The Life, Blood, and Rhythm: An Interview With Wynn Ponder, Director of the Randy Castillo documentary

Randy Castillo. The name alone conjures up the image of a man known as much for his thunderous and distinct drumming style as his wonderful human spirit. When you mention the name Randy Castillo to anyone - both in and out of the music industry - the reaction is the same. You're often met with a smile and stories of fond memories.He was the first Apache rock'n'roll drummer, and that made for quite an inspiration not only to the Apache nation, but anyone else who had the opportunity to hear him play. Castillo got his start with The Offenders, but it was really his starring role in Lita Ford's band during the recording of Dancing On The Edge and its proceeding tour that brought him into the international spotlight. He went on to play for Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue, and countless others. 
Randy was one of the many talents that was taken way too soon from this rock'n'roll world of ours. Randy Castillo lost his battle to cancer on March 26, 2002, but his influence and generous human spirit will live on for a lot longer than that. Director Wynn Ponder pays tribute to the legacy of Randy Castillo in The Life, Blood, and Rhythm by showcasing interviews with rock'n'roll icons Slash, Lemmy, and the film's narrator, Lita Ford. The film has been selected to open the Red Nation Film Festival in Beverly Hills, CA, on November 4, 2014.

Wynn Ponder, the director of the film, was gracious enough to answer some questions for us and I think you'll really get a sense of the passion behind the entire project once you read what he had to say. The Official Press Release from Cinema 1 Film & FX and 18 Lights Pictures follows the interview.

Playing With Chaos (PWC) How and why did you get the idea to create a documentary specifically about Randy Castillo? What drew you to his story?
Wynn Ponder (WP): Mike Bell, the producer, started making the film in 2002, a total labor of love, but an endeavor he had to undertake in his spare time because he was also running a business. Mike had sneaked in the stage door at a bar—under-aged—to watch Randy play back in the 80s, and then they became friends.
As soon as Randy passed in 2002, Mike jumped into the project with both feet and started interviewing Randy’s rock star friends when they came within driving distance of his home in Oklahoma City. Mike was a music promoter at the time, so he had a lot of open doors in the industry. Mike brought Cinema 1 in in 2008, but one big blank spot we had in the story for a long time was that Randy’s mother, Margaret, didn’t want to be interviewed. She also didn’t want to release any photos taken of Randy after he had cancer. So we waited until Mrs. Castillo was ready, which happened a couple of years ago.
PWC: Not everyone knows that Lita Ford was the first high profile act that Randy played for. How did you decide on having her narrate the film and what was the process like?
WP: Mike Bell had interviewed Lita Ford for the picture a few years ago, and her passion for telling Randy's story was palpable; they were very good friends. As we approached post production and started discussing options for a narrator, she was at the top of the list, and we were delighted when she gave us a quick "yes." Basically, all we had to do was ask, and Lita was all in.
Lita was very instrumental in shaping the narration script. First of all, I needed to write it in a way that sounded like Lita talking. So she and I had several extended conversations about Randy and the shape of the story and the tone of writing, and we just kind of bounced, and I listened to the way she reflected on this close friend she had lost. She cried more than once, even when we were recording her narration tracks at Paramount Studios and Sound City, and we’d have to stop and let her catch up with her feelings, then we could move on. Lita made the film real. She’s a very articulate person, so her fingerprints were all over the script by the time it was finalized. I couldn’t have written a narrative that extracted the story of Randy had Lita Ford not been involved.

PWC: Randy has his own legacy and legend of rock status. As you approached various rock icons about Randy, what was their response and what sorts of feelings did you find consistently came up about Randy as a person and musician?
WP: That's easy. All the big players talk about Randy’s showmanship, and how he was the first rock drummer to make the drums visible on stage with his drumstick acrobatics and the way he danced around and played the outside of the kit, making sounds nobody else was making, giving a show that nobody else was giving. Remember, this was during the digital age of music, when pop stuff was sounding very produced and plastic-wrapped. People needed a renaissance of the tribal ritual of the rock concert. Randy Castillo was one of the visionaries of that renaissance.
But here’s the story: Randy was one of the true greats of rock and roll, yet he remained a good—and a very loved man—we got the same story from everyone. The film is about how his friendship profoundly affected the lives of the rock stars around him—and how they continue to struggle with the very idea that a guy like this could die. What emerges is this soft heart of humanity behind the hard veneer of the rock industry.
PWC: What is your hope/goal in terms of the lasting impression this film will have on the rock and heavy metal community, and perhaps even the Apache native Americans, of whom Randy identified himself as?
Again, what comes through in the film is a surprising glimpse of the family of warm human beings  behind the hard veneer of the rock industry. Sure, business is business, no matter what industry you're in, but there are some really special people in rock who also happen to be amazing artists at the tops of their games. Randy was a catalyst for bringing out the very best in the people around him, but the people we met while making the film are genuinely good people. It's been really important to us to share the story of a guy who was considered the "drummer's drummer" by all the best players in industry with as large an audience as possible.
As for the Native American element, Randy was Apache and also Latino, and he really embraced his Native American roots. As we were writing the script, it was tempting to overemphasize this theme, with all the obvious connections between beating rock drums and the archetypal Native American warrior. Drums are part of the Indian heritage, so that would have been an easy theme to land on and go rain dancy with the picture.
There’s also the pagan mysticism that surrounds Native American culture, and rock and roll has always loved its fantasy tales. We actually did entertain some supernatural-feeling sequences with special effects added, but in the end, we tried to weave in the right amount of Indian theme to show an accurate picture of Randy Castillo, who had a lot of facets to him. Apache was just one of those facets.
But the Native American theme is a part of who Randy Castillo was, so it’s in there to the extent that it played a role in defining his drumming—and his style spiritual gravitas. So it wouldn’t have been a complete picture of Randy, if we had fabricated some desert-walking shaman, but quite a few people we interviewed hinted at this indefinable power he had that influenced his drumming and his persona.
It's very significant that we're holding the world premiere at the Red Nation Film Festival because the stated purpose of that organization is to “break the barrier of racism by successfully replacing American Indian stereotype with recognition, new vision, arts, culture and economic prosperity by placing American Indian Filmmakers at the forefront of the entertainment industry and to introduce American Indian Filmmakers to larger, global mainstream audiences.” I happen to have Cherokee ancestry (a small amount, but a heritage I'm proud of), so I'm really pleased by the opportunity to play a small role in such an important mission. 
PWC: What are the distribution plans for the film and where and when can fans and documentary lovers see the film?
Our hope is to get the film into distribution as quickly as possible, whether through an acquisition or distribution deal. The Red Nation Film Festival has an amazing track record for film acquisitions, and I'll also be pitching the picture at the American Film Market in Santa Monica two days after the premiere, plus I'll be taking it all over L.A. for a week and half while I'm there. Keep your fingers crossed, and maybe we'll have this picture in front of fans in a few months.

Official Website for The Life, Blood, and Rhythm

The Life, Blood, and Rhythm Official Trailer

Official Press Release