On Story

S9 E11 | FULL EPISODE

Wild Wild Country: A Conversation with Chapman & Maclain Way

In this episode, documentary filmmakers Chapman and Maclain Way discuss their Emmy® Award-winning Netflix documentary, Wild Wild Country. The six-part series tells the true story of a controversial Indian guru and his attempt to build a utopian city deep in rural Oregon in the 1980s.

AIRED: June 22, 2019 | 0:26:47
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TRANSCRIPT

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- The best response you can have to a payoff in a thriller

is someone goes, "Oh, right, I forgot, of course..."

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[Narrator] On Story offers a look inside

the creative process from today's leading

writers, creators, and filmmakers.

All of our content is recorded live

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To view previous episodes, visit OnStory.tv.

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[Narrator] On Story is brought to you in part

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a Texas family providing innovative funding since 1979.

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From Austin Film Festival, this is On Story.

A look inside the creative process from today's

leading writers, creators, and filmmakers.

This week's On Story,

Wild Wild Country documentary filmmakers,

Chapman and Maclain Way.

- That first 'Aha!' moment was not even so much about

the poisonings or the attempted murders,

it was almost a realization that, like, these people in red

have built a city in the middle of the Oregon desert.

And that, alone, was enough for me to be like,

"I am so fascinated by this story

and I want to learn as much as I can about it."

[paper crumples]

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[Narrator] In this episode,

filmmakers Chapman and Maclain Way

discuss the origin of their Emmy award-winning Netflix

documentary series, Wild Wild Country.

[typewriter ding]

- The genius of this film is that over the course of the

six hours, you begin to see heroes and villains

on each side of the conflict, and also eventually see

instances of heroism and villainy

within individual people.

Take us through when your contact at the

Oregon Historical Society says,

"Hey, there's all this stuff."

- They have a huge wall of VHS tapes,

those 525 raw Umatic tapes,

and it just says Rajneesh above it.

It was almost like, finally, I think we just started

talking about what the story was, and a film archivist

had just started working there.

He's from Brooklyn, and he started telling me

the story a little bit.

And it was almost one of those things where it was like ...

Truthfully, by the time you got to, "And then they bussed

in homeless people, and they try and take over the county,"

by the time you got to that point in the story,

I was questioning whether he was telling me something

real or not.

But really, that first 'Aha' moment

was not even so much about the poisonings

or the attempted murders.

Obviously those are fascinating parts of the story,

but the first tape that we popped in and watched,

it was almost a realization that these people in red

have built a city in the middle of the Oregon desert,

and that alone was enough for me to be like,

"I am so fascinated by this story

and I want to learn as much as I can about it."

- Take us to the meeting with Netflix where you

sit down with them and say, "Our next project ..."

- Yeah, it was kind of interesting.

We sat down with them and kinda pitched them;

and they hadn't released Making a Murderer yet,

but they told us we have this true crime show

that we're really excited about.

And then I remember us pitching them that this is not a

traditional true crime story,

and that it's not an investigation into

'who done it,' or who's guilty or who's innocent,

which is what a majority of true crime stories

are based around.

We really saw this as an investigation into what

led this religious minority group to commit

all these atrocious crimes.

It was going to be an investigation into

church-state rights;

it was going to be an investigation into

Fear of the Other and things like that,

and I think that that actually really excited them.

I think they felt like we've got Making a Murderer ,

which is a little more traditional crime.

Let's maybe take a chance on something that's

maybe different.

It is a quintessential American story,

which we were real interested in diving into.

The whole cult thing was interesting.

I think we talked about it a little bit in episode one,

but coming off Vietnam War,

how disenfranchised the youth felt about the

direction of the country, and the government and Nixon,

and the lying and the corruption.

And I think that people were looking for 'there's got to be

'a better way to live;

'there's got to be better communities that we can

support and build ourselves.'

[typewriter ding]

- I remember one that was just...

Rajneeshpuram was covered so much locally.

Nationally, Sheela was obviously a very well

nationally covered figure.

But when we would pitch this story, we would always say,

like, the one moment in the story where ABC, NBC, CBS,

everyone's covering the story on the nightly news,

is when Bhaghwan got in an airplane and tried to

flee the country, you know,

and we had a lot of archived footage for that.

So even something like that,

we knew that's the end of our second to last episode.

That was always the North Star for us

to how we want to build a lot of this series up.

Identifying a few of those key moments were enough for us

in the beginning to structure the show around.

- We were able to establish the fact that they were

heading to Bermuda,

and Bermuda was selected for one reason only, maybe two;

it's nice and sunny,

and secondly he was un-extraditable from Bermuda.

He would have successfully escaped prosecution.

- It was an interesting evening.

I don't think any of us knew how that would end.

- One plane was going to refuel in Pueblo, Colorado,

and the other was going to refuel in Salt Lake.

We found out that there was a significant chance they were

going to Charlotte.

- The first thing we did was we read about 20 books on it

and we watched all 300 hours of the footage ourselves.

We knew if we were going to do the story right,

we can't just give it to an assistant editor to look at.

We've really got to go through it with a fine toothed comb

and understand the complexities and inner workings of the story.

And so we started doing that and we kind of worked

backwards, which was what are the four or five

biggest cliffhanger moments.

One of our pet peeves in serialized storytelling

is sometimes they'll just throw a random curve ball

at the end of an episode that maybe there's a

big reveal of a character that's going to speak,

and it's a little bit of a forced cliffhanger.

We wanted the cliffhangers to play out in real time

in the story.

In episode two when the hotel gets bombed,

that's what happened at that moment.

We basically found that we had five of these

really great endings for the episodes,

and we knew if you're going to do serialized storytelling,

you've got to have people clicking on the next episode.

[explosion]

[screaming]

[explosion]

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- In Portland, Oregon today, three explosions rocked the

downtown hotel owned by controversial religious

cult leader Bhaghwan Shree Rajneesh.

- The first bomb exploded at 1:19 this morning.

- What concerns Chief Klum now, there might be

more explosives in the building.

- Evidently, an explosive device blew a hole in the floor.

- It blew the door off the bathroom,

it blew the door off the room.

- One of the more difficult parts was episode one,

when Bhaghwan's building his following in India,

which was late 60s, early 70s.

There just wasn't a ton of footage,

as much as we would have liked.

I think we pretty much uncovered all the footage

that was shot inside the commune that you get to see,

but we spent a lot of time trying to find great archive

of the India days, which was really difficult.

- The only things that we couldn't really get,

there was a few characters;

there was one character that we really, really wanted,

tried years to get, and just couldn't get him.

His name was Krishna Deva.

He was the mayor of Rajneeshpuram

and he actually flips and turns states evidence,

and he's a huge reason why Sheela went to jail

and why Jane went to jail.

He was a key witness for the prosecution and he was just--

We were able to get to most people, but he was just a

flat out 'no' from day one, and just held strong.

[typewriter ding]

- Now let's start with the inspiration for all this,

the Bhaghwan himself.

As I was watching the beginning of the series

and you touched on his philosophy,

I sort of got that the concept of mindfulness

was not necessarily mutually exclusive from capitalism.

But then as you tell the story, somewhere, I don't know,

the fifth, the tenth, the fifteenth Rolls Royce,

you start to wonder what this guy was about.

How did you guys make sense of

why all these people were in the Oregon desert?

- I think people always ask us why didn't you go super deep

into the religious teachings of the group,

like why did people join?

Why did people join?

That's kind of what everyone wanted to know, and

the truth is, we read a lot of books of Bhaghwan and Osho,

and we would ask people what is it about his teachings,

and you would get 100 different answers.

There didn't seem to be a consensus of it's this teaching,

it's this particular thing.

So what we really found, which we focused on,

is that most of these people found a very deep sense

of community and family for the first time in their life,

and a lot of these people had come from

very difficult backgrounds or difficult childhoods.

A lot of them were dealing with trauma,

and for the first time, they felt like they were

building a community that belonged to them,

that was for them;

I think essentially it was what we call a safe space today,

for them.

So that's what we decided to focus on;

less on what drew them to the teachings and more this

idea of a surrogate family.

[reporter on archive] Jesus Santos finished

a six year term at the Colorado State Penitentiary

last month.

- It provides a sense of community

and it provides me with people who care for me.

That's something I haven't had in my life,

and I think that's something that not only people need,

but I think it's the world in general.

- I'm just a city boy, you know, but,

this is what I always wanted to do since I was little.

It's beautiful.

I love it, definitely.

No doubt.

- And it wasn't really until episode six when we were

cutting the scene, and we were rushing to get it off

to Sundance, and we were super tired and really long hours,

and it's the scene where Bhaghwan has died

and it's a funeral, it's kind of a funeral procession for him.

And it was a really odd realization that it actually

wasn't, that crowd was maybe 30% to 40% Sannyasins.

That was a huge Indian crowd that had come out to

pay respects to Bhaghwan as he had left,

and they would burn his body down in the burning gods.

And for me, that was just a very interesting moment where

one of my final takeaways on Bhaghwan was regardless of

how you feel about his teachings

or whether he was a wise sage or not,

he had created a 20th-century religious movement.

He lived an exceptional life.

I don't think there's a lot of people that can say

that they did that.

As we were wrapping up the series, I remember that moment

fully grasping at the end what Bhaghwan had done in his life,

and it was something that I had maybe admired or appreciated.

I had complex feelings about it, but I remember that, yeah.

[typewriter ding]

- Can you walk us through how you found her,

and how you convinced her that these two guys

from America needed to be who she confided in?

- The first tape we put in, Mac said earlier,

was them building their city in the Oregon desert.

The second tape we put in was Sheela on the Ted Koppel

nightly news show basically giving him the middle finger

and telling him to F-off live on the news.

And so immediately we were like,

'Who the hell is that person?

What a ...'

I don't know who she is, we didn't know how big she was,

but we were like, she is going to anchor this thing.

You could just tell right away.

And so the more research we did, we found a really

three dimensional, complex female character.

My wife is a producer;

we had some other female producers on the show

and they were really excited about this character

that they felt there's a lot of these male characters,

whether it's the House of Cards Frank character;

these very complex characters, a little darkness in them that

are fun to root for, and they found that there

wasn't really a lot of female characters like that.

You either get Wonder Woman, which are these very easy

feminist heroes to root for, but they were really excited

by the fact that there was this complex female that we could

really build as a three dimensional human.

- Actually, one of the first hurdles was that our

first documentary was on a Portland baseball team,

which you wouldn't think would work against us.

But I think Sheela was like, "Are you guys from Oregon?"

That was what she wanted to know, and we were like,

"No, no, no, we're actually not from Oregon.

We grew up in Los Angeles,"

because I think she's done with that whole state.

But it was a bit of a--

We didn't have to sell her on it,

but we just needed to build a relationship with her.

And I think that we were very honest from day one with what

we saw the show being, but it did take about three trips

out to Switzerland to work with her, to talk with her.

She was in a very interesting point, and everyone had their

own reasons for participating in the documentary.

And everyone that participated in the documentary totally had

a ton of reasons to not participate, too,

and they were very open with it.

- One cool thing about Sheela, she was the only character that

didn't ask for the questions before the interview.

She was the only one that said, "Turn your cameras on.

"You can ask me whatever you want.

I don't want to know beforehand."

Like, come interview me, which I thought was pretty cool.

- There is this moment after the, uh...

after the fire in the hotel

where you sense that Sheela has gotten more and more resolute,

and then her comments after that,

that American moment of,

'I will not back down anymore.'

And that was where I first got the beginnings

of this weird resonance to the present day.

- One of the things we found truly fascinating about the

story was how the politics of it were inverted

to today's politics.

You basically had this very liberal, spiritual group

using the Second Amendment to arm up with AK-47s

to protect their community from violence.

I was very fascinated by that.

I have family members who hunt and are pro-gun;

I'm not.

I tend to be more pro-gun control.

But when Sheela was looking me dead in the eye and saying,

"If someone bombed your hotel,

"if someone was coming after your kids,

"if someone was coming after your family,

it'd be pathetic if you didn't defend them and arm up."

And I remember sitting in that interview chair going,

"Jesus, how do I really feel about this?

And how do I think about that?"

I knew that if I was enjoying playing that

intellectual political game,

that I had faith that an audience would also

enjoy doing some critical thinking and really diving

into these issues to see how they feel about it.

- Yeah, I think that there was...

in terms of Sheela's character development through the story,

that was definitely one moment.

I think that even in episode one, we knew that Sheela had...

I am getting a little fuzzy on some of the details.

I think she was 20 or 21 when she got married, right?

And Chinmaya, her husband, had pancreatic cancer

and ended up dying.

And then literally 48 hours after her first love that

she's literally built her life around in America has died,

Bhaghwan just kind of lays down an ultimatum,

which is now you're going to dedicate your whole life

to this movement, and she just dives in head first.

She's incredibly emotionally vulnerable,

and she doesn't regret that decision but that was just

where she was in her life at that time,

and so I think that was the personal commitment

that she made then.

But yeah, that bombing, that end of episode two

I think was the external commitment;

which was like internally I'm devoted,

but now externally I'm going to go on talk shows,

I'm going to absolutely burn this entire system down.

- I had to be provocative.

I had to provoke.

- Isn't your leader the free sex guru?

- Free sex?

We don't charge for it if you mean that.

- Right.

- We are the only community which has no venereal diseases,

no crime, no drugs, no alcoholism.

And I'll tell you about, one more thing,

that we are the only people who enjoy sex fully.

"How could you do that?

How could you?"

I said, "Don't tell me, I'm doing my job.

That's it"

- This is legitimately a story about two sides.

Not every story do you need to hear both sides.

Our first documentary was about independent entrepreneurship

against corporate baseball.

We didn't interview Major League Baseball

because it wasn't necessary to that story.

This one, it is a battle of two different points of view,

so that's inherently what the story's about.

We talked about if you go to a boxing match,

you want a really good boxing match.

You don't want just the guy to the [bleep] kicked out of him

in the first round and then the story's over.

So we knew if people are going to stick around for six hours,

we need to elevate everyone's argument.

We're not there as a journalist to tear their arguments down

and poke holes in their argument.

That's going to deflate it, and by episode one,

who cares anymore?

We found what are their most valid arguments

and let's beef those up,

and then let's let them go head-to-head

in a boxing-chess match,

and then see where the chips fall.

- You were asking about Hasya, the Hollywood producer who

came in and was supposedly going to be the new secretary.

I think we were really interested in that storyline

because for a group that was all about enlightenment,

and being bigger than your ego, and not having jealousies,

I was very interested in the fact that it was like the

frailty of the human psyche that we all suffer from in our egos

to watching someone take power from you is never easy

no matter what gender you are or who you are as a human.

- When you start having Hasya, a rich woman from California

who had fairly recently come to the ranch,

Sheela felt threatened.

She suspected that there were other people now

who were having his ear.

- Bhaghwan even went so far as to call Sheela into his house

and to explain to her another corporation was to be set up,

and Hasya and John would run this corporation.

That made Sheela really, really angry.

[typewriter ding]

- I'd like to hear about the interviews with Jane Stork,

because that was, to my view, a more nuanced,

more difficult project of getting somebody who was

this gentle soul at heart to talk about how her devotion

led her to attempted murder.

- Bhaghwan is going to orchestrate his death.

Tomorrow, Devaraj is going to kill him.

We've got to stop it.

We have to do something.

If we can stop Devaraj,

if we can kill Devaraj,

Bhaghwan won't die.

Who will do it?

Nobody spoke.

We were all in shocked silence.

It was impossible.

It was just impossible that Bhaghwan should die.

But when somebody spoke and said, "I will do it,"

that was me.

That was my voice...

that rose up in that silence and said, "I'll do it."

- We spend a lot of time with our subjects before

we press record, and Jane was someone who was in Europe.

We also took a couple flights out there to spend time

with her, and her husband and her family,

and really get to know them.

We have honest conversations.

- She was an interesting counterweight, I thought, to--

because Noran the attorney, Philip, he is dyed in the wool

and he will defend Osho until the day he dies,

no doubt about it.

And that's why I was very interested in interviewing him

because I never thought it was a bad thing if we were

interviewing someone that has incredible agenda

or stakes in the interview.

And so Jane was somewhere that was,

her perspective was-- I wanted--

We talked about we wanted a Sannyasin that could give a

compelling argument for how destructive this was

in their lives, and I think that's what Jane was for us.

And Jane's life obviously was incredibly traumatized by

her joining the Sannyasins, but she was someone

that we spent a ton of time with.

One her big monologues, one of her big moments she has in the

series is when she walks you point, by point, by point,

by point the day that she tried to kill Bhaghwan's doctor

and ended up putting a needle in him to try

and kill him with adrenaline.

And I think that that probably isn't a answer that you were

going to get by parachuting in, and putting a camera on

and asking questions.

That's an answer that she knew was going to come up,

and she was going to have to deal with,

but we wanted to hopefully empower her

in a way to talk about that.

- I walked through the crowd.

I walked out the other side,

and I walked back to Jesus Grove

where I lived...

completely alone.

Nobody spoke to me and I spoke to nobody.

And I wanted to be alone.

There was the part of me

who felt I had saved Bhaghwan's life.

I had done what I had to do.

But deep inside of me,

I was shattered.

I had grown up clearly understanding

that thou shalt not kill,

and now I had tried to kill somebody.

What had happened?

- One of my favorite quotes is Philip at the end of three,

where he says, "There's darkness in all of us.

It doesn't make you a bad person."

And I think that applied to a lot of people in this story.

- Why did this experiment in self-reliance

and transcendentalism go berserk?

- I think that one of my early takeaways in researching

the story that I did probably come a little full circle

around on was that I did think that, I don't think that

the Rajneeshees intentions were to come to Oregon

and poison 750 people.

I don't think that was what they set out to do.

I think that they did try to set out to create a

model Utopia that hopefully could be replicated,

and they found a lot of happiness in the

Utopian commune that they had founded.

But through a series of intensely, intense conflict

on the outside, they did go down, what we would

mostly call a cult.

[typewriter ding]

- For me it was getting used to on a day-in, day-out basis

making a thousand decisions,

and maybe 800 of those are going to be

how do you edit this documentary series.

But a ton of them, when we were trying to deliver for Netflix

and Sundance, there's color, there's sound mix,

there's a ton of people that you need to finish this project.

And I think that it was, we planned a ton,

but at a certain point I think every project becomes this way.

But there was-- this sounds like I'm bragging,

but I'm just trying to be honest.

There was something like putting six and a half hours

together was something that there was no blueprint for.

Actually, we did see Ezra's OJ: Made in America ,

and that gave me incredible confidence that it can be done,

and I loved that documentary series.

But I think it was almost like, it becomes like an orchestra

that you're conducting towards the end.

Things are just incoming, and you're trying to do your best

to make the best decisions possible to make this

documentary series as well as you can.

And I think that at the end it when we had finally wrapped

after four years of this, it kind of was a realization

which was like the Rajneeshees, they built their city

and this was my thing.

This was my Rajneeshpuram.

This is what I spent four years of my life doing.

And it was pretty incredible to do it with family, too.

We're brothers, and our oldest brother, Brocker, does all the

music for our things, and we have a really tight

working group that we do, and we all, I don't know,

came out of the other side with something that

we're all really proud of.

[Narrator] You have been watching Wild Wild Country,

a conversation with Chapman and Maclain Way on On Story.

On Story is part of a growing number of programs

in Austin Film Festival's On Story project

including the On Story PBS series now streaming online,

the On Story radio program, the On Story podcast

and the On Story book series available

where books are sold.

To find out more about On Story and Austin Film Festival,

visit OnStory.tv or AustinFilmFestival.com.

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