I think it can be said all films have an unexpected Genesis, an unlikely, improbable trajectory. I, Whiskey was no exception.
In the feverish wake of the post-I, Pencil euphoria, an ally proposed I, Whiskey as the next installment. The suggestion met with admiration, and a consensus of, “Of course, I, Whiskey! Brilliant idea!” Followed by much toasting. Those were heady days.
Whiskey! Spirits! No one had marveled at pencils, but spirits, absolutely! Capturing awe would be effortless. The story and all the necessary reverence seemed ready-made.
This was gonna be easy.
Reality dawned. I stared down at the sheet of paper before me, on which I had written the prompt, “How do you tell a story about capitalism, without telling a story about capitalism?” I was not adapting a beloved essay. I, Pencil has no chapter two. I am not Leonard Read. I was conjuring a sequel he never imagined. There was nothing to do but write. If there is a bleaker place to find oneself, I know not.
What could this film say that I, Pencil hadn’t said better? What story was that, anyway? Would that story be enough? All I had was a title, what the hell was going to happen next?
This was not gonna be easy.
How did our title find a story?
One afternoon, we stopped by Fred Smith’s office to say “Hi.”
At the time, he was talking about another film entirely—a new, improved I, Pencil, the sequel! He’d spoken of it before. I wanted to make his film. Fred possesses a quality that leaves you slightly devastated when you can’t make his wishes reality.
As he pounded his desk metaphorically (or literally, I don’t remember), I let myself be present, and overcome by the swirl of his ideas. (We’ve all been there.) I listened.
“This film will be about people. Relationships.” This was, he insisted, what was actually important. “Relationships are the byproduct of capitalism, the best byproduct.” Driving home, I scribbled down Fred’s ideas, desperately hoping I’d found a place to start.
Writing a documentary shooting script is tremendous fun. You simply imagine who you will film, and what they will say—in this case about whiskey. Making it, selling it, collecting it, researching it. Pretending is fun. How our director took that script and got those answers remains an unknown alchemy.
Obviously Fred needed a cameo – but Fred doesn’t do mere cameos. Fred does lengthy tangential treatises followed by meandering manifestos. My brilliant idea swiftly met with reality-based reluctance. I wrote it anyway. Filmmaking is an act of faith.
Fred can combine whiskey with sacredness and make you believe it. This is how he fights our—everyone’s—jadedness. He insists every single minute on un-jadedness. Thank you Fred.
During his cameo, capitalism is spiritual, underscoring and elevating our lives. This is its beauty.
Supply and demand create relationships in our lives, which give the products we produce and consume meaning.
There’s more to whiskey than what’s in the glass.