunge into the Tool frontman's personal life Blood Into Wine. For Keenan, it's all about the art of fermentation. This explorative documentary traces Maynard as he leaves Los Angeles for a small ghost town in Arizona, where he plans to transform the world of wine into something new, unique, and riotously delicious.
A wine enthusiast, Keenan has long dreamed of creating a new world class wine region within the barren Verde Valley alongside his mentor Eric Glomski, a former David Bruce winemaker who currently owns the award-winning Page Springs Cellars. Page and Pomerenke's film follows these two through their 09 wine season as the duo sets out to bring some credibility and notoriety to their Caduceus-based Arizona Stronghold Vineyards. The documentary itself is a fast paced ride that is as funny as it is insightful. With guest appearances by Milla Jovovich, Patton Oswalt, Bob Odenkirk, Tim Heidecker, and Eric Wareheim providing a spring board for Keenan's vagrant disregard for the camera, this is a inimitable experience that lifts wine tasting out of the cellar and into the pantheon of cult film status.
The film is set to open in limited release this Friday, with it expending to more than 100 locations in the weeks ahead. Blood Into Wine is being heralded by critics as a must-watch documentary, and its sure to please both Maynard fans and wine aficionados alike. We recently caught up with one of the film's directors, Ryan Page, to find out more about this once-in-a-lifetime shooting experience. Page is also the producer behind the documentaries Moog and The Heart is a Drum Machine, as well as the writer/producer behind director Crispin Glover's What Is It? Down Syndrome trilogy. Here's our conversation:
In your own words, what am I missing out on if I miss seeing Blood Into Wine?
Ryan Page: Are you speaking as a music fan? A wine fan? A movie fan? Or just in general terms?
I'm speaking to every faucet of that audience. How do you feel this film will play to both Maynard's long reaching fanbase, and the midlife wine enthusiast whose idea of a perfect vacation is a trip to Martha's Vineyard? Did you work towards appeasing both those particular sensibilities?The Heart is a Drum Machine. And in it we interviewed one hundred artists about music. We used the NASA Voyager mission in the 70s as a framing device in that film. Carl Sagan worked with NASA in creating this golden record. It was sent off to greet the aliens with music. That was the basis of our film, and we interviewed Maynard for that. We'd been thinking about making a wine movie for four or five years. We didn't have the right story. We didn't have a way into making a wine film. But we were fans of wine. And we'd been looking at ways to do this. When we went to visit Maynard, we interviewed him at his vineyard in Northern Arizona. It all connected. It was like lightening had struck, not to be too cliched. We immediately saw the film. When people think of Arizona, they don't automatically think of wine. Especially high quality wine. Maynard lives in this Arizona ghost town. Its called Jerome, and it's a town that is lost in time. It looks like it hasn't changed since the nineteen forties. There are only 300 people that live in this town. Maynard happens to live there and make wine. That's kind of going down the slopes. We connected. But it took a year to convince Maynard to do the film. He and his partner Eric Glomski. Glomski is Maynard's wine making mentor. He formerly worked in Napa. He came to Arizona to try something different. Those guys had connected. It took us awhile to get everyone on board to do this. Maynard didn't really want to do it at all. Maynard doesn't like cameras. If you can imagine that. He looks at cameras as some sort of torture. As far as what people will miss if they don't see the film? It's a surprising film. It takes this amazing backdrop of Arizona, and it places these two very unlikely wine makers in this very unlikely place. The surprising thing about Blood Into Wine for Tool fans is that they get a never-before-seen glimpse behind the scenes of Maynard's life. We call it a comedy. It's a fun way to learn about wine. Our whole goal was to never bore the audience. Not even for a second. It moves quite quickly. It challenges Maynard. There is a perception about celebrities lending their names to food and beverage products. We immediately wanted to challenge that notion. Maynard is his own gardener. He is out there digging in the dirt. He is pruning vines. He is in the lab. He is obsessed with making wine right now. He identifies being a wine maker equally with being a musician. We did hire Tim Heidecker, and Eric Wareheim of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! to open the film. They star in a show called 'Focus on Interesting Things' that we created. It is an interview setting. Maynard had no idea what was going to happen there. It is a fake talk show with Tim and Eric, but Maynard's reactions are totally real. He didn't know what was going to happen. We had Tim and Eric shred Maynard. They had no interest in wine. Just to see what he would do. They accused him of lending his name to wine like Paul Newman does to Popcorn.
Was Maynard not at all aware of their TV show?
Ryan Page: He was. What is really surprising about the film is that Maynard is really funny. He is super sharp, and he has a comedic mind. That comes across in the film. I don't think people know how funny Maynard is. He has a very dark, dry sense of humor. He is aware of Tim and Eric. I don't know if he is a fan of that show. I am assuming he might be. I know he really likes Mr. Show. This is cut from the same cloth. He just didn't know what they were going to do. So those reactions you see in the film are real. You will have to see it to understand.
I know from some of my journalistic friends that Maynard is an almost impossible person to interview. Was that where you were trying to draw some of the humor from, especially in bringing guys like Tim and Eric into this project?
Ryan Page: Sure, yes. It is true. Maynard is hard. Some of the interviewers who've had to talk to us both call me crying. Maynard doesn't suffer fools. Not to say there aren't a lot of sharp journalists out there. He just doesn't like being interviewed. He doesn't like prodding. If you can understand that, we made a film with him for a year. That wasn't always lollipops and rainbows. I asked him on one of our last shoots, "Hey, Maynard? Is there any aspect of this filmmaking process that you enjoy?" He said, "Fuck no!" He is just so super not into cameras. I'm not sure why he did the film. I think he is really passionate about wine. He knows that this Arizona region deserves this type of film. And it does. We always try to make it very clear that Maynard did not finance this movie. A lot of people assume that he did. This is not a big commercial for his wine. We are independent filmmakers. We raised private equity. We were allowed to do what we wanted. We told Maynard that we were going to approach this as artists. And that he had to be cool with whatever we were going to do.
You raise an interesting question. In the editing and narrative process, how did you keep this from becoming just one long ninety-minute commercial for Maynard's wine?Moog. Which was on Bob Moog, the synthesizer pioneer. That's not a commercial either. It's hard, really. We're filmmakers. We are trying to do something interesting with this. To show you how uncommercial it is, we flew in James Suckling from Wine Spectator to do a totally honest, real tasting of Maynard and Eric's wine in Jerome. We flew Suckling in from Italy. Some of the wines he liked. Some of them he didn't. We keep all of that in the film. When anyone is trying the wine, or tasting the wine, its right when our heroes are talking about Arizona. Arizona wine making is on the tip of everyone's tongue. We brought our crew to Napa, and we dispel that. We pitted Napa against Arizona. Someone said, "Arizona? That must be like making wine on the moon." People say that Napa and Sonoma are the New World of wine. The old world being France and Italy. And Europe. If California is the New World, what is Arizona? We took a really honest approach to that. We didn't do anything to make Maynard or Eric look good. It's just a real, honest assessment of what happened this past year. We tracked the whole vintage of 2009. From dormant vines to in the bottle and in your mouth.
Over the course of this particular year, was there any aspects of Maynard's life that were off limits?
Ryan Page: When we first started, he didn't want to bring music into it. I have made five films now. And I know when people say things like that, they eventually get broken down. So, yes. There is music in this film. We don't get into Maynard's personal life or his love life. We don't delve into or focus on that kind of stuff. We don't go there. He does open up in a lot of unexpected ways. The way we got music into the film, of course, was because Maynard has a creative trajectory. Wine making and music making are on the same path. The same thought process goes into making both. He holds his wine making in the same regard as his music making, so of course it comes in at some point. He talks a lot about music. He talks about a lot of stuff.
Did he create new music for Blood into Wine?
Ryan Page: The music is about half stuff we liked. We licensed tracks that fit the tone of the film, like Caribou. We got a lot of realty obscure, cool tracks. We are indie rock guys, so the soundtrack has a good feel to it. On that note, Maynard did bring in a lot of Puscifer. There's some original stuff in there. There are never-before-heard Maynard tracks throughout the film, sprinkled here and there.
Can you describe Maynard's relationship with Eric? What did you see behind the scenes when the camera wasn't there?
Ryan Page: Before Maynard moved to Northern Arizona, he had a dream about living in some town on top of a hill. When he saw Jerome, he knew that was the town from his dream. He moved there that day. He turned in his California license. And he moved to Jerome. Once he started looking around the valley, and at the slopes, he knew he needed someone that could mentor him. That was Eric. Eric was the main guy in that region, and he was doing some pretty amazing stuff. Honestly, they're very close. They are very tight. Maynard would tell you that Eric taught him everything he knows about wine making. And Maynard is still not there. At the bottom of Maynard's email, it says 'wine maker in training'. Even though he has put out some great wines that are getting pretty high scores. He still considers himself a wine maker in training. And Eric is the master. The sensei.
You mentioned the wine tastings. Did you see a lot of Maynard's fans coming in there to taste the wine? Or are these wine drinkers with no knowledge of his musical background for the most part?
Ryan Page: They did a series of wine signings at Whole Foods across the country. We followed that in the film. 90% of the people that showed up were Maynard's music fans. Maynard's goal is to show his fans that there's something else to enjoy besides beer and Jagermeister. He's doing that. He has a love hate relationship with his fans. He has crazy fans. I have been around a lot of rock stars, and I have never seen anything like this. Its nuts with his fans. He's a God-like deity to a lot of them. He was cool with doing the signings. He is up for promoting the wines. I think he's done though. He did his year, and he's not doing anymore. We followed some of the fans home, and we tasted wine with them. It's very funny. The movie is funny. Everyone has this beat on what the film is. When you say 'a film on wine making', I know there are a lot of wine fans that are going to be interested. But it sounds like you are going to be watching vines grow. It's not super exciting.
The title is a biblical reference, and Maynard is certainly giving of himself to help others in this film. Did you purposely try to evoke a theological context within the narrative of what's being presented on screen?
Ryan Page: We were playing around with that. The title is a direct reference to blood, sweat, and tears. It all ends up in a bottle. Our last film was called The Heart is a Drum Machine. We like esoteric titles like that. We almost called this film Wine is a Time Machine. We really did. That was one of the most interesting things I have heard Maynard say. He actuated wine to a time machine. If you drink wine from 1945, there is air in there from 1945. It is a direct reflection of the place it was made. And the time period. It's really unique. And Maynard liked that title. We had a few other ones. The Grapes of Wrath. Maynard didn't like that one. He was the one that threw out Blood Into Wine. He felt that was the right message. That was the one contribution he gave us. He brought up the title. It evokes a lot of things. It's multilayered. I've had some people tell me that the title doesn't sound super appealing. Blood and Wine as one thing. I don't think Maynard is a fan of religion. But he is interested in toying with those ideas. He does sing a song in the movie about it. Which came much later. He has a song called sour grapes, and he sings about Jesus turning water into wine. It's in the film, shot live in concert.
The people in the film that go through the wine tasting are pretty open about their thoughts. What did you think when you tasted some of the wine?
Ryan Page: From the very get-go, we probably wouldn't have made the film if we didn't think they were doing something interesting with the wine. Not to say that we love all the wines, but Eric and Maynard do both make some really great wine. The star of the film is Maynard's wine Judith. It is a wine named after his mother, who died four or five years ago. His mother had an aneurism when he was ten. She was a vegetable from the time he was ten until he was forty. She couldn't read, walk, talk, tell time. Speak. When she passed, he spread her ashes over his vineyard. His cabernet vineyard in Jerome. That is unique soil there, too. It is all volcanic ash. Judith is the wine that really blew everyone away. When James Suckling came, he tasted that wine, and he said, "Wow! Maynard is doing something really interesting that even the cabernet makers in California aren't doing." Judith is the star of the film. Maynard gets emotional about it, despite all of the comedy, and all of the fun we are having. He gets emotional when he talks about his mother.
There's been a few films in the last couple of years that revolve around wine culture. Sideways and Bottle Shock. Did you look at those films to decide what you did and didn't want to do with this particular film?Sideways isn't about wine. That's a McGuffin. That's just a way into their story. It's really about a guy going through some issues. Bottle Shock? I'm not a huge fan of it. There is a film called Mondovino. It is a hatchet job, really. The filmmaker was interested in globalization. He went around and really tricked people into giving weird interviews. And making those people look foolish. Its three hours long. Jonathan Nossiter directed that. He is a hated man in the wine world. We came after him. A lot of the people we approached in Napa turned us down because of Jonathan Nossiter. That guy did such a hatchet job on a lot of different wine makers. Including Mondavi, and some of the bigger wineries. I think he had to move to Brazil. We ran into backlash. I am pretty comfortable in saying that there is no film on wine like this. There are none. Its half a story about this reclusive, interesting artist that no one really knows, who happens to be making wine in a ghost town in Arizona. The other half is really a film about wine. We get into scoring, and the politics behind that. We get into Napa versus Arizona. I imagine that the film will appeal to anyone that has an interest in wine at all. We do it in a fun way. It's not dry and boring. The one thing we talked about from the very beginning with Maynard is that we weren't going to do a PBS documentary. We're going to make a fun, comedic, never boring film. I think we succeeded. At the very least, it's a lot of fun. We're not changing the world. Or healing the world's problems.
Bob Odenkirk is in the film, too. Right?
Ryan Page: Yes. Maynard had been on Mr. Show. He also did some music for those guys. We hired Bob for an end credit sequence. You will have to stay through to the end if you want to see Bob. Bob plays a French wine snob. We gave him total freedom to do whatever he wanted to do. He created this character. This is not a film about stuffy people pontificating in their vineyards. It's not about that. 99% of wine making is hard labor. It's farming. It's digging in the dirt. We knew that when most people think of wine, they think of someone that is pretentious and pontificating. We asked Bob to give us that. And he did. In his own special way.
You have quite a few surprise guest stars. Faruza Balk. She was also in one of your other films, right?
Ryan Page: Faruza didn't make the cut. She is not in the film anymore. It had nothing to do with her. We love Faruza. We are going to start working with her again. We are making a comedy feature. It's a narrative, not a doc. We start shooting in May. It's called Queens of Country. We love Faruza, she just didn't make it into this particular film. She is an amazing artist, and we actually have her artwork all over our production office. She does amazing work, and we love her as an actress. In the end, you have to make hard decisions. Which means a lot of good people got cut out of this.
Let me ask you about Queens of Country. Is that a reference to the real Nashville Queens of country? Like Dolly and Loretta?
Ryan Page: It's a comedy. It's not a doc. We are shooting it on May 3rd. We are also shooting it in Arizona. Maynard is going to be in that film, too. It's about a woman that lives in a small town, and she is obsessed with the queens of country. Dolly, Loretta, Patsy, Wanda Jackson. She even dresses like them. She is totally obsessed. She is in a bad relationship, and she finds an Ipod that has a Queens mix on it. The music really touches her, so she goes on a search to find them. It's really funny. We are working with (names removed for contractual reasons). I don't know if I'm aloud to say this. They did a rewrite with us. They helped us polish the script, really.
Does any of it take place in Nashville?
Ryan Page: No. It just takes place in a small town. In Arizona. It's not about going to Nashville, or anything. It's just about a woman in a small town. She is a line-dancing champion. She is also in love with herself. She is infatuated. She masturbates to her own image in the mirror.
Is the main actress Faruza?
Ryan Page: No. We are casting that right now. We want Faruza to play a supporting actress in the film. We are debating a bunch of names for the main actress right now. Maynard is for sure going to do the film. He is going to play the bad guy. His name is Bobby Angel.
Have you reached out to Dolly or Loretta about the project yet?
Ryan Page: We definitely will. We've been dealing with Blood Into Wine, and we are just now transitioning over. We will reach out to Dolly. We reached out to Wanda Jackson, and she is cool with it. She is doing a record with Jack White, of the White Stripes. He is doing with Wanda what he did with Loretta Lynn. He is getting her back on track. It's pretty neat.
Is there any chance that Jack White will be in the film?
Ryan Page: We haven't reach out to him. But he would be cool. We like Jack White. We will be reaching out to him. We just hired a casting director a couple of days ago. She is great. She did Natural Born Killers and JFK. A whole bunch of cool movies. We've just started on the casting.
I want to ask you about another film that you co-wrote and produced. Crispin Glover's What Is It? You guys are working on the third film It Is Mine. Where does that stand at the moment?
Ryan Page: Have you seen What is It?
Yes. But I have not seen the second one. It Is Fine. Everything Is Fine.It Is Mine. It is the third in our Star Wars trilogy of Down Syndrome films. That's what we like to call them. I haven't talked to Crispin in a while. We had a bit of a falling out. I don't know where he is at with that. He did another film called It Is Fine. Everything is Fine! Which I had nothing to do with. That is the second film in the trilogy. I haven't even seen it. I hope he does decide to shoot It Is Mine. He has been concentrating on acting. He's in Alice in Wonderland. But I hope he makes It Is Mine. I felt it was the best of the three scripts. He'll do it.
So he hasn't even started filming that one yet?
Ryan Page: Not as far as I know. No. I have made a career out of working with really eccentric, interesting artists. And it's not easy. From Crispin to Maynard, that is a strong through line of eccentricity there. They usually make the best films. They make the films that I am interested in seeing, and being a part of. But they're not the easiest guys to deal with, either.
We talked with Crispin during the promotional tour for Beowulf, and at the time he said he was only acting to gather enough money to complete It Is Mine. I thought maybe there was more information out there about the production at this point. That was back in 2007.
Ryan Page: I know he does do that. He will take roles in bigger budget films so that he can finance these movies he wants to make. Part of our falling out? It's nothing that extreme. The film took ten years to make. It was ridiculous. I remember trying to figure this out once. We started before Titanic. And we came out after Eyes Wide Shut. But it went even beyond that. Even Kubrick and Cameron. We beat those guys. Even throughout their entire release patterns. And preparations. Everything. What is It really only came out a few years ago. We started working on it in 1999.
It had to have been 1999 that I saw an unfinished print of it. Then I didn't hear anything else about it until just a few years ago.
Ryan Page: Where did you see a print?
Crispin had come to La Luna in Portland, Oregon. Which I don't think is around anymore. He was doing his book tour, and it was supposed to be a ninety-minute show. But he came out and said that he was going to show the film first. That was so long ago. What I want to know is why the film has never been released on DVD?
Ryan Page: He believes in putting things onto DVD. But this was part of our falling out. Back at the beginning he told me, "Look, I don't care about revenue. I am not putting this film out on DVD." Mabe he is afraid of piracy. He likes to tour the film around. He is like the P.T. Barnum of obscure, independent filmmaking. He really wants it to be a show. He is literally at every single screening of it that he has ever done. It doesn't screen without him being there. It will never be on DVD.
He also said that he has the only existing print of Rubin and Ed.
Ryan Page: He is really good friends with that director. His name is Trent Harris. There is no more interesting person in Hollywood than Crispin Glover. Even though we have had our disagreements, I respect the guy. I would love to work with the man again on something that I direct. Our falling out was over the film getting out. A girlfriend of mine had taken it and watched it on VHS. That was our falling out. Literally. She had taken it from my house. We broke up. And she had a copy of it. He became irate. That was it. He is an interesting guy. I haven't talked to him for over five years.
It's good to know it will never be on DVD. I've always wanted to know a little more about the background on the film. It certainly is an interesting piece of art. And its something that sticks in your head. I'd like to see it again, it's been so long.
Ryan Page: It's cool. Like I said, I wrote the script when I was in high school with another guy. We turned it into him. And he liked the story. He just wanted everyone to have Down Syndrome. He was into bringing that to the screen. When we show emotion, we try to mask what we are feeling. When you see a Down Syndrome person, their facial expressions are representing their true emotions. That is why Crispin was interested in working with Down Syndrome actors. We wrote the script a little bit with him. And that was that. I produced the first film What is It, and I was on set everyday.
I'll ask one last question. How wide is Blood Into Wine opening? And where are fans going to be able to see it?Moog, we followed a similar pattern. It was slow, because we are doing it all ourselves. There is no company involved in the distribution of this film. It's our small staff and our publicist. We are all doing things we don't normally do. Film distribution is in a terrible, terrible state. That's one of the things Crispin always talks about. These corporate entities are deciding what culture sees and deems appropriate. There is a lot of interest in this stuff. Blood Into Wine is going to be a big one for us. At least it feels that way to me. It feels like the right place at the right time. You take a totally interesting character, add something like wine making, which people are really interested in, and convert that. From what I've heard, the reviews are pretty solid. Who are the ones that are going to care about this film the most? We looked at that. And it is working. I don't know if you are a Maynard fan, but it's a lot like Fight Club, we've accessed. People that know Tool or Maynard know Maynard. I was on the phone with Wells Fargo, and I was just fixing a bank problem. The guy on the other end asked, "What do you do for a living?" I told him I make films. I don't usually like to talk about it. But he asked what I was working on. All I said was "Maynard." He goes, "Maynard! I've seen Tool sixteen times!" I'm on a phone with a guy at the bank who's already bought tickets to the showing in Minneapolis. Most theaters that are booing it are selling out. We're talking about re-upping for more screenings and more weeks. I just hope it continues to spread.
What are your plans for the DVD? Are you going to try and tie it into another Whole Foods signing? Or will you be offering the brass knuckle cork screw?
Ryan Page: We are deciding right now on what type of packaging we want to do. We want to do something special. People need to be given a reason to buy DVDs anymore. We are working on a bunch of extra features. Including all of the Tim and Eric stuff. Tim and Eric did another long, long scene where Maynard and Eric identify with each other as sensualists. Which is another thread in the film. That is a life long dedication to exploring your senses. Eric talks about how he heightened his sense of smell. How he has become like Superman. It is so intense, he can tell when a certain person walks in the room. He can smell ponderosas a mile away. He even says in the film, "I can tell when a woman is on her moon." Its pretty wild stuff. We had Tim and Eric do whatever they wanted. We explained what sensualism is to them. We asked them to do a scene where they play a sensualist. And they created one for us. They play two characters named Meegan and Mohegan. It's pretty funny. We will include things like that. There will be a lot of extra features. We will probably do some cool packaging if we can do it on time. Our DVD release is on May 4th. If we can do it in time, we will have it made out of cork.
Blood Into Wine opens this Friday, February 19th, 2010, in select theaters across the country.