I always tell my kids that you learn more from failure than from success. Therefore don’t let the fear of failure keep you from chasing your dreams. In order for me to keep learning, I try to fail a couple times per day. It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up. Another great proverb that reminds us that we have a choice to stay down and be a victim of circumstance or we can get up, dust our self off and be a stronger person for it.
Life was never suppose to be easy but it is suppose to be worth it. It’s sometimes difficult to see the best in life unless you’ve almost lost it all. To know that the light was going out and your life was fading into obscurity can be all the reason you need to be scared enough into fighting for it back. I am referring to redemption stories and the people behind them. They’ve come out the other end of something so horrible, their new self has been changed forever. Because they made the choice to no longer be a victim, they are now the inspiration for so many more.
I watched the documentary about the rebirth of Richard Glen Lett; a comedian that lost it all and came back a better man with a purpose. I managed to catch up with filmmaker Roy Tighe in LA to discuss the film.
“What was it about Richard that spurred your interest in making him the subject of your documentary?”
“I never set out to make a documentary nor did I have aspirations of being a documentary filmmaker; I’m currently working on a set as an actor, so I kind of go with what’s in front of me. When I first came to Vancouver, I attended film school but unfortunately it didn’t really work out for me so I left but I knew I still wanted to tell stories and find my place in the film industry. I started working in standup comedy and immediately heard about Richard Glenn Lett. He was a headliner and performed at all the clubs. As a young new comedian, I looked up to guys like him and had hoped to someday reach the same level of success. Richard doesn’t know this story but years ago he was headlining/hosting amateur night at Yuk Yuk’s and after my act he came up to me and said, Good show kid. It made me feel so good. I couldn’t believe he thought I was funny and was laughing at my jokes. As time went on however, I realized it wasn’t for me. Comedians like Richard are in the daily grind of it and performing in some of the worst places. The reality of what it takes to be a great comedian sunk in and burst the fantasy I had about it. It’s really quite grueling and they have to work very hard at it. I found out it wasn’t the creative outlook I was looking for. I later took out a loan, bought a good camera and started filming my own projects. Richard and I had a mutual friend in Danny Mendelo ,who I contacted to ask if Richard would be interested in playing a character in a webseries I was shooting. At the time Richard was actually looking for someone to tape his one-man show, Never Be Done. As soon as we met we got along. We related on a lot of levels, we talked about the arts and I began to see a lot of depth to him. He plays piano, writes poetry, tells jokes and is very open to sharing intimate stories. Richard had talked me through how he wanted the taping to go. I was to tape his act and then go back stage afterwards to interview him about his personal life and so on. I agreed to it all and showed up early with my camera. The owner spotted me and asked what I was doing there with a camera. I told him about Richard’s idea and he immediately became upset. Richard came in shortly after and the two of them got into a heated argument. We were both kicked out of the club and were standing outside when I suggested that we start taping. Richard began reciting some slam poetry and that is where the documentary begins. The next day I called Richard and told him I’d like to come over later and do some more taping. He had agreed and I went over with my DP Graeme Morgan. Richard loved the camera on him, he loved the attention. It was pretty obvious he thought he was more famous than he really was. His reality was quite different from the rest. We went to a club later that night and taped his standup routine. When I look back at the documentary, I realize that this story was bigger than the both of us. My gut kept telling me to stick with it and I’m so grateful I did.”
“You’ve documented approx. 8-10 years of Richards life. What was it that kept you following him and his journey and did you know he would find sobriety?”
“I knew there was something happening to this man. When he became homeless and had to stay in a shelter I knew we had something truly authentic; he had hit rock bottom but I also felt like there was hope for him and that Richard wanted to change. I wanted to keep following that.”
“How long did it take to go through all the footage to find the ilm?
“After I had finished filming I moved to LA to live out my dreams. I was going through some personal growth and lived my first year pretty secluded with 800 hours of footage. Out of that I was only able to edit 46 minutes worth. It was taking a toll on me and I didn’t know where to go with it or how to make it. I wasn’t there as a filmmaker yet and it just wasn’t time. I always believe there’s a process in life and I try to stay open to it. It happened one day when I was working at a computer store for 10.00 an hour. I was 31 and had taken a break on editing the footage and was already working on another film with a friend called Where’s Berry. One day this guy came in and we started talking about editing. We both knew a lot about it and formed a good friendship. He told me his name was Bud Smith. I’m a technical guy and when I went home I googled his name. This man had edited some of my favourite childhood films. He was nominated for the Exorcist, for Flashdance and an executive at Universal. We developed a great friendship and one day he asked how the edit was coming on Where’s Berry? When I told him I was almost done he said he wanted to see it when it was finished. I left my job early that day to go home and finish editing it. He invited me down to his studio to watch it and we just clicked. He started teaching me things and helped me craft it. His son is also a very established editor and they both taught me and helped me to craft Where’s Berry. They really changed my life, those guys. One day Scott (Bud’s son) came to see if I needed help with anything. I told him about the documentary I was struggling with. He asked for the 46 min’s I had edited. He had a week off and spent it working on my film until he had three 10 min segments. He said he liked Richard and that he knew that guy and wanted to help me finish it. In that time Richard had a new one man show called Sober But Never Clean he was performing in Vancouver and it was about to perform his last show so I jumped on a plane to come film it. That became the ending of the documentary. It was finally the right time, where Richard had reached that place of becoming a better man. Once I returned to my editing studio I couldn’t afford Scott’s rates but I was in a better financial position to pay an editor that had been working for me on some commercials. I paid him throughout the year until it was done. During the process we stripped it down to the bare bones to find the story arcs and structured it around experience, strength and hope. It was so humbling to have it finished and I had my first screening. It was emotional for me and I had turned to my girlfriend to say that I wasn’t sure if the film would ever find its audience or ever go anywhere but that something much bigger than the film had happened and I had accepted that it’s okay. The film represents the end of the old Richard, the end of the Sober But Never Clean show and possibly the end of my documentary film career. I may never make another movie again because I feel complete. I don’t know where the rest of my life will go but it’s an experience I’ll have for the rest of my life. I felt morally obligated to finish making the film. It all unfolded before me with working at that computer store and meeting Bud and Scott who had helped me start the edit. It all happened organically and the way it was suppose to.”
“What does Richards sobriety mean to you?”
“To me, it means that hope is the only thing that’s real and that although life can be difficult anything can be overcome. Richard showed me that holding onto hope is so important.”
“What would you say is the biggest message in this documentary?”
“It’s definitely hope. You don’t have to live in it but making it real like Richard did, is the message.”
“Would you say that the support of his girlfriend and daughter played a role in his hope/strength?”
“Absolutely, it would be interesting to get his daughters perspective on all of it. Richard had gone through a major change and I still feel like there’s room for growth in his relationship with his daughter. She’s gotten to see something that not every child gets to see and that can be used to stay a victim but his daughter Brianna didn’t. I found it very important to show how she chose not to become a victim of her dad’s circumstances. Richard’s behavior and attitude was capable of not just killing him but others around him. Maybe not in the physical sense but in the spiritual sense. It’s the spiritual principles that impact you. It’s not the going to work to make money.”
“I think that Richards perception of love was skewed. I believe his perception was attention and fame. That’s changed dramatically and now loves himself and can allow himself to be flawed. I think he’s still going through that process and seeing what that looks like. What love does he have for himself and what does he have for others? He was in love with himself in the beginning of the film, but in the wrong way. I really wanted to show people that struggling with addiction is real and the process of coming through the other end and what that takes.”
This was a remarkable documentary in the sense that you have a front seat to a train wreck but at the end of the line the driver became the best version of himself and everyone on the train survived.
Never Be Done will be screening at the Whistler Film Festival. I hope you take the time to go watch it if you happen to be attending it. I for one will be spreading the word.