Casey Casseday takes viewers into the fields of the American medical marijuana farmer in The Green Rush, available on iNDEMAND today!
Some might think they know the truth, but few actually do, about the growing and selling of medical marijuana. The popular documentary The Green Rush provides an in-depth expose on this burgeoning industry that is still, quite literally, in its infancy. Starting this Monday, August 15th, the film, which is the winner of Best Documentary at Ava Gardner Film Festival, and the "Golden Ace" Award Winner for Best Documentary at the Las Vegas Int'l Film Festival, will be made available on iNDEMAND.
This exclusive piece of investigative journalism takes you deep into the world of medical marijuana growers in Northern California, where the filmmakers, at their own risk, took their cameras deep into the pot fields to offer a compelling, truthful, and sometimes shocking look at the American cannabis farmer.
To celebrate the release of The Green Rush as it hits iNDEMAND, we caught up with writer/producer/cameraman and judicious cannabis scholar Casey Casseday, who assures us that this powerful documentary goes far deeper than your average stoner propaganda. Here is our insightful and provocative conversation.
Why did you decide to take on this project? Was it for personal reasons? Or did you simply want to educate those who know nothing about the industry that rests behind the growing and selling of medical marijuana?
Casey Casseday: Initially, the whole one line idea was that we wanted to show these people living in the woods, who grow your weed. That your marijuana doesn't come from Mexico. It comes from California citizens. It is personal, but the passion behind it comes from showing the rest of the world what we already know here in California.
A very secretive and guarded group of individuals make up the medical marijuana farming community. How did you get their cooperation in making this documentary? You're taking cameras where they don't often, if ever, go....
Casey Casseday: They were all very apprehensive about letting us come into their community. That stems from this crop being their livelihood. I was actually working on another documentary with the director of The Green Rush, Jason S. Edwards. We were following the Harley Davidson motorcycle crowd all across the country. We had proven ourselves, and we'd met a couple of people out in Sturgis. And different parts of the country. They gave us our initial contacts out in California to do this movie. So, while we were looking at this biker lifestyle, some folks said, "Hey, I got another lifestyle you guys might be interested in."
You were allowed to go deep into some of these operations. How scary, on a personal level, did it get for you? Did you ever feel in danger? Or were you comfortable in these surroundings?
Casey Casseday: Up there, between seventy-five and eighty percent of the population grows pot. If you drive down any road in Humboldt county, you see the florescent green tufts coming up out of everyone's yard. Still, we had to regain their trust every time we came up. We'd come up and shoot for a week, then go back to Los Angeles and edit. We would check in with them monthly for the whole season. Every time, we had to sit down, maybe smoke one, just to prove that we were still on the level. I didn't have a medical marijuana license at that time. I wanted to maintain some journalistic integrity in case we were ever called under scrutiny. So, it was scary. We saw, and read about, lots happening the whole summer. The whole time we were up there. And as the crop became more mature, the amount of stress involved increased, because now it's worth more. So, yeah...It was a nerve-wracking project. It still is, getting it out there. I am still afraid that someone is going to come in and demand that we hand over our footage. Nothing like that has happened yet. The movie has been quite well received thus far.
When they invite you in, and you suddenly have to participate in what they are doing, it seems like it might be easy to fall off the track of what you are doing. How did you keep your focus on your own individual task at hand?
Casey Casseday: Myself, being the cinematographer on the film, I guess you could call me a functional stoner. Like I said, we often had to smoke with them. Even though the vast majority of the growers don't ever smoke. They wanted to see that we were, quote/unquote, on the level. We maintained our journalistic integrity. We didn't want to skew this. There are a lot of pot movies out there right now that are pro-marijuana. They show you the sick cancer patients. And what pot does for them. That wasn't our agenda. We wanted to go inside, and show you the plight of the American pot farmer. Their misfortune at the end of the season gave us a great ending for the movie. It even tugs at the heartstrings. You actually begin to feel for these people, even though their faces are hidden for the most part. It turned out to have a touching conclusion that people could identify with.
Looking at prohibition back in the 1920s, how do you feel this is different, and maybe the same? How do you feel about being able to capture this time period on film, and how will it push, in either direction, the plight of the American medical marijuana farmer?
Casey Casseday: That is why I am thankful for this interview. The readers should know that it started at 4:20, by the way. I want to get this story out to the rest of the world, not just the United States. Right now, we have seventeen states, as well as the District of Columbia, which is a third of the country, that has legalized medical marijuana. If other countries, and other people throughout the world, start demanding it, it will be a no brainer for commerce. We believe this is an important film that will push the pro-marijuana cause. This pro-industrial hemp movement in the United States. We are trying to give this film away as cheap as we can, while also making a couple of bucks. We are donating some of that money towards Norml and Americans for Safe Access. Just to show we are, as producers, very involved in this movement as well.
While this is an educational documentary, it is also very entertaining to watch just for entertainment's sake. It could have easily fallen on the side of being preachy, but you guys never succumb to that. You guys show all sides to this cause, the good and bad. How did you find that balance between being an important look at this revolution while also making just a good movie?
Casey Casseday: When we started doing film festivals, and we would win, I would go up to the podium and say, "Whether you smoke or not, you know somebody that is affect by this law!" Now that we are a little more developed, and we have more followers, I say, "My kids aren't going to jail for pot!" There is something to be learned from this, because it is a real fly on the wall perspective. That comes from the director Jason S. Edwards. He took a stand. And he wanted to maintain that integrity. He said, "This is what's happening. We're not here to tell you how to think."
What we see in the documentary could very easily be turned into a weekly reality series, with each TV season following the grow season. Are you guys hoping to go to that next level with The Green Rush?
Casey Casseday: Our initial idea when we started this project, was that this was The Green Rush pilot. We are in Northern California, where people are very familiar with these concepts. But we also wanted to shoot growers East, out in New England. And they are growing now, out in Rhode Island. Out in Vermont. We wanted to show the Canadian perspective. And of course, the Mexican perspective. The Green Rush, as a whole, to me, is about what is happening with marijuana laws in North America. We'd love for it to get picked up or noticed by someone. The family we see in the movie would make for an awesome reality show. The whole family is in the business. We are working on some options for the SEEDquel. That's what we've been calling it. Hopefully, we will come up with something next spring.
Are you able to talk about some of those sequel ideas? I know you have a general angle you my be taking with it. Can you talk about that at this time? Or are you not wanting to reveal that news just yet?
Casey Casseday: Right now, we are still in negotiations. We are trying to get on with a DEA agency, to show their side. Which is an equally untold story. Special Agents for the DEA are in departments all across the US, because this is widespread. And every one of them needs to maintain their secret identity. We are hoping that we can find a group that is gearing up to go on one of these big football field pot raids. These are generally anti-Mexican drug cartel. We want to show a perspective of the workingman, who is not out busting the mom and pops. But they are getting shot at with AK-47s over multi-million dollar crops. We have made some contacts. But we don't want to let the cat out of the bag just yet.
Their perspective has to be very interesting, especially as more and more states legalize medical marijuana. The rules keep changing...
Casey Casseday: That would be the other interest in getting hooked up with one of these DEA agencies. They are probably not going to be around much longer. So this would not only be a great documentary, but it would also be a piece of history.
It seems like taking on this side of the story would be more dangerous to you as a filmmaker...
Casey Casseday: Exactly. I don't know if I would want to become involved to that extent. We want to rig body cameras to the agents. Teach them how to document, so that it becomes a real first person perspective. We would juxtapose this to show what is happening with the laws in the North West. All throughout the West Coast.
How open were the people you were dealing with in The Green Rush? How friendly, or not friendly, were they?
Casey Casseday: You know, we started a great Youtube channel for The Green Rush, where we have a lot of deleted scenes. There are also some interviews on there that we weren't able to use. We tried to get our subjects to touch on the transportation aspect. They say, "Its legal to grow it. It's legal to buy it. But it's not legal to sell it." For the vendors that bring the pot to the pot stores, which there are now over a thousand in California, there is still not a lot of protection for them. That is a back alley deal, and it comes from the collective. So that aspect is very hush hush. We were not able to dive into that part of the story. We had a couple of test screenings, and people would say to us, "I wanted to see Mrs. Pink at the grocery store. I wanted to see who these people were outside of the crops." Look, we weren't allowed to see that part of their lives. They wanted to show their secret gardens, which are all on their own land. But that's as far as we could get them to go as producers.
Did you go through the bird's eye view of the dispensaries at all?
Casey Casseday: Through promoting this film, I have made great friends in the marijuana community. From the legal aspect to the ultimate stoners, and everyone in between. I am actually good friends with Sean Kush, who owns the Medical Kush Beach Club, here in Southern California. He has his own weekly thing called Hash Bar TV, which shows what happens inside this collective on a week-to-week basis. It has been done on a grander scale, and I have seen some CNBC and MSNBC reports that have touched on the dispensary part of this overall story. I, myself, was in a snowmobile accident this year. And I decided to get my medical marijuana card for the first time in my life. I was then able to go into the collective. I would love to shoot something like that. Its unfortunate. Some of these shops are really small inside. So it's hard to shoot in there. Look, no one ever smokes pot in The Green Rush. We don't want to go too far down the path of promoting the smoking of marijuana, and taking bong hits. All of that. That has never been the direction we are aiming for.
You also delve into the Hemp side of the business...
Casey Casseday: Yeah. I am originally from the Walla Walla,Washington area. I grew up around a ton of family farms back home. I had this idea of hemp being an industrialized crop all throughout California. They use it for food and fuel. But actually, we are the only nation in the world that doesn't use industrialized hemp. Everything you see in the stores, from the hemp clothing to the hemp milk you see in Whole Foods, is imported from Canada. Right now, with everyone in congress talking about jobs, this hemp thing needs to be kick started. Once that is in full effect, this whole medical marijuana thing will be easier to determine. You can't smoke hemp. And hopefully the DEA will eradicate the plant completely.
What does hemp milk taste like?
Casey Casseday: I couldn't tell you. (Laughs) I can tell you that there are some amazing edibles. Some people can't smoke pot, so they eat it. I get lemon bars at the place I go to. It tastes a little like pot. Hemp is something that hasn't been seen in America for sixty or seventy years. Though, if you go back, the first colonial law was that you had to grow hemp to be a part of the community. We've come all this way in American history, where this plant, this vital resource, that grows on very little water, has been banned because they are afraid some little kid is going to smoke the leaves. This is just not something we can continue to do to ourselves.
Where, besides iNDEMAND, can people see the Green Rush?
Casey Casseday: We launched on Hulu last year, but since that time, we have upgraded to an uncut version. I encourage people to watch the Hulu version, which has been extended by eight minutes. There were several new scenes added. Its on Netflix instant watch right now. Anyone in America who has that service can check it out. On iTunes downloads, for just $2.99, you can get a nice hi-res copy of it. On Youtube rentals, it is only $1.99. And to re-mention the VOD platform, we got the golden ticket. The Green Rush will be on Time Warner, Comcast, and Cox starting today, Monday, August 15th. The DVD is available at indieflix.com. We just sold our first foreign territory last week. We sold to a polish territory. So the first translation of the film will be in Polish. And hopefully it is spreading across Europe really fast, too.