1991: As I walked onto the set of “The Thrill Is Gone,” I came to the realization that I was really going to direct a Jerry Garcia/David Grisman music video. The modern San Francisco club had become a 1940′s speak easy thanks to the great set design of Danny ColAngelo.
The connection between my Grateful Dead family and the Grisman Dawgs had gone way back. Now Gillian Grisman and I were partners in a film company. We’d played together as kids, and now they needed a video for the Garcia/Grisman album. As my best friend’s father, Francis Coppola, had always told me, “Steal from the best.”
I used my best friend Gio Coppola’s montages from his dad’s flick, The Cotton Club for inspiration. Having worked with Garcia before I knew he had no love of spending endless time on a film set. Jerry’s health had already caused a month’s delay and some feared he might not have a lot to give toward this project. The first time I passed he and David joking with each other on their way to the set, I knew Jerry was going to be up for it.
The day started by shooting some bar and “filler” scenes. With each set-up I was getting more comfortable directing the crew, yet I was nervous about having enough time to get all of the footage we needed of the band performing the song. As we tried the first few takes, I realized Jerry had never heard the way David had edited his solo. Once he got that down, all I was nervous about was that Jerry would find out I was responsible for the HORRIBLY OUT OF TIME CLAPPING used to cue the song’s start.
Of course shots that were supposed to get done fast took a long time and vice versa. Taking advantage of the time Jerry and David were on the set, we shot their scenes first. Watching the band run through “The Thrill Is Gone” I got the feeling just seeing Garcia in a gangster suit and tie would be worth the price of admission! Throughout the day Jerry never lost his sense of humor, even when Gillian repeatedly asked for his pants to be fitted. “I’d never do this for the Grateful Dead,” Garcia remarked at one point.
While the crew set up for the exterior shots, the musicians swapped jokes with Ricky Jay, a man who has mastered the art of using cards as weapons. A light rain fell as I walked through the sidewalk shots with David, Jerry and cameraman ColAngelo. My attention was so focused on the set that it took me a while to notice that people were gathering across the street in front of a wall where someone had spray painted GRATEFUL DEAD in large letters.
It never dawned on us that shooting a video with Jerry Garcia on a major San Francisco street would draw attention. Between takes Jerry commented that he’d been on this street all his life. First, as a kid, he was a bouncer for a local night club. Throughout the following years he played thousands of gigs at that same club, which was across the street from where we were shooting, “and I’m still fuckin’ on Market Street!”
Around 1 a.m. we completed the shots needed for the video’s opening and closing and I said goodnight to David and Jerry. Having all of their scenes in the can made me more relaxed, until I saw the weary gang of extras that had been waiting all day to start shooting. Oops, but somehow we got it done.