Amir Bar-Lev and Eric Eisner Interview: ‘Long Strange Trip’
The process that Amir Bar-Lev and Eric Eisner went through to put together their Grateful Dead documentary, “Long Strange Trip,” was not too different than how the band operated. “It all organically came together,” says producer Eisner in our recent interview (watch the video above). Part of that can be seen in how the six-part series, currently on Amazon, was originally supposed to be 90 minutes. Bar-Lev, the film’s director, explains that during the three year editing process it became apparent that 90 minutes wouldn’t be enough time to paint the picture they wanted to. Bar-Lev adds that the story of the Dead is more than just one of the band: “It’s a collective and that includes the staff, the roadies and the fans.”
The series would also not have been possible without the involvement of Oscar winner Martin Scorsese. Eisner said that he was able to connect with Scorsese because they were friends and once he came on board, “he became the godfather of the project.” Eisner adds, “He really got behind the film-making team in relation to the band and because of that the band trusted that we knew what we were talking about.”
Both Bar-Lev and Eisner were already massive fans of the band (collectively referred to as Dead Heads) but the process of making the movie and putting it together allowed them both to discover new and surprising things about the Dead. For Bar-Lev, one of his favorite discoveries was of a home movie that was shot of the band on their first trip to Europe in 1970. He says, “It was incredibly shot and beautiful but also had the band being rambunctious and goofy. And we realized that the reason that this had never been seen before was because they had dosed the camera crew with LSD.” He elaborates that the band didn’t like being studied and their philosophy was, “If you’re going to be following us around, you gotta join in the fun.” After the drug began to take effect, the band encouraged the crew to go out and have fun and the footage ends with the crew lying on their backs, tripping, while being baby-sat by the members of the band.
For Eisner, the most interesting thing to learn was about his perception of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band’s iconic leader, Jerry Garcia. He knew that Garcia had been a very reluctant leader of the band, especially in its later years. But through the interviews with the band members, “I saw all them talk about their initial meeting with Garcia and how they attached themselves to him because they saw him going somewhere. It was really interesting hearing it from the horse’s mouth about these guys finding the light with Garcia and how bright it was early on and just following him.”