Icky Blossoms' Nik Fackler on Making 'Sick Birds Die Easy' With Psychedelic Plant (Video)
The frontman was offered $100,000 to give a group people he knew in Africa a camera to capture the "myth" of Iboga, a plant said to have the ability to cure drug addiction.
Nik Fackler's 2008 debut film, Lovely, Still, earned the filmmaker and musician an Independent Spirit Award nomination and the opportunity to work with actors like Ellen Burstyn and Martin Landau. But when it came time for Fackler's follow-up project, he elected to eschew the narrative feature and immerse himself in an entirely new genre. Fackler, who also plays guitar in Omaha rock band Icky Blossoms, embarked on an experimental project in 2011 called Sick Birds Die Easy, which will receive its release this month.
Fackler was approached by Steve Hays, a producer who wanted to make a film in Africa. Hays offered Fackler $100,000 and creative control on the project. His idea was to take a group of interesting people he knew to Gabon and give everyone a camera, all under the concept of experiencing Iboga, a psychedelic plant said to have the ability to cure drug addiction.
"I wanted to test myself as a filmmaker with my intuition," Fackler tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Try to make a film intuitively. To make the film as we go. And then since everyone is playing themselves, I could take the footage that is real documentary footage and mix it with the footage that is set up. Just mix it all together. Some, it's real, and some, it's not real."
Fackler returned from Africa with over 500 hours of footage and spent nearly two years editing it. Between editing sessions, he recorded Icky Blossoms' self-titled debut album with producer Dave Sitek for indie label Saddle Creek and embarked on several tours with the band. On one tour, Fackler played two sets a night, one in Icky Blossoms and one as a hired gun for headliner Tilly and the Wall. Meanwhile, he was trying to make sense of what happened – and what didn't happen – in Africa.
"To be honest with you, it was the worst experience of my entire life," Fackler says. "It was horrible [in Gabon]. Everyone got malaria, people got really mad and there were fights. I was trying to keep control of this thing and remember 'This is what I asked for. I wanted to do some kind of chaotic, intuitive thing, and it's horrible.' It was a labor of love. And in the end I'm really proud of it. You never talk about how much it sucked once it's done."
The filmmaker sees the finished product as a "myth," somewhere between documentary and narrative. It was largely created like a documentary, although many aspects veer from the truth, and parts were scripted and acted out. Fackler and his companions did take Iboga while in Gabon, and he hopes the film can raise awareness about the plant, which has been studied as a cure for drug addiction.
One of the people Fackler brought along was musician Sam Martin, who plays in Omaha group Capgun Coup. Martin created the music for the film, something Fackler says helped his lengthy editing process.
"I see music visually and all the music Sam had written was very visual and very cinematic," Fackler says. "It created this heroin, Velvet Underground vibe. So when I got back from Africa and started editing the film, every scene I would pick a piece of Sam's music and put it in. In a way, Sam's music really designed a lot of the film. Because I came from a music video background, I've always been very visual with music. It came together very naturally."
Sick Birds Die Easy was released on VOD and digital marketers on Feb. 11, and will be available on DVD on Feb. 18. The DVD features what Fackler calls a "tripped out" version of the audio commentary track. The filmmaker is touring with the film to several cities for premiere events, but says he's looking forward to focusing on music next. Icky Blossoms will record their sophomore album with producer Mike Mogis at the end of March and are hoping for a summer release.
"I'm a filmmaker at heart," Fackler says. "I never intended to be a musician; it just fell into my lap. I love it. Playing music is the most fun thing to do in the world, but I feel like film is always calling. I feel safe because of that. No matter how old I get or where I get in my career, film will always be calling me. Right now, I'm focusing on music because it's filling me with joy."
Watch the trailer for Sick Birds Die Easy below: