Crazy idea or not, writer/director Haylar Garcia and his indie filmmaking partners Darcy Grabowski and Scott Baxendale decided to undertake an unusual mission and make a movie about it. The result? Do It for Johnny, one of the most riveting and entertaining documentaries I’ve seen in the past ten years. The mission? To deliver a guitar and a script to Johnny Depp. Not just any guitar, mind you. This one was sculpted by guitarist/guitar-maker Baxendale, whose instruments usually sell from three to six thousand dollars. And not just any script either. The screenplay in question, Narcophonic -- The Ballad of Bad Bax, is a biopic about the legendary Baxendale himself -- a perfect role for Depp, of course, who’s an ex-musician turned actor.
Garcia and his intrepid crew spent over two years and traveled, thanks to their trusty Turtle (an ’83 Toyota RV), approximately 14,000 miles in their efforts to put the guitar, built with a special chamber to house the script, into Johnny Depp’s hands. It’s nothing short of inspirational to watch the dedication and journey of three relatively unknown people from Denver trying to gain Depp's attention and persuade him to read their unsolicited and unfunded script. The task became even more daunting because of Depp's burgeoning popularity as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.
But these daring adventurers developed a plan. And it made sense to naïve me. First, find people who know Depp and tell them what you want. So contacts were attempted with Depp’s sister, director Robert Rodriguez (who worked with Depp on Once Upon a Time in Mexico), Depp’s agent, etc. Early on, our heroes even tried to make contact with Depp himself at the Academy Awards Ceremony when he was nominated for Finding Neverland. Their strategy involved displaying a huge banner saying “Depp, we have your guitar.” Unfortunately, Johnny didn’t see it. But giving up was not part of their plan. No matter what obstacles blocked their way -- including officious assistants, bad weather, lack of money and even ill health, Garcia and company continued their quest.
Where did Garcia’s drive and dedication come from? “I wasn’t a good student, so I dropped out of school,” he admits. “But I’ve always had the ability to get things done, to pick a goal and block out everything else. Thank heavens I found Darcy (Grabowski) who understands and puts up with me. If it weren’t for Darcy and Bax (Baxenhale), this film would never have come to fruition.”
Garcia also gives props to Boulder artist Patrick Mallek, who created the clever, quirky graphics used in Do It for Johnny, and to cameraman Jeff Deel for his fine contributions to the film. According to Garcia, the entire project was a labor of love, but he wants it viewed only in the strictest sense. “Don’t read into it the personalities of people like Robert Rodriguez or Johnny Depp,” he requests. “It was done of our own choosing and in a good-natured spirit. None of these people owed us anything.”
Garcia claims that being the subject of his own documentary made it hard for him to say “This is the end.” He also believes this experience helped him learn a positive lesson about the importance of a reasonable amount of tenacity in achieving a goal. “If someone looks at you and says, ‘That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,’ you should do it right away.”
How does Do It for Johnny end? Not with the ending I expected, but with a provocative one I definitely admire.
(Do It for Johnny, from Tao Engine Philms, screened at the 2007 Sonoma Valley Film Festival and the 2007 Vail Film Festival. Please click here to find out more about this documentary.)
Photo of Haylar Garcia and the Depp Guitar is by Darcy Grabowski.