On June 12, 1970, Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 137 years of professional baseball, it’s the only no-hitter tossed while the pitcher was tripping on LSD. Dock lived the expression “Black is Beautiful!” and his fearlessness enabled him to become one of the most intimidating pitchers of the 70s and a trailblazer for a new wave of civil rights. After retiring, Dock became as outspoken about his substance abuse issues as he had been about intolerance. He spent decades as a counselor helping other addicts in their recoveries. Through intimate stories and archival footage, ‘No No: A Dockumentary‘ brings Dock’s vibrant life to light, revealing the man behind the legend.
Anticipating ‘No No: A Dockumentary’ at 2014 SXSW Film, we profile the film’s Director Jeffrey Radice. ‘No No: A Dockumentary’ screens as part of the Festival Favorites & SXsports programs on Saturday, March 8, Sunday, March 9, Wednesday, March 12, and Saturday, March 15, 2014 in Austin, Texas.
Find More Information & Tickets for ‘No No: A Dockumentary’ at SXSW Film – HERE
Were you intrigued by Dock Ellis as a baseball player, or by the fact that he had taken drugs and had managed to throw a no-hitter?
I think I was intrigued by him overall as a person, the relationships he had, the company that he kept. His biography was written by a poet laureate, which is probably unique for an athlete, and for a baseball player. He was able to get along with people in the hood, and was able to get along with Ron Howard. Dock was able to transcend social class and I think it carries over to today in his death. The people that are interested in his story transcend their interest in baseball. There’s something very all encompassing about him.
You have another short, “LSD a Go Go.” What is your fascination with the drug and its place in pop culture?
I think that the government’s fear of LSD is my fascination with it. Marijuana probably fits into the same category. But LSD wasn’t made illegal until the 1960s. There is a lot of disinformation about LSD. If you look back at what the CIA was doing with it, there were two groups within the CIA. One thought it would be a great mind control drug, a truth serum, and the other group thought it would be great as a way to scramble the brain. I’m less interested in the pop culture aspect of it. I’m more interested in LSD up until the hippies started proselytizing it. From Albert Hoffman discovering it to the hippie era summer of love, I think is the most interesting time period with LSD, especially when it was still legal.
This seems like a documentary where you go in with an idea, but it changes emotionally once you meet people affected by, in this case, addiction. What was the evolution of this project like?
I use the LSD no-hitter as an enticement because most people are probably familiar with Dock via the no-hitter. There’s a small segment of the population who remember him as a baseball player separate from that. So I wanted to use that as a hook and then flip the script a little bit on the audience and give them a portrait of who Dock was outside of the LSD and give him some context. I think he’ll always be known for the LSD no-hitter. But instead of being only known for that I wanted to branch out and paint a portrait of a human being that is much more broad and encompassing than just that. That was always my intention going into the project. It evolved a little bit because initially Dock was alive when I took on the project and then when he died I had to reimagine it with other people talking about him instead of him talking about himself.
What is your opinion on similarities between drug culture today with steroids and in Dock’s generation?
I spoke a lot about this at Sundance in the Q and A. Dock played baseball in the Greenie era. He said 90 percent of players took Greenies. Scipio Spinks, one of Dock’s contemporaries said it was more like 95-96 percent. Basically all baseball players were taking speed in the 1960s and 1970s. There was the Greenie era, the cocaine era, Keith Hernandez and Dale Berra, then they moved onto the steroid era. I think it’s interesting that baseball is demarcated by these different drug eras. I think the steroid era is not that different, ownership and executive management of baseball are complete hypocrites. As long as the steroid era was putting butts in the seats, they were happy with the Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire home run race. Only when the steroids became over-dominant in the game, and it started giving the game a black eye that they clamped down on it. From what I heard, ballplayers’ prescriptions for attention deficit disorders has skyrocketed and they just go through their doctor and get Adderall or Ritalin. You go back to the Babe Ruth era and he was injecting himself with sheep testicles or some crazy concoction. Spinks put it really nicely in the film, he said, “I believe that everyone’s had help throughout the game.” The two best players I saw in the game are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, by leaps and bounds, and I think its hypocritical of fans and sportswriters to keep them out of the Hall of Fame, it makes no sense to me.
What prompted you to engage with Kickstarter and how did you approach its promotion?
We needed a financial injection and we had been paying attention to crowd funding. I think being based in Austin where SXSW takes place got very good access. SXSW is sort of like a fishbowl with interactive technology ideas so I think we got early insight into crowd funding and watched it develop and I think we just felt like, “Let’s just get out there and engage with our audience a little bit.” We were certainly at a point where we needed to raise some money and it wasn’t coming through traditional means. We had very little success with grants compared to the other documentaries at Sundance. The only grant we got was from the Austin Film Society for $2,000. So I think something like crowd funding made sense for us. We felt like we could engage with people who knew Dock’s story and it worked. It was definitely a lot of work, but it didn’t just fall into our laps. I think having seen some of the success come out of it on the level we were looking at- $35,000- it seemed do-able. I think having the all or none aspect of Kickstarter can work in your favor. It keeps the early backers motivated to go out there and support you and spread the word, they feel invested, personally, emotionally invested in your project and they want to see you succeed. As a model for fundraising for documentary film, to me it makes a lot of sense. It’s about the same amount of work as writing grant applications, your destiny is a lot more in your hands, but you’re engaging directly with your funders instead of throwing something out there into the dark and hoping that it sticks.
About Jeffrey Radice
Jeffrey Radice executive produced award winning short documentaries Mondo Ford, The King and Dick, LSD a Go Go and cult classic The Collegians are Go!!! He is a graduate of Duke University with a Bachelor’s degree in Cultural Anthropology. This is his directorial debut.