This morning, the board of directors for Colorado's Economic Development Commission approved a rebate of $300,000 for Freak Power, a movie about writer Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo 1970 run for sheriff of Pitkin County, to be written and directed by Bobby Kennedy III, grandson of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
Kennedy, who splits his residency between Aspen and Los Angeles, was at the board's meeting in the company of Colorado Film Commissioner Donald Zuckerman, who recently spoke at length to Westword on the topic of how Colorado can stop losing movies to other states, and several members of the film office's staff.
Here's how the 32-year-old Kennedy pitched the movie to the board.
"It was just before he got famous for writing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," Kennedy said of Thompson, who lived in Woody Creek, near Aspen. "He was broke, and the IRS had sent him a notice of intent of forfeit, of seizure. And then they started building this big slap heap bordering his property and he sort of took action. He decided to run a local lawyer [Joe Edward] for mayor. But when this guy wasn't getting any traction, he decided to run himself for sheriff. An article he wrote ended up being published in Rolling Stone and created a massive backlash among the community, and he ended up losing by one vote."
Added Kennedy, "It's sort of this ridiculous small-town political story. It's got a lot of issues, and it's kind of a parable for American politics writ large right now. I think it's going to get people really pumped up about local politics — especially people from my generation, who are kind of cut out from that right now. I just really want to motivate a lot of young twenty- and thirty-year-olds to get back to voting and running for office. That's sort of the goal of this film. It's funny, it's kind of wild, but a lot of people really put their hearts into that election, and I don't want this movement in Colorado forgotten forever. I think we're right on the verge of losing it, so I think this is the perfect time to bring it back."
After this description of the project, boardmembers asked Kennedy about his background in filmmaking. He pointed out that he wrote a 2013 film called AmeriQua based on his experience of being broke in Italy during his younger days — but he skipped mentioning that he stars in the film alongside such notables as Alec Baldwin, Catherine Mary Stewart, Jeanene Fox and Giancarlo Giannini. (The film was subsequently retitled EuroTrapped, and Kennedy thinks it's still running on Netflix.) On top of that, he went on, "I've done a couple of docs, mostly environmentally themed stuff. There are a lot of environmental themes in this movie as well, along with some themes with policing. It's very odd, but history does seem to be repeating itself 45 years later."
He also shared a personal encounter with Thompson, revealing that "I visited Hunter in Woody Creek when I was twelve. He was trying to remodel, so he'd stuck a lot of little pieces of explosives on his living room wall, and he tipped over this couch that he had. He had, like, a .44 there, and he brought me in and we hid behind the couch and then tried to nail those things." After the boardmembers burst into laughter, he acknowledged that "I've got a few good Hunter stories."
That was enough for the board. Member Dick Monfort, owner of the Colorado Rockies, voted for approval of the rebate, and it was quickly seconded. The allotted $300,000 is good for up to a 20 percent rebate on what the production spends in Colorado. At present, the movie is budgeted for $1.85 million, although Kennedy says that total could fluctuate depending on who is cast as Thompson; more about that later. The payroll is estimated at $725,000 in Colorado, with plans to hire 73 crew members and 100 folks for the cast — extras and actors with small roles. Approximately 93 percent of those hired for the production are anticipated to be Coloradans.
After winning approval, Kennedy talked in more detail about the project. He expects the film to be shot partially in Pitkin County, with establishing shots in Aspen (though the community looks much different now than it did in 1970) and, with luck, extended sequences at Thompson's property, known as Owl Farm. According to him, he has an informal understanding with Thompson's widow, Anita, to use quotes from the writer's letters. "The film is not really based on any particular articles," he allowed, "and because it's an American political election, it's technically public domain. But we have a friendly little agreement."
Other possible locations for filming include Durango, Silverton and Central City — just three of among around twenty spots under consideration.
For Kennedy, making Freak Power in Colorado was a must even if the scenery could be reproduced elsewhere. "I live in Aspen right now, and I think because of my longstanding relationships, we'll be able to pull in a few favors here and there," he said. "We're not making a huge budget movie here, so that will be important. I probably have more of those relationships in Colorado than I have anywhere else at this point. And I wouldn't want to go to Canada. I think it would kind of ruin the spirit, and we've got a couple of famous actors who are coming in to play smaller roles — and it's a lot easier to say, 'Come to Aspen' than, 'Could you come to British Columbia?'"
No, Kennedy won't reveal the name of the actors who've pledged to do cameos. As for who'll personify the protagonist, he says it's been a challenge to get a big name performer to sign on in part because Bill Murray and Johnny Depp have already portrayed Thompson on past projects. But if either Chris Pratt or Chris Pine are interested, he would be, too.
The action of the film took place more than forty years ago, but Kennedy believes that Freak Power is very in tune with the just-completed presidential election.
"It was so odd," he admitted. "I started writing this movie, like, two years ago, when I was pretty sure it was going to be Jeb [Bush] versus Hillary [Clinton]. And strangely enough, the people whom Hunter was running this election against are pretty much the exact equivalent of Hillary and [Donald] Trump. There was Bugsy Barnard, who got the nickname because he tried to bring slot machines to Aspen, and this lady Eve Homeyer, who really was cool with things the way they were. 'Let's talk to each other and move forward together.' I think that might actually have been her slogan. It was like, wow."
While Kennedy says independent financing has been secured for the production, he won't reveal exactly who's ponying up the cash beyond saying that he's kicking in some of the dough. "We're looking to shoot in June, and either we'll go to Sundance, or maybe Netflix or somebody will pick us up before then. It's too soon to say. We're just going to shoot it and make the best-quality product possible." He hopes the result will be a blend of the 1972 satire The Candidate, which starred Robert Redford, and 1957's A Face in the Crowd, an astonishing, pitch-black flick in which Andy Griffith essentially plays a fascist hayseed. "If any movie anticipated this last election, it was that one," Kennedy says.
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Just because his family is famously affiliated with the Democratic Party doesn't mean viewers should expect a predictably liberal slant, however. "I'm sort of in the middle, personally, and I think that comes out," Kennedy stressed. "I don't buy into everything that either side says. Basically, Hunter tried to start a third party...and it wasn't in the middle. It was like, take a little bit from farther on the left and a little bit from farther on the right and mash them together, and you get a voter pool that's bigger than for either of the other guys. But it was such a weird message. He was basically running a freak-power backlash campaign, where he was trying to scare the townsfolk in order to get this weird subsection of people who'd never voted to come out and vote because they thought it would be funny to give people a good scare."
Of course, politics is the family business, and while Kennedy said, "I personally hadn't given any thought to entering any kind of political thing," he joked that "if this movie works out, maybe I'll run for mayor of a small town in Colorado."
At least we think he was joking. Here's a look at the trailer for AmeriQua, aka EuroTrapped.