Dig!, a documentary about two bands – The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols – is a musical trainwreck, equal parts romantic comedy and horror film that follows the highs and lows of being a musician, in the studio, on the road and in their own heads.
The film, which launched at Sundance in 2004 and is returning to the festival this year with an extended cut, is a favorite among the musical class. I’ve sat in countless tour vans and crappy motels where it’s watched, quoted and dissected by kids with a dream and a drumkit.
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Dave Grohl, the legendary Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman, told me that it’s a “f*cking masterpiece” and that it’s also his favorite horror film.
“Watching a documentary like Dig!, seeing these two bands fall in love with each other, which happens often. You find your brother band, your sister band, you become a tribe, your big family. It’s not often that it goes as far south as it did in the movie Dig!,” he told me. “My God, what a f*cking meltdown. This is a movie that should be shown to the next generation of musicians to warn them that these things can happen. God, I love that f*cking movie,” he told me.
Jonah Hill is also a big fan. He highlighted its “Shakespearian” undertone. “It’s an example of how great storytelling can get you unbelievably engaged, whether you have any connection to the world of the film or not,” he told Le Cinéma Club. “For me, this film is as important among docs as Goodfellas is among narrative features.”
It wasn’t an easy make, though. Ondi Timoner, who directed and produced it, and her brother David Timoner, who produced it, spent eight years making the film between 1996 and 2003, having initially pitched it as The Cut, the story of 10 unsigned bands trying to make it.
But after discovering The Brian Jonestown Massacre, with their tortured leader Anton Newcombe and tambourine player-turned-comic straight man Joel Gion, and later their “sister” band The Dandy Warhols, whose lead singer Courtney Taylor recognizes Newcombe’s unconventional genius before becoming more commercially successful, there was no need to follow any other bands.
The movie dissects the duo’s star-crossed friendship and bitter rivalry from sitar-smashing gigs, drug arrests, death threats and drugs, a lot of drugs.
Dig! XX, returning to Sundance 20 years after its initial launch, adds 40 minutes of footage including more chaotic shows, loving moments between the pair and plenty of cultural context (including a surprising Gilmore Girls pastiche).
“Being one of eight films over the last 40 years invited to play Sundance, is such an honor. It feels like a return home for the film. This is the right place to launch our 20th anniversary film,” Ondi Timoner told Deadline.
There’s more context about that infamous fight (see video below) at the Viper Room (“you broke my sitar, motherf*cker”); the firing of original manager Dave Deresinski; a tender moment between Anton and his girlfriend, actress/fashion designer Tara Subkoff; as well as Eric Hedford’s response to Taylor after quitting The Dandy Warhols.
It’s also been digitally enhanced, remixed, and remastered, even if some of those in the film haven’t.
At Sundance, it’s also one of eight films to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the festival, alongside films including Napoleon Dynamite, Three Seasons, The Babadook and The Times of Harvey Milk, but is the only one with a new version.
There will also be in-person appearances from a number of people from the bands and the film including BJM’s Gion and Miranda Lee Richards and The Dandy Warhols’ Zia McCabe and Hedford.
Deadline spoke with Ondi and David Timoner, who run Interloper Films, ahead of Sundance about the film, which includes new narration from BJM’s Gion, why they revisited it, the possibility of even more Dig! in the future (thanks to the 2,500 hours of footage shot), plans to sell the movie again at the festival, and why Harry Dean Stanton showed up to a party at the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s party palace.
DEADLINE: I have seen Dig! dozens of times. When I used to manage punk rock bands, it was like their Spinal Tap. So, 20 years on, what made you want to revisit it and put together an extended version of the film?
ONDI TIMONER: Well, the tapes weren’t getting any younger. The premiere was 20 years ago at Sundance and the tapes are 27 years old, beginning at Anton’s birthday from August 29 1996. People over the years have said ‘Will you make Dig! 2?’ and I was like, ‘I’m busy with other new stories’. The next question would always be well, then can you at least release some more footage because we just want to see more of this from the 2,500 hours that you have. I just could never get around to it. Then David prompted this one because he said ‘I’ll edit this one, you edited the first one’. That made it possible. It’s now or never, it’s the 20th anniversary, let’s see what we’ve got. Some kids came to town and just dug into our archives for us. We then said, ‘What scenes could use context? What are incredible scenes, like the Viper Room, which are beloved scenes, that have more to them so the audience can understand why they happened’. With the impact of Dig! over these 20 years, it’s so fun to play with the period, being honored on Gilmore Girls word for word.
DEADLINE: I had no idea it had been used on Gilmore Girls.
DAVID TIMONER: My daughter who was an infant at the original Dig!, we literally brought her in the snugly to Sundance [when she was] 2 months old, she became obsessed with Gilmore Girls. She was watching one time and I said ‘Oh my God, there’s Joel [Gion] on my TV’. I didn’t know about it, either. I’d heard like rumors at some point, but I’d forgotten. It was a no brainer, I said to Ondi, ‘We have to cut to Gilmore Girls, this is amazing’. It was really cool to fill in the blanks on just what was precipitating the fight. It’s sort of referenced in the original one, but in this one, we got Joel’s voiceover to really explain where the tension was at that moment.
DEADLINE: How much footage did you actually shoot?
ONDI TIMONER: It’s 2,500 hours, roughly. That’s why [it] is as powerful and stands the test of time as [it does] because I think audiences really love to be able to follow an unfolding suspense driven story. If it’s real, and it’s crazier than anything you could ever write, then all the better. In this case, it’s like this anthem for artists that everyone seems to be able to relate to. It’s on every tour bus and every musician on Earth, filmmaker and any kind of artists relates to it even if I hope you haven’t lived as insane.
DEADLINE: I’ve heard you say that you originally had a 12-hour cut and then a five-hour cut. Did you ever think that maybe you could do it over five or six hours as a series?
ONDI TIMONER: That was exactly we said when we got the Grand Jury Prize [at Sundance]. We were in New York, the Museum of Modern Art was buying it for the permanent collection, we’re premiering at Lincoln Center and I’m called into VH1. They asked me what I wanted to do next and I said I’ve got 32 episodes of Dig!. We’ve written out 32 episodes, Dig! is like an accordion. They could not wrap their heads around it, they asked what other musicians did we want to cover. They said ‘You can’t make a series after you make a film?’ I said ‘Why not?’. We’d still be open to doing that. We also feel like we could do a scripted version.
DAVID TIMONER: You know that [Netflix] animated show The Midnight Gospel? We’ve been talking to Joel about doing a hybrid thing where we go into these kind of animated interludes, because some of his writing is so incredible.
ONDI TIMONER: It was actually David reading some of Joel’s writing on Patreon and then sending it over to me and I listened to it. Then we were both like, ‘What if Joel narrated this news version?’
DAVID TIMONER: When people ask about the film and why those bands, at the very beginning, when we were filming with them 24/7, we really thought they were the greatest band ever.
ONDI TIMONER: It started with ten bands because we were determined to look at the collision of art and commerce. Then I heard the music of the Brian Jonestown at a friend’s house and I thought it was some band from the ‘60s that I missed. My friend said ‘No, they’re alive and well and playing in San Francisco’. Our sister was having a celebration of love in Golden Gate Park that same weekend so David and I rode up there and that’s when we went to go meet Anton, thinking we’ll just put this band in our project called The Cut. Two weeks later they came down to play The Viper Room so when you see that backyard footage, we were just getting to know them. The premise of The Cut was bands on the verge of getting signed and we could track a band that’s unsigned and the music’s really good. Meeting Anton, with him being like ‘I’m the letter writer and they’re the postmen and record companies are like mafia’ and now getting to include that hilarious Hootie and the Blowfish line, this guy is so much more intense and brave than these bands that we were following in LA, which were kind of cowering in the shadows of the industry but they’re still trying to go to those lunches to get signed but this guy doesn’t care, he’s not going to do it on their terms. The morning after the Viper Room, he was like ‘Forget about all of those other bands, we’re taking over this documentary’.
DEADLINE: When did you realize that you didn’t need to follow those other bands?
ONDI TIMONER: I think it was within the next within the next four or five months.
DAVID TIMONER: It was just it was a gradual thing. It wasn’t like we woke up one morning, we’re like, well, that’s over.
ONDI TIMONER: I didn’t believe [Anton]. I said, ‘Well, I will go meet The Dandy Warhols. That sounds like a good idea, because we didn’t have a band that had been signed yet and they had just been signed to Capitol. But then we go up there and Courtney’s like ‘I sneeze and hits come out’. I thought ‘Oh, my God, this band is also crazy’, but so cozy and way more pragmatic.
DEADLINE: Of course, they were the most well-adjusted band in America.
DAVID TIMONER: Exactly, they’re the perfect foil for the least well adjusted band in America,
DEADLINE: Courtney Taylor obviously did the voiceover for Dig! Joel is a fascinating character but what made you think this would work for Dig! XX?
DAVID TIMONER: So much of the scenes that we wanted to expand and enhance were inside the Brian Jonestown Massacre, so there was no way Courtney could get in and explain these inner dynamics. But Joel could explain what was actually happening in the backyard before the Viper Room show.
ONDI TIMONER: He could write what we needed narratively in and out of scenes. Then we got on these hilarious, endless Zooms with Joel, where we caught up and riffed and the three of us wrote it together. Joel told us things that we didn’t know. For instance, Joel told us that Matt had a knife when Anton bit him. Then we thought we should freeze that and add that so we ended up evolving the cut together.
DEADLINE: On the one hand, he plays the tambourine, but on the other hand, he’s like the foil to Anton. How do you explain Joel’s role?
DAVID TIMONER: He’s the glue. He holds it together.
ONDI TIMONER: He keeps Anton sane, he regulates Anton in a way that no one can. He’s constantly putting himself, like you see in the Atlanta hotel room, between Anton and other people.
DEADLINE: How does Joel achieve that where lots of other people can’t?
ONDI TIMONER: As Joel says that the end of the film, writing kept him sane through all of it. Joel is such a cinephile, and such a natural storyteller that he was able to have a critical distance at the same time that he was right in the muck with everyone else. He’s told us that our presence there really helped him to maintain his sanity over those years. Because when we would show up, it was all for something else, there was going to be this great film that emerged from it. He believed in us to do that. He, in turn, made the film so much better, he provides all the comic relief pretty much besides whatever Anton is doing that’s so over the top, or Courtney being hilarious about Anton. Joel provides 75% of the humor.
DAVID TIMONER: He laughs at the situation. It goes back to what Courtney says, ‘If it’s not fun, it’s funny’. He shows Anton, like, chill man, this is awful but it’s also kind of funny. He gives that perspective more.
ONDI TIMONER: There’s a scene that we took out from this version of them playing The Doll Hut in Anaheim, California – everything in this version had to rise to a certain level of greatness and this was just short of that – where there’s this beautiful moment where you see Joel take Anton aside and say ‘You don’t need to be worked up right now’. You see that he’s his brother, he’s his guardian angel.
DEADLINE: In Dig! XX, there’s some beautiful new moments between Anton and Courtney and how Courtney still thinks this man is a genius.
ONDI TIMONER: That’s the best thing about Courtney, many people will say Courtney’s a narcissist but he’s not afraid to admit that he thinks Anton is better. It’s really generous and wonderful. It was really fun working with Courtney on the original version. It’s too bad that he’s come to find that the film is compromising. His manager explained to me that he tries to tell Courtney that it’s a double-edged sword.
When the movie happened, he thought it was the most amazing thing, he stopped in LA on his way back from Europe to narrate it, then he took out the Paramount Theater on its release and had a sold out screening for all his friends. He was really into it. Five years later I was in Melbourne, Australia with We Live In Public and I saw a Google alert on my name that said Courtney Taylor Taylor – he’d added a second Taylor by then – comes out against Dig! How do you come out against a film that you narrated and participated in and loved? I think it’s hard to be locked in a certain time in your life. At that point, he was so enthusiastic and jumping around in his blue underwear – every time I see that scene I think this is why Courtney has an issue with Dig!. It locks him in this time of being this naive, young, bushy-tailed musician who is experiencing success for the first time and it doesn’t allow him to be 20 years older and have this mystique. If you look at The Dandy Warhols performances, there’s this light from above that shines down on them and he wants to have that kind of mystique and you can’t have it if you’ve been the star of Dig!
Simultaneously they’ve benefited greatly over the years, obviously. Every time they want the audience to get up, they play a Dig! song and they can play the Wiltern, with 5,000 people, even if they haven’t sold any records lately. They have this career security forever too. They’re a great band, don’t get me wrong, but it has helped both of their careers.
DEADLINE: Did you speak to Courtney or any other members of The Dandy Warhols about this version?
ONDI TIMONER: We have some of them coming [to Sundance]. Eric’s coming.
DAVID TIMONER: I feel like Zia realizes the history of it and wants to support it. I spoke with Peter, he was friendly with me.
ONDI TIMONER: I think they’ll come around because they look so good. Courtney’s gorgeous in this film and so is Anton. They’re frozen in time in this enthusiastic, naive place in their lives, but they’re also memorialized forever.
DEADLINE: Anton has always seemed to have reservations about the film, but similarly I see him promoting the movie. What’s his take?
ONDI TIMONER: Anton saw a cut ahead of time, we showed it to him privately. He laughed his way through it. I asked him, ‘Do you have any changes?’ He said, ‘No, I have no changes’. Then he came out against the film right off the bat. I’m friends with all of his ex-girlfriends and they all have the same, but slightly different opinions as to why and the main reason, like Sarahbeth Tucek says in the film, ‘He’s like a shark that needs to swim against the current’. He can’t come out and be like, ‘I love this film’, but he reposts stuff [about the film]. Another girlfriend says he writes every song, plays every instrument, he is the Brian Jonestown. How can you come along and make something about him that’s as big or bigger than what he’s doing, that doesn’t sit well either.
DEADLINE: When did you last speak with him?
ONDI TIMONER: Backstage at the Wiltern, many years ago, he looked at me and said ‘Ondi and I don’t talk anymore’. They kept playing the Wiltern on Mother’s Day and friends of mine would invite me to go, and I’d sit there and feel like I’m their mother, in a weird way.
DAVID TIMONER: When the new cut was coming together, he was not in a place to be talking to him.
ONDI TIMONER: We were going to but he’s not available these days. I’m sure he’s going to come out of hiding and see all of this and it’s going to be quite interesting to see his reaction, I suppose. But I can kind of predict it now.
DAVID TIMONER: My wife would always bump into him around LA before the original film was done and he’d ask ‘When’s Ondi going to finish that film,’ he was desperate for Dig! to get made.
ONDI TIMONER: As you see in the new cut, he says Ondi and David were making a film about how beautiful and ugly people are at the same people. That’s an ad. He also said ‘We’re going to show in this movie, that you can do all the drugs in the world if you want, but it’s going to f*ck your life up. That’s what this movie is going to show.’ And that’s what the movie shows.
DEADLINE: Has your relationship with the movie changed over the last 20 years?
ONDI TIMONER: My son was born the week I finished the film. That was no coincidence. I really didn’t want to bring this rock saga and Anton screaming at people into motherhood, I couldn’t figure out how to become a mother and do those two things at the same time. But when he was crawling, we were in John Sloss’ office in New York and my son saw a poster of Dig! framed on the ground and he said, ‘My brother’. I was like ‘That’s not your brother’ but in a way it is, it feels like his cinematic brother. Dig! was a lot harder to birth than my child. It’s the gift that keeps giving. When We Live In Public comes around and I have Sigur Ros Jamiroquai, Spoon, Nine Inch Nails, David Bowie, Jane’s Addiction on the soundtrack, that’s insane. It’s a million dollar soundtrack and we bring it in for under $100,000 to fit in our doc budget and why? It’s because everybody loves Dig! and they were like this is from Ondi, and we’ll take a look at it and they loved the movie and waved their sync [fee]. Perry Farrell called me up; he’d put Dig! on to take a nap and then he couldn’t sleep so he asked if I’d film Lollapalooza.
Did you compare this version to the original?
DEADLINE: I did; I own a DVD of the original, largely because I’m scared it will be deleted from the internet at some point.
ONDI TIMONER: It’s like Trader Joe’s canceling your favorite food. The amount of people that have written to us on Instagram asking about the DVD release… you’re not alone. I’m thinking ‘Is that common?’ Everyone seems to want a physical copy.
DEADLINE: What’s the plan in terms of distribution? Are you selling it at Sundance?
ONDI TIMONER: This is just the beginning, we’re selling. We’re presenting it there and we’re privately talking to a number of buyers. I just was on the phone with a UK distributor who wants it and there’s an Australian distributor who wants it and the original Australian distributor wants it. Our original U.S. distributor was Palm Pictures, rest in peace, so we have the rights back as of 15 years after the release. If we don’t decide that those deals are appealing or that they don’t fit what we envision what we really want to do is at least a one night only theatrical tour with the film and we feel like we have so many luminaries that are fans. We will definitely be visiting your town and we will definitely be having ambassadors to the film that are musicians or artists or people like Jonah Hill, who’s says it’s his favorite documentary. We know that Iggy Pop loves the film, Kurt Vile would love to host a screening, I’m talking to Dave Grohl. It’ll be really cool to see all the fun things we can do as we roll this out.
DEADLINE: How the hell did Harry Dean Stanton end up at a party at the Brian Jonestown house?
DAVID TIMONER: He was friends with Michael Been, who was like a quasi-dad to [BJM member] Peter Hayes, who is in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with Michael Been’s son. That was after a gig at Spaceland and they just came back to the party.
DEADLINE: David LaChapelle is in the movie, as he was directing a video for The Dandy Warhols. Weren’t you working with him on other projects as well?
ONDI TIMONER: We ended up in David’s vortex pretty heavily.
DAVID TIMONER: We wrote a screenplay with him.
ONDI TIMONER: Boys Don’t Cry came out and [our film] was sort of a trans love story set as a musical and it was eclipsed by that movie. But I have this amazing documentary footage, it’s the only movie from my 20s that I haven’t competed.
DEADLINE: Have you ever thought about doing something with it?
ONDI TIMONER: I’d love to. I talked to LaChapelle about it a few years back, we reunited and I showed him some of the footage in the studio and he was very into it. But then he didn’t pursue it and I don’t know why. I wrote him about it after and he just dodged the subject. I don’t know if he’s just not ready yet in his career, but then I got swept up. And I’ve just, I’m involved in several films right now. We just had The New Americans drop on Netflix on January 1, which I made at the same time as Last Flight Home, so I kind of had my hands full the last few years. But I’m super open to finishing it.
DEADLINE: Were the music rights complicated? I know you couldn’t use the music from BJM’s Strung Out In Heaven, because it was owned by TVT.
ONDI TIMONER: We had to recut after Sundance to take [the TVT] songs out because [TVT boss Steve Gottlieb] said ‘I’ll let you use the songs from that album’ but he wanted a third or a half of the films’ proceeds for the songs and I was thought Anton’s so prolific I don’t need to use your songs.
Everybody [else] was super on board then and we cleared everything in perpetuity. What we did carefully with this version is not add any anything. We didn’t add any songs that weren’t in the film originally. We did add a really cool scene in the studio watching Anton put together an album, which I think will be something people will love.
DEADLINE: The film has a lovely new ending, which I won’t give away. But looking back 20 years ago, did you ever expect that to happen?
ONDI TIMONER: I was as young as they were, or even a little younger, and I didn’t have that kind of perspective to see what would happen. I was sure that Brian Jonestown would go on in some fashion. But the bands were really pretty separated at that point. I wouldn’t think that Anton would be able to have the love that he showed at the end. I think Courtney would always be like, come over here a little buddy.
DAVID TIMONER: I didn’t surprise me at all. Back then, Anton, three months apart could be a completely different person; he could be really cool or he could be like the biggest dick ever. If you get them on the right day, there’s a hug for you, if you get him on the wrong day, there’s a fist.
ONDI TIMONER: I’m waiting for my thank-you note, it’s been 20 years now.
2024 Sundance Film Festival Schedule:
Friday, January 19 at 8:30 PM at Broadway Cinemas Centre 3, Salt Lake City
P&I SCREENING – Tuesday, January 23 8:30 AM at Holiday 1, Park City
PREMIERE – Tuesday, January 23 at 8:30 PM at Library Center Theater, Park City
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