For forty years Hunter S. Thompson struggled to finish his first novel – The Rum Diary – and then he fought until he died to make it a movie. Johnny Depp promised Hunter the book would become a film, and now it is opening in theaters in the United States on October 28, 2011. So it seems fitting to finally show and tell what I know about The Rum Diary and have been saving for many years in my archives. I purposely held back many of these Rum Diary scenes from my fourth film about Hunter – Animals, Whores & Dialogue – hoping that we could do something a bit different with them, like this series of “webisodes” – short, self-contained videos for the world wide web that tell the story of the making of The Rum Diary first as a book and then as a movie from Hunter’s point of view.
This is Episode One, and it begins, like most days back when my friend Hunter was still alive, with a phone call. Now when the phone rings at 3am, I know it can only be trouble. Back then, they were calls to action and fun. At one point, I planned to structure my first film about Hunter – Breakfast with Hunter – with these messages Hunter left me over the years.
The living room interview conducted by Timothy Ferris is one of the few times we purposely set up such a formal scene, as if his good friend Ed Bradley had come to interview Hunter for “60 Minutes.” We were actually trying to make an “EPK” – Electronic Press Kit – to promote the upcoming release of The Rum Diary in the fall of 1998 after spending the previous six months editing the book, along with Doug Brinkley, Curtis Robinson, Marysue Rucci of Simon & Schuster, and Heidi Opheim – Hunter’s assistant and girl-friend at the time
Hunter always liked to respond to intelligent questions, and sometimes when the words were terminally blocked between his brain and mouth or typewriter, we would resort to questions and answers. Science writer Timothy Ferris was a respected friend from their days in the seventies at Rolling Stone, and Hunter flew him in from San Francisco to lead the conversation. Heidi operated the second camera on Ferris and did a great job under the kind of pressure only Hunter could invoke.
Simon & Schuster’s marketing department ignored the EPK, making no use of it whatsoever, and we were quite disappointed at the time. Funny how things turn out: now it seems perfect that these scenes will be viewed on the internet, like long lost pictographs on the wall of an electronic cave, reflecting the unique vision of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and the persistence of his fine friend and great actor – Johnny Depp – to bring Hunter’s wild and infectious way of living to the wide screen.