Art and Design
I realized these stories could be in service of a bigger narrative rather than little episodic stories; they really can tell the variety of human experiences with these chemicals and all that can happen. – Donick Cary
I had the great privilege of working with Donick Cary and Mike Rosenstein at the psychedelic conference Wonderland in Miami this November. They gave some great talks about “Legendary Trips in Film and TV” with Hamilton Morris, Lucy Walker (the director of How to Change Your Mind), and Reggie Watts. Donick and Mike are planning to set up their own company and are in the process of creating ´Have A Good Trip 2.´
During the pandemic, their documentary Have A Good Trip, which took 11 years to make, came out on Netflix and was a sensation all around the world. In the film, they interview celebrities such as Ben Stiller, Sting, Sarah Silverman, and Reggie Watts, to name just a few, about their psychedelic experiences. The stories are half told by the interviewee and half animated or acted out. It is a very entertaining watch but also has a deeper purpose of furthering the conversation around these substances and showing the incredibly positive and transformational impact they can have.
Reggie Watts, Mike Rosenstein & Lucy Walker (from right to left)
Below you can find an interview with Donick Cary about the creation of the movie and many other fun anecdotes:
Where did the idea for HAVE A GOOD TRIP come from?
This came very organically from a lunch at a film festival that I was having with very interesting people, including Ben Stiller and Fisher Stevens, another filmmaker, and actor. The conversation turned to psychedelics, and people told funny stories about their experiences. Ben told a hilarious, cautionary tale about how this can go poorly for someone. In my mind, many of the elements he described needed to be animated to bring them to life. Then Fisher told a story about how much he loved acid and told this fantastic story about how he danced and turned into Michael Jackson. I immediately thought about the variety of accounts you can pack into one project if you just had an extended dining table and let everyone tell a story. That is where it started. The other part that pretty much was the impetus was that Fisher was at this film festival with his documentary The Cove (great watch!), and I thought, “Fisher knows how to make documentaries; Ben knows how to make movies. I will throw the idea out to these guys to make this movie.” The lunch was casual enough that both said YES.
Mike Rosenstein, Donick Cary and Reggie Watts
Can you tell me a bit about the process of making this film?
It was an 11-year-long process. Firstly, I partnered with Red Hour, Ben Stiller’s production company, who were the ones to introduce me to my partner in this endeavor, Mike Rosenstein.
We started reaching out to everyone we knew who we thought would have a story, would be open to it, and be interesting and funny. Secondly, we took a little bit of money and hired a booking agent who would be able to approach our dream list of other people.
What was tricky about this was that people talking about their psychedelic experiences is like people talking about their dreams, it might be transformational for you, but it is hard to explain why.
Furthermore, sometimes the visuals are not that interesting to animate because it is just a feeling.
When we started shooting the reenactments, some animated, some live action, and the after-school special that is embedded within it, I was working on Parks and Recreation at the time, which gave me access to some fantastic actors that were more inclined to help me out because I saw them daily and we were friends. So to sum it up, there was a long phase of interviews, and then there was a short phase of shooting reenactments and comedy. After that, we started editing, which can never be long enough. We budgeted six weeks for that and needed to continue after the end because the movie was still too long. A lot of it is creative decision-making – how can we simplify this story enough to tell it in an hour and a half? At one point, we were also debating if this should be a series. We have 100 interviews, so we could have broken it down into two interviews per episode and had 50 episodes. Ultimately, we agreed the splashiest way to do this was in a movie format. We released the movie on Netflix, which ended up being the best home for this because it had the broadest international reach at that moment.
Why was Sting such an important aspect of Have A Good Trip?
There was a real turning point in these interviews with Sting. I had done 20 interviews and was looking for comedy in my interviewees´ stories. Both Sting and Deepak Chopra spoke about the psychedelic experience in a much broader, more nuanced, and substantial way. Both of them have been students of this space for a while. Sting was the most interesting to me because this is an actual public figure who is in broadway plays, appeals to families, does voices in cartoons, and is saying to the camera, “this stuff is important and should be taken seriously. It can change your life! We are in an environmental and mental health crisis, and it can help with that.”
13 years ago, he was saying a lot of things that we are just getting to now. Some of his later music is a bit soft, and for a moment, I thought Sting might be too crystal in his interpretation of everything. However, one walks into his Park Avenue apartment, and one wall is just covered with Basquiat paintings, and the opposite wall is the whole of Central Park. Then there is Sting sitting on the couch in these beautifully crafted Yoga pants and a perfectly tailored t-shirt.
He looks at you with his beautiful blue eyes and says, “Let me tell you about psychedelics.” I was like, “I think I am falling in love with Sting.”
There is a lot of charisma there; he could almost sell you anything! But instead of doing that or making it seem corny, he spoke authentically about this topic. After that, I felt a greater responsibility to share more of the dynamic I just felt. I realized these stories could be in service of a bigger narrative rather than little episodic stories; they really can tell the variety of human experiences with these chemicals and all that can happen.
Did you think this project would turn out as successful as it did?
In the first month, Netflix gives you 14-day and 30-day reports. They had 10 million households watch within the first 30 days, and they counted four family members per household, which is why they concluded that 40 million people watched our film within the first month of its release. We had no idea how powerful the impact would be there was even a brief window where Have A Good Trip went to number 1 in the world on Netflix. It was strange because we were in the middle of the pandemic, and my kids and wife were basically the only people I could celebrate with in person. I hadn’t seen people react to it, so I didn’t have a sense of what the statistic meant. Although within a week, I was getting calls inviting me onto podcasts, which was strange for me as I am a comedy writer and not used to this type of publicity.
For the first three months, I did two or three interviews a week. There was no profit in it, but it was a cool way to connect with people like the psychedelic community in Berlin or a podcast exploring this space in the Ukraine. I had wonderful conversations for those months, which still happen but more rarely. It was very life-affirming during the pandemic because everything was shut down, but I felt connected to the world on this topic.
The biggest thing that came out of this was Rick Doblin and MAPS reaching out. They told us that this movie was crucial for them because we were showing celebrities coming out of the closet and sharing their experiences which de-stigmatizes so much of what we haven’t been able to get people to listen to. This was revolutionary!
Do you have any experience with psychedelics?
Psilocybin, ayahuasca, and yeah, I guess there was LSD and stuff. This has been part of what I seeded through the movie, the responsibility of not sharing these stories cavalierly. The lunch we had was a very casual way of talking about them, but I really think of my kids and what I want them to take from all these experiences. I am careful about what stories I tell because they mainly came at a time when I was rebelling against “Just Say No,” the drug war, and this Reagan´s America, which seemed so fake to me. I was having a variety of things blowing my mind at the time, including the dead Kennedys to the Grateful Dead. There were many ways of looking at the world, which wasn’t through this lens of capitalism, the hating gaze, being a cowboy, and whatever the Reagan Christian ethos was. But we all survived that, sort of.
That is a long way of saying that I had several experiences growing up that turned me onto the space as a way of thinking outside the box.
My mother was avid about reading; there were always stories and books everywhere. So, as crazy and loose as I sometimes behaved, I was also a very cautious human who did the research.
I read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, William S. Burroughs, and all of Carlos Castaneda´s books in my teenage years. To me, these prophets went into the space and explored and shared the wisdom so that you would know some of the rules before you stumbled into it as a novice who wants to see what happens. I think that is an integral part of all this and what we hope the movie did.
So essentially, the film acts as a playbook for understanding this in a way you might not have. One should learn from all the experiences people have already had because that is how we exist together and evolve.
I had a very interesting adventure about 20 years ago that caught me off guard because I wasn’t looking for it. My wife and I were on vacation in Peru, and we stumbled upon this amazing opportunity to go way upriver in the Amazon to this small lodge. The place was run by an indigenous community that lived there for at least 20,000 years and knew the Amazonia and its secrets. We went out with them and were taught about the jungle in a really beautiful, integrative way. It blew our minds because that was enough of a trip in many ways. However, back at the lodge that night, we heard the other guests talk about ayahuasca. I had already read about this plant medicine in William Burroughs´ Yage Journals, and because we were open to experiencing the way one is when traveling, we decided to participate in the ritual. My wife drank the brew and fell asleep instantly because she loves to sleep. The next day she told me that she had had these incredible dreams about ants and their organization which she translated into how the world can be structured and humanity should work together. I started seeing many eyes around me, and after a while, it was a full pack of wolves. I knew that my brain was tapping into Native American myth but never felt fully out of control. I was on my best behavior and unsure whether I was allowed to enter the space until they went back into the darkness. The shaman would come by and blow smoke into your nostrils, and you’d be reignited, which helped change your mindset in a different direction. I also saw many snakes and was worried it would turn into a baaaad trip. I managed to move away from that and entered a room full of unique, fun, happy birds of all different colors. A psychedelic bird room! After that, an armadillo came to me, and I started laughing uncontrollably. So, in conclusion, I got what I put into it, had a pretty good time, and didn’t dig for much else, which was a conscious decision. Kim, my wife, witnessed a restructuring of the universe through the teachings of ants.
When can we expect Have A Good Trip 2 and what will it include?
Donick: By the end of 2023 is the plan. The idea is to use the same format as the first one to blast into the future and discuss what lies ahead for psychedelics. The good, the bad, the amazing.
Mike: The much-anticipated sequel to Have a Good Trip explores the present moment and future of where psychedelics are taking us through brand new A-list celebrity interviews, animations, and re-enactments.
Mike Rosenstein and Donick Cary
If you could chose to exist as one plant, which would it be?
A pine tree. I grew up in the safety of pine trees. I love the soft bed of needles they lay on the ground for reading books. I love how a forest of healthy pine trees suggests water in the ground and how owls perch in them. I identify with this tree because it is a good, solid piece of a healthy ecosystem.