Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Local film studio begins crowdfunding for pot trafficking documentary, 'Gentlemen Smugglers'

Truth is stranger than fiction ...

Posted by David Hall on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 at 10:39 AM

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Charleston’s Black Bear Studio, a relatively new production company in Charleston, has begun crowdfunding for their upcoming documentary, The Gentlemen Smugglers.

The film will detail the story of South Carolina marijuana drug traffickers, known popularly as “The Gentlemen Smugglers.” Their go-lucky attitude and aversion to violence earned them the nickname in the '70s. Back then, the group used boats to smuggle an estimated 347,000 pounds of marijuana up and down the east coast. They were caught in the 1980s. Warren Ostergard, co-owner of Black Bear Studios, is the film’s lead producer.

(City Paper wrote about Jason Ryan's book on the smugglers, Jackpot: High Times, High Seas, and the Sting that Launched the War on Drugs, back in 2011.) 

“The documentary [has] got to be made,” says Ostergard. “This thing is so engaging and you can’t create characters like these guys.”

Ostergard says those characters, mainly the kingpins of the operation Barry Foy and Les Riley, make for the most compelling aspect of the film. Over the past year and half since Ostergard first bought the rights to make the film, he said he’s actually become good friends with Foy and Riley, who now reside in the area after 11 and 17 years of jail time, respectively.

“These guys, they’re good people,” says Ostergard. “They paid the price.”

These days, Ostergard and his partners have had to pay a price of their own to tell their story. According to Ostergard, he and his partners already invested a hefty sum of $100,000 to begin production of the documentary. That’s funded around a third of the film’s production, according to Ostergard. To complete production, the studio is asking the public for $250,000 more. That money will go towards paying crews and shooting re-enactments of the smugglers' many colorful stories.

Ostergard has even hired Foy, now a contractor, to build the studio’s production space. The facility includes a cyclorama, hair and makeup bays, and a collaboration space. The studio has been around about a year and half, making their own films as well as renting out their space to other productions in the Lowcountry, including Southern Charm, which shoots all its interviews in the studio’s space. The studio is even credited to a few national releases, like Nine Eleven, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Charlie Sheen.

The filmmakers expect the documentary to be completed sometime in 2017, so long as fundraising goes according to plan. 

“We feel it’s a story that has to be told,” Ostergard said. “It’s generally an awareness problem. If people know what we’re doing they may throw 50 bucks or five bucks or 10 bucks at it to get it made and that’s what it takes.”

If you would like to donate or get more information on the film and see a teaser trailer, visit their indiegogo page here.


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