Pompey owner: Oscars, Grammys, Scorsese and film-making success

Eric Eisner stumbled across his Grammy nomination through an impromptu foray onto Twitter.

Sunday, 7th January 2018, 12:00 pm
Pompey co-owner Eric Eisner Picture: Joe Pepler

At least the discovery of an Oscar shortlisting was more conventional, albeit having initially overlooked the e-mailed proclamation.

As a Pompey co-owner and board member, the 44-year-old is helping plot the future of a club currently residing in the League One play-offs.

Meanwhile, Eisner’s recent accomplishment of another passion project has attracted approving nods among the most discerning of film industry heads.

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The Grateful Dead performing on Haight Street, San Francisco, in 1968 Picture: Jim Marshall Photography LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Notoriously publicity-shy American band the Grateful Dead were the producer’s ambitious subject matter for documentary Long Strange Trip.

Construction toiled through seven painstaking years, while movie royalty Martin Scorsese was recruited to serve as the process’ ‘Godfather’.

The finished product unveiled in May 2017 spans just two minutes short of four viewing hours, such was its comprehensive narrative.

Now Eisner and his castmates are in the frame for gold-plated Hollywood adulation.

The Grateful Dead performing on Haight Street, San Francisco, in 1968 Picture: Jim Marshall Photography LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

‘I found out about the Grammy nomination on Twitter, swear to God,’ he said.

‘There’s an expression about how there are a lot of babies and parents on films.

‘A director, for sure, thinks it is his baby, as does the producer, it is a very egoless project.

‘If you have an ego it will never work, especially with the Grateful Dead.

‘So this has many parents, I guess.

‘With the Academy Awards, both myself and the director (Amir Bar-Lev) received an email last month, although I didn’t see it until he called me!

‘The call was “Oh my God, listen, we’re not nominated but we’re on a shortlist of 15!”

‘There are thousands of documentaries to get down to 15. We’ve made it to the last cut of the Academy Awards, now it will be whittled down to five, who will be the ones nominated.

‘The last day of voting is January 12, then they’ll announce the final five on January 23 – and I think we actually can make it.

‘Music documentaries can win and although we don’t have subject matter as deep as documentaries about those great world problems others have tackled, I think they recognise we actually have the best film – and that can actually go a long way.

‘We’re representing the music genre on this.’

Eisner will discover his Grammy fate on January 28, when the winner of the four-strong Best Music Film category will be unveiled at Madison Square Garden.

As founder and CEO of Double E Pictures, his previous work as a producer includes Hamlet 2 – a 2008 film starring Steve Coogan, David Arquette and Elisabeth Shue.

Yet admiration for the music of the Grateful Dead – a rock band formed in his native California in 1965 – lured him onto a divergent project.

It has been 20 years since they played their 2,318th and final concert – a world record figure – while they’ve sold 35m albums worldwide and boast a repertoire of songs believed to exceed 500.

Eisner added: ‘It took seven years to put together. It’s like football, you have to be dedicated to the cause.

‘You have to make an agreement with the Grateful Dead, who are notoriously difficult to deal with, sift through an archive of 50 years material, then edit it all together and film interviews.

‘But we pulled it off and it has been an amazing, amazing experience.

‘For the Grateful Dead, the timing was right and the team was right so they gave it a go.

‘They still didn’t make it easy, but they trusted the process and we got Martin Scorsese involved, which was very helpful.

‘They are very California-centric, which is kind of part of the culture of growing up, and a very domestic United States band.

‘If you talk about the Grateful Dead to people that really know music they put them into the category of influencers.

‘They were about being authentic. It’s not about the flash and the show and all that, it’s about the music.

‘In the documentary, their manager is an English guy called Sam Cutler, formerly with The Rolling Stones, and there is a whole scene about him trying to arrange a band photo.

‘It is very hard trying to promote a band when you can’t even get them to take a band photo! They have a reputation for this.

‘It was about the music. Sam Cutler provides serious comic relief in this thing because he has some great quotes, but even I couldn’t touch the music, that was the sacred thing for them, nobody was allowed into that.

‘You have to respect where they are coming from.

‘As producer I had total involvement, I was very hands on.

‘In Hollywood they can’t even figure the role out because a lot of times they bring in producers for the sake of making the deal work – but I’m a producer that actually does the work.

‘There’s so much to do. You need to hire your crew and a line producer, then you have production, then post-production, such as sound mixing and colour correction, then it has to go through the distribution channels.

‘The director does all the shooting but you give him all the tools to make it work.

‘The analogy I use is we gave him the best tools to work with and then locked him in the closet with the lights out and he had a 3,000-piece puzzle, with the pieces all the same colour, and he had to put them all together.

‘The director and myself went on a journey together and only we will know how hard it was at times.

‘It was a big team, but at one point there were two of us running around not getting the accolades we’re getting now.’

Director Amir Bar-Lev is a 45-year-old from California who served as co-producer of the 2009 Oscar-nominated documentary Trouble the Water.

Meanwhile, Eisner’s capture of Scorsese as executive producer undoubtedly applied a sheen to the project.

In a film career which has seen him direct the likes of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street, the 75-year-old has totalled nominations for 22 Academy Awards, 21 BAFTAs and 27 Golden Globes.

‘Martin Scorsese was our Godfather,’ said Eisner.

‘He had one dinner with the drummer, he saw him at a Rolling Stones concert and they talked. He told them he’d heard the producers were cooking something up.

‘The drummer went back to the Grateful Dead and said “Martin Scorsese is really talking to us about this” – and then it really started moving.

‘Scorsese is like the chairman of the club, the Godfather holding all their hands without even doing anything, all the input but none of the input.

‘He was essential to making it go ahead, he made the band comfortable. They were happy with that.

‘To them it meant he trusted myself and the director as filmmakers. After all, we had the endorsement of such a high-ranking film guy.

‘I didn’t know Martin Scorsese, I knew people close to him and that is how I managed to get him on board.

‘He became executive producer, lending his name for publicity, which is fantastic.

‘So I was managing the Grateful Dead, managing Martin’s team, trying to keep everyone happy, there was a lot going on. It was the ultimate game of juggling, but amazing.

‘It was like sending a rocket into space and getting lost in space for a while.

‘Then it was coming down to orbit and the panels were getting hot and things almost falling off – but we made it home.

‘I am beyond proud because I know that documentary will live on forever.

‘All these kids saying “Who was Jerry Garcia?”, “Who were the Grateful Dead?”, now have somewhere they can go and see and get an idea of what it is like.

‘Honoured is a word I use a lot.

‘We are Grammy-nominated and shortlisted for an Academy Award, but everything is gravy on top right now.

‘My favourite review said “I hated myself for loving this movie”.

‘They come with a preconceived notion sometimes, but it’s just a great film which stands alone.

‘It plays all demographics, male or female, all ages. It’s just a good film.’