Ed George - Director
About eight years ago, I looked up Glenn Brackett in Montana and asked if he would re-finish my 1910 F.E. Thomas rod. Glenn had recently seen a film I had shot on the Grand Canyon; he mentioned that Winston was interested in making a film about their company. This led to the film "Winston Waters" on which I had the good fortune to work with Glenn, Russell Chatham and Tom McGuane.
A couple of years later, Andy Royer took Glenn to China on his annual bamboo-selecting adventure. Glenn and Andy both felt that the story of how a bamboo pole was crafted into a bamboo fly rod would make a great documentary film and luckily I got hooked into the project.
Shooting in China was a photographer's dream -- total sensory overload, from the mountains and rivers of Yangshou to the ginger-fish, pungent rice wine and the smell of burning bamboo...
As we were editing the China footage, we went up to Twin Bridges, MT in January to shoot the rod-building process with Glenn. We returned to Montana in July to shoot David Duncan and Tom fishing. Luckily for us, we didn't get all of the underwater shots we wanted on that trip so I had an excuse for a fall shoot with David outside of Missoula. This third Montana shoot netted our opening, ending, and all the underwater shots we needed.
The three-and-a-half-years we've spent crafting Trout Grass has been akin to allowing a fine wine to reach it's potential. The painstakingly long process of editing and refining between Andy, Josh Moro (co-producer), David, myself, and our on-line editor, Gail Steiger, has brought all of us, as well as the film to a higher level.
I believe a film with the proper elements, takes on a life and integrity of its own and that if those involved have the patience, perception and perseverance to follow, all come out the better for it.Ed George.
David Duncan - Writer/Narrator
I've been invited several times to fly fish on TV fishing shows. I've always said no. I've also been asked a couple of times to write a screenplay about a fly fisherman based on my first novel, The River Why. I have so far said no to that, too. Knowing of my reticence to work with the film industry, friends wondered why the heck I said yes to two young strangers named Andy and Josh who proposed that I script and narrate a film about bamboo.
The first thing that piqued my interest was their title. Ours happens to be a world in which truth comes to us garbed in paradox, and the title "Trout Grass" is beautifully paradoxical.
The second thing that tweaked my interest: the name "Glenn Brackett," who is the rod maker in the film. Though I'd never met him, Glenn has, through decades of superlative craftsmanship and gentle integrity, become a legend. Knowing that "Trout Grass" featured Glenn's rodbuilding, I was intrigued enough to ask Andy and Josh to send some footage. Then I saw Ed George's camera work. Though all I saw was unedited footage of China and Glenn's shop, wow! If I couldn't find words that played alongside that imagery I figured it was time to hang up my pen.
I was already committed to "Trout Grass" when Andy and Josh (unnecessarily, but don't tell them) offered me one of Glenn's rods, built to my specs, as partial payment for my script. I reopened a Winston catalogue, looked at Glenn's bamboo rods through a magnifying glass, began to drool, phoned Andy, said hell yes, and the next day started a script.
In the first "Harry Potter" movie, when Harry enters a magic wand shop, and the shop owner, played by John Hurt, starts fitting him out with his first wand, the film captured something profound: Hurt's character, the shop owner, knows his product perfectly, yet he's helpless to assist Harry in choosing the right wand, because he knows that when it comes to magic tools, we don't choose them, they choose us.
Choosing a fly rod is no different---but most of the people trying to sell us rods don't know this. I, however, was lucky: in the drama at hand, Glenn Brackett played John Hurt to my Harry Potter.
A few days after I began scripting "Trout Grass," Glenn sent me no less than six of his rods, in a mind-boggling array of lengths and weights, with no comment at all. The result was the most amazing trout fishing year of my life. I've caught so many fish in my life it's crazy, really. But bamboo, after forty-five years of fly fishing, made the act feel new to me again.
David James Duncan
Andy Royer - Executive Producer/Producer
By 1995, I had been working with bamboo for a few years when a rod maker asked me if I could procure the specific type and quality of pole that was needed in the rod making trade. I made an order of several thousand of these poles from a supplier in Hong Kong but what I received was not of high enough quality to satisfy the requirements of the rod makers. This prompted me to go to China myself in 1997 to discover how the bamboo trade worked firsthand and to find if it was indeed possible to buy the quality of raw material in demand. It became an annual journey for me after I was taken in by the family of one of the managers in the bamboo factory where I worked.
I have since had the honor of playing host to a few bamboo rod makers who have wanted to journey to the source of their beloved material. It was one of these rod builders, Glenn Brackett, who visited China with me in the spring of 2001 and confided that the entire process of bamboo, transitioning from a living plant to a finished fly rod would make a fascinating documentary film. The idea that a tool, used and cherished for over a century around the world by millions of people, came from such a precise location and that bamboo from any other part of the globe would not build such an instrument, is quite extraordinary. Coupled with the thought of capturing the transformation of both bamboo and rod builder on film, I knew that this was a story worth pursuing.
It is that idea of transformation that unfolds in Glenn's work. Glenn is not simply contorting the bamboo into a mere fishing implement; he is reconfiguring the cane so that humans can now partake in this plant's mystery.
Glenn introduced me to cinematographer Ed George who expressed great interest in making this film. While preparing for our trip we were overjoyed to hear that Hoagy Carmichael who I had only recently met also agreed to partake in our adventure. Hoagy and Ed traveled with our two-man crew and I to this remote farming community in China's Guangdong Province; Hoagy with his half-century worth of bamboo fly-fishing lore and Ed, with his camera and as much enthusiasm as any one person can carry. [Ed then proceeded to get yelled at by a wide variety of woman working in the field as he would constantly set himself in their path of travel or, with his head attached, position his camera mere inches from their machetes as they were cutting down 35-foot bamboo spires. "It's okay," he'd yell. "Tell them I've filmed snakes and sharks and stuff, they don't need to worry about me, I'll get out of their way!"
We ended up with rough footage good-looking enough to fool David Duncan and Tom McGuane into agreeing to work with us. [They both think they are getting a rod built by Glenn to be in this film but the truth is, Glenn just mailed them a couple of $20 pieces of crap he found in his uncle's attic. Don't tell David!]
I was most impressed by the people who we met and worked with along the way, people who, for the love of the craft offered and gave incredible amounts of their time and energy to help make this film a reality.Andy Royer
Woody Simmons - Music
One day I received an interesting email from a guy living on Vashon Island, WA (a place I knew well as I had resided on it several years before) proclaiming to be a filmmaker and bamboo importer. He said he wanted to use some of my music from 'BanjoRama' (an instrumental album I had released a couple of years earlier) for a film he was making about bamboo. Somehow, after several emails back and forth, I convinced Andy, as I had learned his name by then, that it was a much better idea to just have me do ALL the music, thus saving him the trouble of organizing and finding the right tracks. He agreed and sent me some rough footage to view.
Right away, I knew it would be a great project and Andy would be fun to work with, and as it turned out, I was right. Trout Grass is a wonderful look at the art of handmade bamboo flyrods, an art most people have no idea exists, let alone that it is so precise and produces such pleasure for the people who appreciate it. Fly fishing is not something I will probably have the same passion for, however, I appreciate the fine work it takes to produce a bamboo fly rod. And although I didn't actually do ALL the music, I appreciated being able to have the opportunity to write music to depict the many moods in the film. I also have Ed George to thank for his patience in finding me for this project.
The music I composed reflects both the Montana back country feel as well as a cross over to Chinese culture. For the Chinese portion of the film, I incorporated banjo into one of the Chinese pieces provided by Seattle musician, Yu Qi, to give a country perspective to the bamboo gathering and transport. The film is both a story about Chinese bamboo culture as well as the American fly rod passion and the music needed to bridge that gap as well as the film does. Banjo lends itself to that task as it has the kind of resonance and drone as many traditional instruments in old world cultures. In writing music for banjo, I have tried to take banjo to another dimension, use it in a way that is unexpected and to continue its evolution. The banjo music can evoke a simple life of working in the fly rod shop, or a lazy afternoon trout fishing. It can also take the listener from America to China and back again. Banjo is a simple instrument, originating from Africa, evolving into the 5-string instrument of today. But it remains a primitive sounding instrument; capable of reflecting many different cultures in the many styles it can be played.
I enjoyed composing for Trout Grass. It gave me an opportunity to experiment and come up with something different that worked for the film. From China to Wyoming, Trout Grass is a journey from nature to art. From a culture relying on its natural resources to a culture relying on turning renewable resources into an art form. It's a perfect match.Woody Simmons