Interviews

Published on March 12th, 2020 | by Darren Paltrowitz

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Greg Olliver On His New Documentary “Chasing Whiskey,” Jack Daniel’s, Lemmy & More

The new documentary Chasing Whiskey: The Untold Story of Jack Daniel’s premieres in movie theaters across the country as a one-night event on May 11, 2020. More than a simple narrative of the origins and impact of Jack Daniel’s, the documentary joins Tim Matheson, Shooter Jennings, Eric Church, John Grisham, Tina Sinatra, Matt Sorum and more on a 57,000-mile journey across five countries and 17 time zones that is equal parts thought provoking, insightful, moving and hilarious. Fathom Events and Movie City Films, in association with Evolve Studios, will be presenting Chasing Whiskey in more than 850 U.S. movie theaters via Fathom’s Digital Broadcast Network.

The film’s director Greg Olliver was commissioned by Jack Daniel’s to co-write, produce, direct, edit and narrate what is undoubtedly definitive feature documentary. He was given unprecedented access to the world’s biggest whiskey brand, its employees, and its distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee where every drop of the whiskey is made. He traveled from Lynchburg to Los Angeles to Iceland to Scotland to Japan to Cuba and beyond to find out what makes whiskey such a romanticized drink, and what makes Jack Daniel’s such a big seller. Among other great films, Olliver is also the man behind the highly-acclaimed documentary Lemmy, which focused on Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister.

I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Greg Olliver himself about Chasing Whiskey, Jack Daniel’s — a brand which I have covered extensively — and more. Tickets for the Fathom Events screenings of Chasing Whiskey can be found at www.fathomevents.com. Olliver is on Twitter via @GregOlliver.

How long did it take to make Chasing Whiskey?

Greg Olliver: How long does it take to mature a great barrel of Jack Daniel’s whiskey? We wanted to make a great film — so it took a while! We started prepping back in 2016, shot a lot of it, went into the edit room for a while, followed some whiskey from Lynchburg, Tennessee all the way to the outback of Australia, recut it again, and before we knew it, it was 2020!

What was the most challenging part of making the film?

Greg Olliver: How do you make a feature film about a bottle of whiskey? How do you humanize a brand? How do you make it informative, entertaining… and relatable? Those were just some of our challenges that we had going into this project. With previous films I’ve made it felt easier — just follow a rock star with a camera and see what happens. On Chasing Whiskey we had to do a lot of exploration to find the story threads that ties it all together.

Logistically on Chasing Whiskey, we had some real challenges. Part of my concept for the film was to watch every part of the process of how the whiskey is made, so that was a lot of challenges to film corn harvesting to tree cutting to barrel-making. Then we wanted to watch a batch get made, boxed up and shipped to a far corner of the planet to prove that it’s all made in Lynchburg. We filmed every bit of the journey all the way to Tilpa, Australia which is on the edge of the outback. From trucks to trains to cargo ships to more trucks to the Tilpa mailman — it was tens of thousands of miles of logistics. That wasn’t easy to film — but it’s very fun to watch!

Was there a highlight of the production process for you?

Greg Olliver: Adventure. Friends. Music. Whiskey. Sing it: These are a few of my favorite things! (laughs)

We really did have a blast traveling to the far corners of the world to make this film. When you’re traveling with folks you consider friends, and you get to meet all sorts of colorful characters and share fantastic bottles of whiskey everywhere you go — it becomes a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We hope that feeling comes through in the film.

As for a singular fantastic experience during the production, that might have to be the recording session of the original soundtrack. We were in a small studio outside of Los Angeles with Shooter Jennings, Matt Sorum of Guns N’ Roses, Michael Devin of Whitesnake and Jesse Dayton, who is one of the greatest guitar slingers of all time. They recorded some incredible original tunes Shooter wrote for the film along with some cover songs like “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Whiskey River.” I got a one-on-one lesson from Matt Sorum on how to shake a maraca — probably one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned. Yes, there was whiskey in the room, and yes, cameras were rolling, so you’ll get to enjoy the moment too!

Is there a lot of great footage on the proverbial cutting room floor?

Greg Olliver: Yes! All of my films have a lot of great footage that didn’t make it into the final cut. For me that’s just part of the process of exploring the unknown when it comes to a certain subject or story that you can’t truly write. You can spend a lot of time “writing” and planning scenes for a documentary, and shoot 10 of them… and then the 11th thing you film turns out to be unexpected gold, so the previous 10 scenes don’t make the cut.

There are some great moments that didn’t make the cut in Chasing Whiskey that I hope see the light of day. We got to explore the cave that leads to the cold spring where all of the water comes from for Jack Daniel’s. It was fun, until it wasn’t, when it got a bit scary. I’m no experienced spelunker, so when we were crawling through tight spaces a quarter mile deep in the cave – I started to rethink my idea of filming the cave.

Had you spent a lot of time in Lynchburg before making this film?

Greg Olliver: Although I was already a fan of the brand, I had never been to Lynchburg until this film project came my way. Before we did any filming we made a few trips to the distillery and the town to meet folks and look around. On my first visit I got to have a whiskey tasting with Jeff Arnett, the master distiller, and they gave us little glasses of everything Jack Daniel’s makes. I asked which one was Jeff’s favorite and then just shot that glass of whiskey back, as a natural instinct. Everyone in the room laughed and yelled “No! We are sipping and tasting — not doing shots!” I learned a lot at that tasting, including the fact that they will pour you another glass if you foolishly shoot it before the tasting starts!

Do you have a favorite variety of Jack?

Greg Olliver: “Green Label” is probably my favorite. It’s a little lighter in color, meaning it matured a little less than black label, usually because of where the barrels sit on cooler floors in the warehouses. Of course if I’m trying to be fancy, nothing beats breaking out a bottle of Sinatra. That’s the exact opposite of green label — dark and rich. A great sipping whiskey.

Chasing Whiskey aside, what is coming up for you career-wise? Is it true that you have another film about Lemmy in the works?

Greg Olliver: My headstone will probably have to read “The Lemmy Filmmaker.” Yes, I’m still in the Lemmy and Motörhead business, and am prepping a Lemmy biopic that we’ve been working on for a long time. We were lucky to get Lemmy’s blessing before he passed away, and have been perfecting the script for the past year or so. I’m also finishing up a feature documentary about Raoul’s Restaurant in Soho, New York with my friend Karim Raoul.

Your original documentary about Lemmy is one of my favorite documentaries of all time, and I know you also did a film on Johnny Winter. Are there any musicians that you feel are overdue for a proper documentary?

Greg Olliver: Waylon Jennings! I’d love to do a doc on him and his son Shooter, who I’m now friends with after the work we did together on Chasing Whiskey.

I’m flattered to hear you’re a fan of the Lemmy documentary. There are plenty of musicians who deserve a proper film — but Lemmy was really unique. He a very compelling person, regardless of his rock and roll career, and it’s tough to find someone who can stand up as a compelling lead character without their music behind them. That being said, there are a ton of songs I hear that make me want to do a film with that band. The IDLES! Drive By Truckers! Bombino! Those bands make me want to hit the road with a backpack full of camera gear.

When not busy with film, where does your free time usually go?

Greg Olliver: Free time? Filmmaking at the current stage of my career does not leave much free time. It’s honestly a full-time hustle. If I’m not shooting a doc I am editing one. If I’m not editing one I’m writing a screenplay. If I’m not writing a screenplay I’m directing branded content since that’s a more solid way to pay the bills than directing or editing docs or writing screenplays. If I’m not directing branded content I’m hanging with my family, who is mad I spend so much time trying to survive in the world of filmmaking. When I’m done with all that I’m usually drinking whiskey!

What was the last concert you attended for fun?

Greg Olliver: IDLES! The last 2 concerts I’ve been to literally have been the IDLES — they are my absolute favorite band these days — and I have a feeling their label is tired of me bugging them about doing a doc!

Finally, Greg, any last words for the kids?

Greg Olliver: For the kids? I’d say if they’ve made it this far in my interview I would love to thank them for caring — and offer them a shot of Jack Daniel’s if I ever bump into them in a bar. Without fans watching movies or reading about movies and culture there would be no use for a fellow like me. I’m honored to make a living telling stories with film, so to all the kids out there: keep watching and keep reading!


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About the Author

Darren Paltrowitz is a New York resident with over 20 years of entertainment industry experience. He began working around the music business as a teenager, interning for the manager of his then-favorite band Superdrag. Since then, he has worked with a wide array of artists including OK Go, They Might Be Giants, Mike Viola, Tracy Bonham, Loudness, Rachael Yamagata, and Amanda Palmer. Darren's writing has appeared in dozens of outlets including the New York Daily News, Inquisitr, The Daily Meal, The Hype Magazine, All Music Guide, Guitar World, TheStreet.com, Businessweek, Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times, and the Jewish Journal. Beyond being "Editor At Large" for The Hype Magazine, Darren is also the host of the bi-weekly "Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz" podcast, as co-produced with V13 (formerly PureGrainAudio.com). He has also co-authored two published books, 2018's "Pocket Change: Your Happy Money" (Book Web Publishing) and 2019's "Good Advice From Professional Wrestling" (6623 Press), with a second podcast set for a June 2020 launch.


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