The duo of Adam Scorgie and Jhod Cardinal have been quite the filmmaking force when it comes to documentaries. Cardinal is a media specialist who has financed, sold, and produced films for more than fifteen years, and Scorgie is an acclaimed producer who has profiled the likes of Bruce Lee and Robbie Knievel. Their latest collaboration with director Brett Harvey focuses on one of the greatest Hollywood actors and his rise to get there. A man by the name of Danny Trejo. The film Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo comes out today from Universal Pictures.
WorldFilmGeek had the chance to talk to Scorgie and Cardinal about the film and their collaborations.
Adam and Jhod, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about Inmate #1 and I have to say, I’ve been a fan of Danny Trejo, and this was a great look at his story.
Adam: Thank you!
Adam, what led you to do a documentary on Danny Trejo? I understand you two had worked together before.
Adam: Yes, the idea actually came from one of our other producers, who was working with him. He brought me in on a movie we did with Danny, . And he said, Adam, you’re the doc guy. You should do one on Danny. And I didn’t know much about Danny. I mean I recognized his face and seen him in all these great movies. But, I was also thinking, you need to be more than an actor to do a great feature documentary. Rocky then told me about his life and I was shocked and excited. We dove right into it and I said this could not only be commercially successful, but may even get some awards because Danny’s story is so incredible.
I relayed to Brett Harvey, who I’ve worked with on many documentaries and told him he needed to check this story out. He called me back and said he had to tell this story. So, he planned to create this pitchbook and we would bring it to Danny to see if he would agree to do the documentary. It took about a month but let me tell you. Brett makes these amazing pitchbooks. When we do documentaries, we create these pitchbooks but his pitchbooks look like coffee table books with chapters and everything.
When we showed Danny, he said “Yes. You can tell my story. Oh, and you’re not getting the book back. I’m keeping it!” (Laughs)
It seems like Danny was more than happy to tell his story and he seemed both enthusiastic and very determined for everyone to know his background.
Adam: It was a gift for us because Danny is so comfortable where he is now after being sober for 50 years. Nothing was off the table. He talked about everything. In documentaries, sometimes certain subjects are not mentioned or danced about. Not with him. He was open about his drug use, his violence, running protection rings. I mean he didn’t hold back at all. So, it was a gift for us. There were times when he would start going and we would have to get him back in to the specific scene we were in. But he’s got some fantastic stories and us as filmmakers, it’s amazing to hear.
And that’s why this film is amazing. I feel like in some documentaries, while it’s great to hear the story, I sometimes feel we don’t get enough or things do get a bit sugarcoated. In this case though, I thought it was perfect! Watching this film made me respect Danny more than I already had and I didn’t even think that was possible.
Adam: Brett would love to hear that too because a lot of biopic documentaries will tend to rush the stories but he didn’t want to rush Danny’s story. Brett fought really hard to get the whole story. He had producers telling him “tell more Hollywood, tell less backstory” but Brett was determined to get the whole story out. With these type of documentaries, they tend to fast forward and not get into the full story. I’m glad that it resonated with you and other people who’ve seen the film.
And one of the best things about Danny is that when Robert Rodriguez mentioned that Danny was working on a new movie and he tells Robert “it’s just work”, it’s clear this is someone who loves his job. I mean after over 350 credits, he is one of those actors who not only loves his job, but makes the film work.
Adam: I’m so glad you picked up on that was another issue we had with Danny’s management. They thought that Danny wasn’t appreciating the work, but we were like no. It’s the opposite. He doesn’t take it seriously like other actors do. He’s just thankful he’s working! And that’s the thing. He’s just thankful and blessed that he can do what he’s doing and turn his life around. He doesn’t care if it’s a B-movie or a big Hollywood movie. He’s just happy to be working. He doesn’t like to sit idle. If he’s not acting, he’s speaking at an addiction clinic or helping youth offenders. There are celebrities who do charities as tax write-offs or to be seen. Danny loves giving back. He’s doing it because that’s who he is.
Perfect example was when Danny saved the child from the car. When people see accidents, they are scared and watch, but not Danny. We see Danny actually sprint to the car and save this child. That’s an instinct he has. We only laughed because we knew it was so Danny. Other people would be on their phones recording it. Danny always says “Everything good that has happened to him is a direct result of helping someone else.” He means it 100% and lives by that saying every day.
Jhod, I have to ask. You and Adam have worked closely together and are a “dream team” when it comes to documentaries. How did the two of you come to work together?
Jhod: Adam and I met seven years ago. He had a film called The Culture High, which is a follow up to a documentary he did called The Union. He got caught up in a situation with the companies involved. I had just started breaking out of my own and I thought it was a fantastic film. I reached out to Adam as I was a junior at one of these companies. I told him I wanted to take the chance at it. He didn’t have much to lose and we were on the phone for a full year.
I have to tell you I felt so lucky and the timing was perfect. I reached out to Netflix and told them about the film. At the time, Netflix had not made the announcement that they would be going international. I mean all territories worldwide. I told them about the film and they said they would take it worldwide. This was only six weeks after I got the film. I then asked Adam, “Would it be cool to sell the film to Netflix worldwide?” (Laughs) So that’s how we started and it was just inherent trust between the two of us. We have this great relationship and I’ve worked with a lot of filmmakers, but with Adam, we just have this complete openness. We make sure it’s about the project and not our own individual companies. We never put our own egos into it. We always figure things out and now six films later, we have our 1st major studio film. We’re really excited about moving towards the future.
In terms of Inmate #1, how involved were you in the making? Were you involved in the actual shooting or more of a behind the scenes type of guy?
Jhod: Definitely a behind the scenes type of guy. I’m working with the content I current have. There is no model anymore. We tend to really squeeze what we have in terms of content. Because a lot of the stuff I have is Adam’s, if I can keep the momentum going on the production side, Adam can keep the momentum going on distribution and sales. If it means selling out rights to Universal or doing it ourselves, we just keep going. And what’s interesting with Danny’s is that he has one of the biggest niche markets you can go for before you can no longer can talk niche. His fans are so rabid, but this is a niche market because it’s very targeted. I think that’s why we got the studio to roll over.
And the way Brett and Adam edited the film, they didn’t make it a celebrity doc. They made it for the fans of Danny who can in turn tell the average person, you have to see this! I think that will happen with this film. This is a film that can impact you pretty deeply.
We are in a time where things have slowed down. Has the pandemic slowed down progress on any new projects or have they motivated to you to develop any new projects?
Adam: Well, obviously travel and stuff is becoming a problem so I’m hoping the world keeps healing and things keep opening. And when they set up the new guidelines for crews, like us documentarians, we’ll feel blessed again because they may be for crews of 15, but we don’t have crews of any more than 6. So as long as we can travel and get a test before we leave and a test when we get back, wear masks and all.
The downtime has allowed us to finish work on Michael Bisping’s documentary, and work on the post-side and legal side. We’ve also been getting projects in queue. People are now watching more content these days and now that many productions had shut down, I think as Jhod said, Danny’s story is coming at the right time. With so much negativity in the news, hearing Danny’s story, one of hope and changing the journey, never giving up and helping other people, and Bisping coming out right after it, it’s perfect timing.
This has been quite a great conversation and Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo has a July 7 release date. Those who are huge fans of this wonderful actor need to see his story and who better than you two to work on it. Thank you Adam and Jhod for taking the time to talk about the film.
Adam: Thank you so much!
Jhod: Thank you for having us!
A Special Thank You goes to October Coast PR, Adam Scorgie, and Jhod Cardinal for making this interview possible.