[Before there was Tiger King, there was Wild Wild Country. This docuseries took Netflix by storm, with its compelling subjects and deft directing. It's worth revisitng the series, if you're still on the hunt for a pandemic binge! This is one of my top faves, as far as interviews go. I mean, they're all my favorites because I'm incredibly honored whenever someone takes the time to talk about their craft with me. But this one was pretty special - Chapman, Maclain, and I had a really great discussion about spirituality, art, and more. It's a long, but worthwhile read if you have the time. A perfect companion piece to the show! - JZ, April 2021]
*Below is a phone interview I had the honor of conducting with "Wild Wild Country" co-directors, Chapman and Maclain Way, on March 26, 2018. The transcription has been lightly edited for length and clarity. My companion review of the six-part Netflix docuseries can be found here.*
JZ: I did some research, and I know you’ve been asked this question a ton of times, but for the purpose of the interview, can you recap how you obtained this amazing footage?
MW: Sure, yeah. Talking with Matt Cowan, who works at the Oregon Historical Society, he basically told us that he had an incredible collection of over 300 hours of footage on what he called the most bizarre story in the history of Oregon. He gave us the bullet points of this $100-million-dollar commune that was built. They built an entire city and took over the town of Antelope. They also took in thousands of homeless people, and then they ended up food poisoning over 750 people [in the city of The Dalles]! That was the initial pitch. I just remember thinking that Mac and I were stunned that we’d never heard about this story before, or even heard the name Bhagwan Rajneesh. We dove in and started transferring the footage. The really interesting thing about the footage is that’s what aired on the nightly local news; we have all the raw tapes that the cameraman shot on the ranch. The access that these cameramen got was just incredible, interviewing all these people inside the commune. There’s a total wealth of really intimate and raw archival footage.The crazy thing about this footage was that was when news stations were switching from 16mm film to U-matic tapes, which are tapes that you can record over multiple times. We are tremendously lucky that a lot of the new station directors in Portland recognized what a historically significant story the Rajneeshees were. They kept everything on their tapes, from day one. Without that decision, I don’t think we would have a documentary series to make.
JZ: It blows me away that they did have the foresight. Obviously this was of such a level that, even at the time, people were like, “This is insane!”
CW: The shelf life for a lot of these tapes is only about 30 or 40 years before they just start disintegrating and falling apart. We had to put them through this special process to bake the tapes [in order] to stabilize the tape head. We went through a lot just to get the footage digitized. We donated everything that we got digitized back to the Oregon Historical Society. I think they’re going to make it available to the public. I think they’re hopefully trying to do that later this summer. For those interested in the story, there’s going to be a wealth of archives for them to check out and go through.
JZ: Wow, that’s amazing. I thought it was really cool you mentioned it was something you hadn’t heard about, and were surprised you hadn’t been taught in school. I just want to say I think it’s really great that you’re going to get to take part in helping educate people about this.
CW: I think it’s really one of the more special aspects of being a documentary filmmaker. You get to take things that have been relegated to the dustbins of history and hopefully elevate them, while also giving them a platform for audiences who aren’t familiar with the story. It’s definitely one of the enjoyable parts of being a filmmaker.
Brothers and co-directors Maclain & Chapman Way
JZ: Absolutely. What struck me was, “If they take over Antelope, that’s Antelope’s problem. If they take over Wasco County, that could be a huge problem for all of us.” I think that’s something we’re dealing with today – a shift from, “That’s someone else’s problem…” to “Holy shit, it’s all of our problem now!” How do you feel about that?
CW: I think one of the really interesting parts of this story, in talking to those who lived through it, was if it’s happening [anywhere other than] in your town, people don’t really care about it. We talked to people who lived in Portland, and to them, this was happening two and a half hours east of them. “If they take over Antelope, it doesn’t affect me on a daily basis.” Even for people who watch the story now, it’s very easy to pretend as if you wouldn’t have been affected by this, even if you lived there. I think that line really challenges the audience. It’s very easy to be accepting of things when it’s not happening in your own backyard. It’s difficult to keep a level head, and keep empathy, when it’s happening right to you. Not that there’s any easy answer to who’s right or wrong; but talking to people, it’s easier to dismiss things when it doesn’t inherently affect you on a personal level.
MW: I think, just to add to that, that was really something we were hearing from Antelopeans too. They felt so frustrated by this early on in the process. They felt that no one was really listening to them. Their town was being taken over, and they were being harassed. It was really fascinating, because you’d think that – at least the perspective I heard from them, wasn’t that they were just critical of the Rajneeshees. They certainly were. But they were also critical of people in government who were sitting on the sidelines during the first couple of years of this battle.
JZ: I felt them crying out, saying, “Hey, help us!” I think it was funny that it was partially due to a relationship, a college friendship between an Antelope townsperson, John Silvertooth, and State Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer, that helped to kick it over into the government being more active. Also the random Nike connection, with its cofounder, Bill Bowerman. It was ironic that his foundation, 1000 Friends of Oregon, brought attention to the town. It seemed to be their involvement that brought the spotlight from turning it relatively peaceful to violent, because that’s when everybody started to feel more threatened, on both sides.
CW: Yeah. I think the first huge component of the story that…diving into it, just seems like the impetus that started a lot of the attention was this land use battle [incited by the 1000 Friends of Oregon], which is very specific to the state of Oregon. You have SB100 and Governor Tom McCall. It’s something that Oregonians are very familiar with, as well as the 1000 Friends of Oregon. It was lightly glossed over in the documentary. Everyone remembers the salmonella attack [when Rajneeshees attempted to poison citizens of The Dalles, in hopes to overthrow an election in Wasco County]. But we wanted to step back and ask, “What led this so-called peace-loving spiritual group to this moment?” We were talking to sannyasins and ex-sannyasins who lived in the commune – they felt this threat from Bill Bowerman and 1000 Friends of Oregon was to basically come in and dismantle their entire city. It echoed inside the commune. It was absolutely a state of terror, trauma, and panic that their entire city [of Rajneeshpuram] would be demolished. If you didn’t live inside the commune, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. “Hey, you’re building on exclusive farm use land only! You have to play by the rules and the laws like the rest of us.” That was really, in our research and talking with everyone, the first stone that was thrown that led into this avalanche of conflict.
JZ: I think that’s what’s interesting. When an organism is threatened, that’s the natural response: to want to fight, and to want to fight back, because you want to stay alive. The Rajneeshees wanted to stay alive, and do so in the way they wanted to live. That’s a very compelling argument. What’s sad is what got lost – their spirituality really could have been their greatest weapon, so to speak. Instead they chose to embrace actual weapons, rather than coming at it from a more peaceful angle.
CW: Yeah. I think there are two interesting components there. One is that the guru himself very much believed in provocation. Verbal provocation. Maybe even physical provocation. But he believed that all press is good press. “The more bombastic Sheela [Ma Anand Sheela, the Bhagwan’s trusted secretary] can be, the more attention will be brought to us,” you know? “If I get a ton of press, people will know who I am.” I think that their philosophy as a group was: instead of trying to communicate and compromise, their belief system was that they push back. What’s interesting is the town of Antelope, and a lot of people in eastern Oregon, have the same philosophy too. “Hey, this is our land. This is what we want it to be used for. This is how we want it, and we’re going to fight back as well.” I think there’s a little bit of a warning sign of what happens when you get two totally different communities and cultures that refuse to communicate with each other. I think, on both sides, there was a real dehumanization process that they would levy at the other side. Ultimately, it ended up in some catastrophic events.
Rajneeshees line the entrance to Rajneeshpuram, waiting to greet Bhagwan in one of his many Rolls Royces.
JZ: Yeah, absolutely. The assumption was that the Antelope townspeople were going to be the country rubes who were most likely going be bigoted and uneducated; and then there were the crazy hippies, doing nutty things. Neither group fit into those boxes. But there was definitely a cultural clash. What I found ironic was that each side had societies that were working. Antelope seemed to be a peaceful town – they worked collaboratively, in the middle of nowhere, on their own. Ironically, it was these same types of ideologies that the Rajneeshees wanted to present. They were a collective, and they worked together within their community. That got destroyed, on both ends.
MW: I think that’s one of those things that we hadn’t thought of that much before we started interviewing a variety of our talking heads [interview subjects]. That was just the odd similarities between Antelope and Rajneeshpuram [the name of the Rajneesh commune]. Ostensibly these are two communities that are very isolated. They’re out in the middle of nowhere. In Antelope there’s a church right in the middle of that town. Everyone goes to that church, and they have a school. It was a public school, but there was prayer before class every day. The Rajneeshees had the same thing. There was a religious meeting hall in the center of that town. The whole town would show up every day and they’d start their daily religious activities. Even the “build yourself up by your bootstraps;” that was a very capitalistic philosophy that Bhagwan and the Rajneeshees identified with. The Antelopeans were certainly that. These were never people that were looking for a handout of any kind. They were people who felt like they were truly from pioneer stock that had transformed the barren landscape into their town, just like the Rajneeshees transformed their barren landscape into their utopia. It was so unique to see the similarities between these groups. But, ultimately, the cultural divide between them was just too far to bridge. That said, as you work your way through Wild Wild Country, it ultimately becomes a story of what happens when two sides don’t do anything toward conflict resolution, or anything along those lines, but rather become further and further entrenched. There’s a whole new element too. I feel like the side that rarely gets talked about is the role that government has in this story. That happens in the later episodes. What is the role of government? Did they do a good job with this, or didn’t they? It was coming right out of Jonestown. I think they were very open about the fact that this was a situation they worried about. Probably justifiably so. The images from Jonestown are terrifying. They would terrify anyone. This was a new terrain for a lot of people.
Antelope residents celebrate the departure of the religious sect from their tiny Oregon town. The sect took over the city council and re-named the city Rajneesh. The Rajneeshees surrendered their control in late 1985 as their commune collapsed.
JZ: Do you see somewhat of a correlation between the Rajneeshees and what we experience now with Scientology?
MW: Yeah. The difference that we found between the Rajneeshees and some of these other cults like Scientology or the Branch Davidians was that the basic tenets of their belief system were more moderate by today’s standards. They believed in meditation. They believed in free love. They believed in wealth. There was no real afterlife. I think where some of the other cults are maybe more religious, this felt more based on Eastern mysticism and spirituality, which are two completely different teachings. But, of course, there are similarities. You start to see the level of devotion among the sannyasins that they had towards the guru. Not that devotion is a bad thing, but you see how devotion can be manipulated into the followers carrying out activities that shouldn’t be done. I think that’s where you start to see similarities. But I think, if you talk to sannyasins, they find the word “cult” offensive. They call themselves a sect, or a religious minority group. I think something that’s also a little bit different than some cults is that you could come and go as a sannyasin. You weren’t forced to live on the ranch. Some people gave all their money, but you weren’t forced to give up all of your money if you wanted to live on the ranch. So it’s a little bit more of a complex debate when it comes to the Rajneeshees of, “Was this a cult? Was it ever a cult? Did it start to turn into a cult?” Even now – how can other Christians use the word “cult” to demonize other groups that don’t believe in their belief systems? There’s not a correct answer to this, but hopefully the series gets people to do some critical thinking on how they feel about these issues.
JZ: When they bussed in the homeless people, some alarm bells went off for me. I thought, “Oh god, are they setting themselves up for Sea Org part of this? Are they going to sequester these people and make them work their asses off?” They treated them well, momentarily. But what they did to them, in drugging them, was painful to watch.
MW: Pretty horrific. Yeah, I think the idea of “cult” in Wild Wild Countryis definitely one of the central questions of the series. Like Chap said, I don’t know if I really have a right or wrong answer; or one that I’m totally confident that I have the right answer for, but I think I feel a couple of things. I don’t think that Sheela or the followers came to Oregon with the intention to poison 750 people or to drug homeless people. But, nevertheless, they did do that! I think most cult stories examine the internal dynamics, and how internally groups turn into cults. I think Wild Wild Countrylooks at external dynamics to see how this group, which ostensibly came to Oregon just as a commune, an agricultural commune, ultimately, by the end, does very much end up looking like a cult. They’re arming themselves, and they’re becoming entrenched in their own way. They’re becoming more and more secluded from the rest of society. I think that’s one of the examinations we look at.
JZ: Obviously Sheela is an incredibly fascinating character. As a woman, I was alternatively horrified and mesmerized by her power. She was the boss and was as much the ruler, so to speak, as Bhagwan. How did you get the interview, and what was it like to spend time with her?
CW: It was early on in the process. As soon as we started watching the archive footage, Sheela was the first character who jumped right off the screen. It became very clear to us early on that she was the person who was running the whole show. If we were going to tell the story, it seemed like it would be crucial to hear from her about it. We had done some pre-interviews with government officials. When we talked to them, before we even met Sheela, they labeled her as pure evil. So, to be honest, we were a little scared. You’re a little nervous when you’re dealing with someone who’s been accused and found guilty of the criminal actions that she undertook. But during our research, we found an email address for these health centers that she runs in Switzerland. We talked to her on the phone. Within a few minutes, it became clear that she felt like she had never really been given an opportunity or a platform to explain her side of the event, how she saw it, or how things unfolded. My wife, Juliana, who’s our producer, and Mac, and I took a couple trips to Switzerland. Before we even interviewed her, we got to know her; we wanted to see what she’s doing today, in modern life. Then we also learned about her time with Bhagwan. By the time we sat down to formally interview her, I think we built a sense of trust and intimacy. “Look, this isn’t going to be an interrogation. This isn’t going to be a ‘Gotcha!’ interview. We want to sit down and have a dialog with you, where you can tell us your version of the events.” Yeah, as a woman, she did talk about being a woman of color, and a minority, as well as being in charge of a political institution like the Rajneeshees in a state that was very male-driven; white male-driven. It was very interesting to hear her perspectives as a female minority, and how she was perceived in eastern Oregon.
JZ: That part was thrilling to watch. It felt almost like, “Is she really more of who people are following, even over Bhagwan?” He’s obviously deceased, so we don’t get to hear from him, but he’s almost sidelined because he takes that vow of silence. Everyone is assuming they’re doing what he wants, but who knows! Sheela could say and do anything she wanted. Do you think Bhagwan was complicit in everything she carried out, or do you think she really took the reins?
MW: I think the fascinating thing about that is that it’s still kind of unknown, even today. There were a couple of taped recordings that were made in the wiretapping system that Sheela set up that recorded conversations between the two of them. But, apparently, either those tapes were destroyed, or the FBI is refusing to release them because the subjects on the recordings did not know that they were being interviewed at the time. I think, in talking to Sheela, what she was telling us is that she feels like she was thrown under the bus a little bit. Maybe she wasn’t given explicit instructions on what to do, but I think she certainly felt like she was doing the right thing in the name of Bhagwan, and the right thing in the name of the community. If you talk to other sannyasins, even to the Federal Government, they said that they have no evidence linking Bhagwan to the poisoning, no evidence linking Bhagwan to the assassination attempts. It really is this complex situation that maybe only Bhagwan and Sheela truly know.
JZ: It was fascinating to see this older, rather subdued woman speaking, and then try to reconcile that lady with the person in the documentary footage who was doing and saying all of these crazy things. I didn’t see the power in her until the very end, the last episode, when she leaned forward and said to the camera, “Don’t forget, you were all there. We were all there on that ranch.” It gave me chills. I wondered, “Is she issuing a threat?” Did you feel that? Was she sending a message to someone?
CW: You know, I think that for Sheela, it was really interesting. We interviewed her for five days. The day of our last interview was a very normal interview day. We went over her background, where she grew up in India, and she talked about her father. But there didn’t seem to be a lot of stake in the story. It was very much, “Hey, this happened 40 years ago. I live a different life now. Thanks for these questions, but it’s just not a part of my life anymore.” It wasn’t until we started showing her some of the older archive footage of the 1000 Friends of Oregon battle and some of the things the Antelopeans had said about her personally. I think watching this footage reignited the fire in her again. The next interview day was almost like interviewing a different person. She came out and wanted to set the record straight about what she felt had happened. This is a woman who has very strong convictions and ideals. They may not be the same convictions and ideals as the audience, but I think the terrifying aspect of this is that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. You talk to a lot of sannyasins, and they felt like, “Look, Sheela was doing the best that she could against government intrusion and all this prejudice and bias.” In our research, we came across letter after letter of death threats that Oregonians had sent into Rajneeshpuram. Fires had been set to their ranch. I think what’s interesting is that you get to see a woman with these incredible ideals building this self-sustaining community who slowly feels like she’s getting pushed back against the wall. As far as the last line, yeah; I think she really feels like they helped build this empire, helped build this entire community, helped create Bhagwan as we know him. And then she felt, “I’m being demoted from the entire community for the actions I did, when we really were all responsible for this experiment that went off the rails.” I think this was her opportunity, even in later years, to fight and punch back for what she believes in.
Sheela proves she has no fears, for better or worse.
JZ: She’s obviously a genius. I was struck by that, as much as the fear of, “Am I watching a sociopath?”
CW: In a lot of true crime stories, that’s such an easy question to answer. I think if you watch Robert Durst in The Jinx, from frame one, you think, “Wow, there’s something really off with this person.” I think the more complex thing about Sheela is that we talked to family members and we interviewed sannyasins who knew her from before, and they all spoke about what a fun, charming, intelligent, precocious, and ambitious woman she was. I think this story is a little more interesting in [asking the question], “Can we lead someone to what we’d call sociopathic or psychopathic behavior?” It was also really interesting to see what she’s doing now, in modern day. Like I said, we went to Switzerland three or four times. Even when we didn’t have cameras there and were just hanging out, it was incredible to see the work and dedication she puts into her patients now. She works incredibly hard. She’s very hands-on; she’s so nurturing to these people with mental illnesses. That’s the complex thing about Sheela. You have to reconcile all these different parts of her personality and walk away with, “What’s your definition of a sociopath, and how do you truly feel about her?”
JZ: Yeah, absolutely. I found it interesting too – because she was so much more present than Bhagwan – that it was hard for me to see what people were following about him versus her. In a way, he wasn’t as present in the story. Having spent so much more time involved in this, did you get a sense of what people were cleaving to so hard that they would give up their lives and, in some ways, their freedom of choice, to go all-in with this person/guru?
MW: Yeah, this was a big question that we constantly talked about. I think a couple of things you mentioned are spot-on. Bhagwan does take a vow of silence, so we set out to tell the story of Rajneeshpuram. Rajneeshpuram was, by and large, just a time period where he wasn’t available for comment, or in the media. That’s reflected in the series. Certainly a power vacuum forms that Sheela fills, and she does become the de facto leader of the commune. Chap and I ended up having a couple of takeaways, as far as their attraction to Bhagwan. One is that it’s very hard to intellectualize their attraction to Bhagwan. I’m not a very spiritual person. I’m not religious in any way. For me, it was almost something you ended up taking at their word, how they felt towards this man. I think a lot of them were saying, “Well, can you intellectualize the way that you feel about your father, or your mom, or a family member?” That was their attraction to him – they loved him almost as a family member. The other thing we ultimately ended up recognizing was that a lot of sannyasins enjoyed their time at the ranch so much because of the sense of family that it gave them with each other; the sense of community. I think that, on some level, we all want to be a part of a community where you find connection with other people, as well as love and respect. I feel like the big part of the appeal of Rajneeshpuram, that was almost outside of their relationship to Bhagwan, was much more about their fellow community members.
JZ: I think because he took that vow of silence, it almost seemed like people were living off of an assumption. It’s very easy to put whatever you want in that blank space. That’s the beauty of it, in some ways. Maybe people were actually praying to themselves, and to their community.
CW: Yeah, exactly. It’s interesting. We’re only about 10 days old on Netflix, so we’ve gotten some really fascinating feedback from sannyasins all over the world. There are just so many other people we hadn’t spoken to. I think sannyasins that still consider themselves followers of the movement have always been hesitant to criticize Bhagwan. They’ve always viewed him as an enlightened master. I mean, a common thing that you’ll hear is that even Rajneeshpuram was just a big device for a lot of sannyasins. It was a device to show them that you can achieve a lot of personal growth through heartache, pain, and trauma. The interesting thing is that, and this is really inside baseball, but I’ve seen some interesting reception where sannyasins, now 30 or 35 years looking back, some are willing to say, “You know what? This was a moment in our movement’s history where we needed guidance from Bhagwan; where we needed him to take a more active role in the community.” Only recently have I been seeing that kind of reception with the disappointment of him taking a vow of silence.
At the center of it all, the guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
JZ: And when he did finally choose to speak, it was not for love or leadership.
MW: Not in a light mode?
JZ: Yeah, it was not in a light mode. It was out of revenge. And that’s the irony; that was his downfall. He was speaking out of revenge, and out of his own ego.
CW: We did interviews that didn’t make the final series, just for time reasons; we had to limit the scope of the series. But we did speak to a couple of people. He was in silence for three and a half or four years. They were expecting him to come out of silence [after Sheela flees the commune] with some sort of grand master plan for their movement, as well as what was going to be happening next with the enlightenment phase. I think it was a bit of a disappointment for a couple of the people that we spoke to. They seemed to be flummoxed by the fact that he was breaking his vow of silence to basically go after Sheela. When we talked to Sheela, she was very devoted to Bhagwan, but she also knows that, “Hey, this is a normal human being. This is a normal man.” She spoke about how he was brokenhearted and hurt [by her actions]. The show does an interesting job of showing those who are devoted to him and feel he’s an enlightened master; but also giving space to those who follow him that understood, “This is just a normal man who puts on his clothes like the rest of us.”
JZ: I’m still torn, even after living in Oregon and being aware of it at the time, and watching it with your documentary now. Was he spiritual, or was it just a shill? Was there that shyster angle going on? Obviously, it not being my religion, I don’t have any room to comment. But do you have a personal opinion on the spirituality of it?
CW: It’s something that Mac and I aren’t very well-versed in. We’re not very well-versed in spirituality, and we’re not very religious people ourselves. I think that’s why we purposefully made a decision not to talk too much about actual teachings early on. We took the followers at their word for why he meant so much to them, and why they were attracted to him. It wasn’t anything that we tried to pass judgment on anyone believing in. Obviously, most people have a wide range of religious beliefs and views on spirituality. We didn’t really feel like it was our place to judge one way or the other, whether he was a con man, like John Silvertooth said in one of the last episodes, or whether he was the master of masters like Swami Prem Niren [Bhagwan’s dedicated lawyer] says right after Silvertooth. We just wanted to give the audience these different perceptions of a man. People are free to do their own research after the series to learn more about him if they want to. We leave that up to the audience.
JZ: I do appreciate the focus you put on just the handful of so-called “talking heads.” Their stories were really compelling as well. And it was great that you did give both sides a chance to speak.
MW: We did a bunch of interviews. I think we have a little bit of a pet peeve in documentary films when you have a ton of talking heads and you don’t get to go on their personal journeys, and don’t get to know them. You’re not as invested in them as people. We called them “talking heads,” but, in a lot of ways, they’re really our cast of characters. They’re our storytellers who are going to be telling our audience the story of Rajneeshpuram, as they see it. I think that everyone we talked to were people who are intelligent, thought-provoking, fascinating individuals. I think we found people with a wide variety of perspectives. Another thing with documentary films we don’t like is those that have talking heads who have studied an issue for a really long time and have a PhD in something. They’re academics who are going to come on screen and give you rock-solid analysis and information. That wasn’t quite the story that we found most interesting to tell. We really wanted to talk to the decision-makers within the commune, the people on the front lines when this war broke out in eastern Oregon: whether they’re Antelope ranchers, neighbors of the ranch, government prosecutors who worked for the state of Oregon, or the United States Federal Government. We wanted the people on all sides, who were making the strong decisions of how this story unfolded. That was our interest, from day one.
JZ: I know there were moments you had to do mixed-media, even though you had a ton of footage. Who did the illustrations for that?
MW: The illustrator’s name is Corey Brickley. I actually found him a few years back, when he did some illustrations for the Huffington Post’s special online magazine called The Highline.He did these really great graphics to accompany their stories. I came across some of his work and reached out to see if he’d have any interest in doing this. I’m really glad he said yes, because I think his illustrations really add a lot to the narrative and the show. I think he’s incredibly talented.
JZ: I’d like to talk about the soundtrack. That’s a huge project you undertook with your brother, Brocker. The music is so evocative and beautiful.
MW: Thank you. I think one of the lucky things about us being brothers is that usually documentary films are completely edited to a temp score once you’ve locked the picture. You basically score the entire movie or show. It happens with a very quick turnaround. That’s how most documentaries work. But because we’re brothers, we were able to work side-by-side, starting on frame one. He’s able to get us music early, and we can tweak it. I think it adds to these customized scores that you don’t get to hear a lot in documentaries. A lot of documentary scores sound the same. But we spent a lot of time creating three different sonic palettes for the show. One of the sonic palettes is more of the Nick Cave sound. It’s got the acoustic guitars and represents the Antelope sound; the Western feel. Then we were able to do this electronic, Trent Reznor-y palette [to represent] the legal battles and the Federal Government. The third sonic palette we created was these strings, flutes, and woodwinds to represent this mythical journey that the Rajneeshees went on. I think it really helped elevate the entire viewing experience, to be able to give the series special attention and thought.
JZ: It absolutely did. It’s beautiful, and it really stood out. Have you thought about going on tour at all?
MW: We haven’t. My brother and I released an album in 2008, and then we haven’t released another one since. We’ve been talking to a couple of labels about releasing the score and soundtrack. We had a great music supervisor, Chris Swanson, who runs a lot of independent record labels. He was instrumental in creating some incredible music from Bill Callahan [from Smog], Damien Jurado, and Kevin Morby. He was also huge in helping with the sonic texture of the series.
Brocker Way, in the studio.
JZ: It would be fun to see that played out live, because the music is so engaging.
MW: Yeah, it would be fun. Paul Thomas Anderson will do these orchestral shows every once in a while. He’ll get an orchestra to play a live show. Maybe we’ll do that. Maybe we can get enough Portland musicians to band together and do a live orchestral screening.
JZ: I think you absolutely could! How did you meet the Duplass brothers [Mark and Jay], and what was their involvement?
MW: We met the Duplass brothers through our executive producer, Josh Braun, who’s also a sales agent within the independent documentary world. He’s done a lot of documentaries that have won Oscars. He’s known as a real tastemaker. He’s also sold a lot of Mark and Jay’s independent films over the years. We [were made aware of him] when we started conceiving this as a big six-episode series. We realized that it would really help to bring on some big executive producers with experience and brand recognition. We made a 10-minute teaser four years ago that we showed them [Mark and Jay]; they absolutely flipped for it and loved it. They loved it for all the right reasons. They loved the story, and the complexity of it. They were huge cheerleaders for us, as far as getting distributors interested and helping us see this all the way through to the end.
Maclain Way, Chapman Way, and Mark Duplass.
JZ: That’s wonderful! Those are great people to have on your side. The Duplass brothers have done amazing work, and you are on your way as well. That’s really cool.
CW: It’s exciting. It’s fun, because it’s a family project. My wife, Juliana, is the on-the-ground producer who does all the work and gets the show going. We feel really fortunate that we get to work with each other.
JZ: I know you just finished this and you deserve to bask in your success, but what’s next for you?
MW: This was our first long-form documentary series. Although we told everyone that we knew exactly what we were doing, the truth was that we were in uncharted territory. The good news is that we loved that larger canvas. In some ways, it’s harder, because it’s more work; but, in other ways, it’s actually much easier. If we had to tell the story of the Rajneeshees in a feature-length documentary, I think it would almost take as long to make, because you’re editing down so much rather than being given a six-and-a-half-hour canvas to tell the story. I can answer your question and say that we are definitely interested in doing another documentary series. We have a couple ideas that we’re currently circling right now. I still have to get some of the characters on board, so we’re not talking about it until that happens; but we definitely want to stay in the documentary series world. We’re totally excited by the format.
JZ: It’s stunning work, and I want to congratulate you both. It was incredible to watch. The series is so compelling, and I cannot wait to see what you do next. It’s been really great to talk with you guys.
MW: Thank you so much for the interview. We really appreciate how deeply you engaged with the material. It always shows, and we love to hear that.
CW: It was a really fun conversation. Thank you so much!
[Jenna Zine would like to thank Chapman & Maclain Way for their time, Adam Kersh from Brigade Marketing for arranging the interview, Larry Crane for his support, and Thomas Danner for the stellar transcription services.]