They Did It For Johnny

Before a solid turnout at the Bug Theater this past Sunday evening, the Denver filmmakers behind the indie documentary Do It For Johnny showed their flick to cast and crew and enjoyed a reception far warmer than the plummeting temperatures outside. Local filmmaker Haylar Garcia, the director, editor and face of the documentary (pictured), served as master of ceremonies at the private screening, thanking anyone and everyone in attendance for their help in getting the film made, no matter how small an effort they contributed. His words were sincere. As the film quickly reveals, the Johnny crew needed all the help they could get.

Do It For Johnny (the subject of "Depp Charge," published by Westword in March 2005) tells the story of a couple of nobody indie filmmakers from Denver who try to communicate directly with one of the world's biggest stars, Johnny Depp, sans the bureaucratic Hollywood bullshit and red tape: artist-to-artist, pure and true. Their message for Depp? Here's a kick-ass guitar.

A few years back, Garcia penned a script called Narcophonic: The Ballad of Bad Bax, which told the true story of master guitar-maker Scott Baxendale. A legend in the field who touched the guitars of everyone from Carl Perkins to John Lennon, Baxendale subsequently hit rock-bottom; he was arrested for a two-year, drug-fueled crime rampage before being spared by a judge at the last minute, sobering up and then opening the esteemed Colfax Guitar Shop. Garcia and Baxendale worked closely on the script, and when it was finished, they decided that only an actor who could actually play guitar should play the lead role. After kicking around a few ideas, they decided to go after Johnny Depp, a lifelong lover of music who had proved himself adept at shredding in such films as Chocolat and Cry-Baby.

But how could they get a copy of the script to Depp, one of Hollywood's most notoriously aloof stars? Build a guitar of course. Baxendale crafted an axe by hand specifically for Captain Jack Sparrow. But after outfitting it with a special chamber to house the script, the duo decided they would not just send this masterpiece -- which they had come to view as a sculpture, a fusion of film and music -- to some assistant or flak. No, they had to actually get the $4,000 piece into Depp's hands. And being filmmakers, they decided it had to be documented. Garcia's friend's Damon Scott and Jeff Deel offered to help him out, as did his fiancee Darcy Grabowski, who served as an executive producer. A 1983 Toyota RV was purchased to go Depp-hunting across the country. And so the adventure began.

The result is a surprisingly compelling and funny documentary that winks at the cult of celebrity, as well at the insanity that drives independent artists moved by a vision, no matter how harebrained. Watching Garcia and his crew go from who-the-hell-are-these-stalker-freaks status in the eyes of Hollywood agents, assistants and security guards to almost being sought after is as surprising as it is hilarious, and brought the audience this past Sunday to its collective feet.

The film has been selected for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, where it will screen at the end of this month, and was just recently chosen to unspool at the Vail Film Festival in late March. Perhaps the most surprising development to come out of the two-year experiment, which nearly bankrupted all involved, is that the Garcia's Narcophonic script has earned considerable industry buzz. Garcia's hesitant to reveal any details until a deal is inked, but an A-list Hollywood director is, as they say, "very interested."

But did they ever get the guitar to Johnny Depp?

You bet your 21 Jump Street. -- Adam Cayton-Holland

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts