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Shot over seven years, DIG! chronicles the rivalry of musicians Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Courtney Taylor of The Dandy Warhols. From the moment they met, the two bands quickly bonded over a desire to not conform to the tastes of the recording industry. Yet their choices over how to express their creativity and originality in a profit-driven industry eventually put them at irreconcilable odds. Writer/director Ondi Timoner's film reveals both musicians' loves and obsessions, gigs and recordings, arrests and death threats, uppers and downers—as they unfold with the passage of time.
 

 The Diary Of A Guerilla Filmmaker

When I began shooting DIG!, my film about what happens when art meets industry through the eyes of two young bands (The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre), my goal was to shoot life as it was unfolding so I could recreate the trip on screen. The drama of these two bandleaders (Courtney Taylor and Anton Newcombe, respectively), each other’s muses and rivals, their opposing views on success, how they would attain it, was greater than anything I could have written.

Seven years and nearly 2,000 hours of ‘real life‘ footage later, I had built a mountain so high, it took nearly four years of editing to climb it! Despite the struggle, and with a burgeoning pregnancy in the last ten months, I was still compelled, laughing and chilled no matter how many times I had seen the footage. I had to finish the film so this footage could see the light of day. To balance the ugly reality of my protagonist, with his vulnerability and talent, and make it a watchable film proved the most difficult challenge. I finished the week I gave birth to my son, Joaquim.

I recently looked back at my journal entries from over those early years of filming and was able to re-experience DIG! as it was unfolding through my thoughts. It was a time of purely youthful energy and idealism. We believed in our subjects and were making this film for the sake of doing it—for that we would shoot in any situation no matter how precarious, and sleep anywhere in order to capture this story.

These entries were written early on in the process, just as I was coming to know the characters of this story and the struggles of shoestring, marathon filmmaking.

11-16-1996 – Los Angeles
I’m sitting in a sunny parking lot, in a city fueled by desperation. I went to sleep last night convinced that there was no one to believe in. No one and practically nothing…. The Brian Jonestown Massacre is in town, so I’ve had four hours of sleep in two days. I love these guys, though. They’re all addicts but their irreverence is inspiring to me. Freedom. If you’re at rock bottom you got nowhere to sink to….

11-21-1996 – San Francisco
I’m waiting for a speed addict who claimed he would be awake to meet me at noon at the Squat & Gobble. We were supposed to do filming today together. I care too much about him already. He is really dysfunctional but claims to be thoroughly happy with life. Just wants to play in a band, wants to shake his tambourine and groove to the music. No job. No home. Can’t think of anywhere he wants to live, he never drinks water or any food that isn’t bad. This is Joel, an interesting new figure in my life.

12-13-1996 – Los Angeles
Investors have gone AWOL, and what a wondrous disappearance they’ve pulled. And I can’t get a loan because of the student loans and credit cards my father went delinquent on. One week in San Francisco, sleeping on dirty couches and hanging in fucked up bars with The Brian Jonestown Massacre, has no sound because of a faulty microphone. Ten great hours of silent footage made me scream ’til I lost my voice. But friends and dreams, love and imagination, action and will. My will will prevail.

1-1-1997 – Suburbia Warehouse – Portland, OR
Anton is mixing and recording right now—a beautiful piece. He’s putting it together right before my eyes. Sophie and Joel are lying on the mattress with me and David is shooting. It is New Year’s Day and the trip to Portland has so far been wonderful.

The Dandy Warhols’ New Year’s show at La Luna was amazing—people rushed the stage and everyone was dancing. Hard shooting. People were stepping on me—at one point my battery flew into the void. A nice guy crawled under the stage and found it for me. My heart almost broke when the countdown to New Year’s happened and everyone was hugging each other, and I was standing there holding a camera up high—straining and all alone. No kisses. Then I was stone cold sober backstage and everyone was fucked up. I talked to Courtney for two hours—got to know him. Like Anton, he comes from a line of mechanical engineers, understands formalism and adheres to it. Because he is so much more precise—but still less of a true visionary, an effusive font than Anton—he still has more of a chance of succeeding. He is extremely self-conscious and a real student of life, experiencing everyone and everything to perfect himself.

3-8-1997 – Outside Hardware Store, Getting Rigged Spy-cam Suction, etc.
Anton is definitely a huge, growing priority in my life. I love him despite his weaknesses, inconsideration, and hurt of others. He is a force to be reckoned with, married to his work—but a radical agent. I have been documenting this for over six months. He can inflict pain, is right now neglecting his relationship with his wife, Sophie, who barely speaks English and has spent all her money on him, and is traveling around a broken person—following her atomic boyfriend.

6-15-1997 – Written on Brother David – Chicago, 4AM
Life on the road with The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Fighting all the time. I don’t know if the greatest rock band in America will ever overcome itself….

5-30-1998 – Outside Café de la Danse – Paris
Dandies are rock stars here in Paris—autographs, feather boas, dreams come true. Power is $ and beauty. These are enough for fleeting happiness. Courtney is surrounded by women and wine—every man’s dream. He is happy now—but only for now.

5-31-1998 – Pink Pop Festival – Landgraaf, Holland
My entire attitude has shifted. I talked to Courtney about raising the lights when performing so I can pick up a better image, and about how I’m the sole investor and making sacrifices for two years now. Zia stuck up for the brilliance of the work, begging me not to give up. I decided to stay on with the Dandies to England to shoot their biggest show ever in London. I ran around the bus as we drove out of Paris shooting everything—great vérité—my subjects love me and I love the adventure of life unfolding.