To quote the late great Mac Miller, “Dang!”
It’s been nearly nine months since the untimely passing of rapper-producer Miller from an accidental overdose of cocaine and fentanyl, and hardly a week goes by without news of unreleased songs discovered (“Benji the Dog” was leaked in May) or tributes being released (Flying Lotus has the latest with “Thank U Malcolm” and “Find Your Own Way Home”).
Canadian filmmaker CJ Wallis had the best project brewing, however. Monday, the director tweeted that his Margrette Bird Pictures, a New Orleans-based company he founded with Mallory Kennedy, was to commence pre-production on a documentary detailing the minutiae of Miller’s life, friends and music.
He would have come into this project with some doc cachet. Wallis is an animator, director and writer, as well as a creative director for Curren$y’s Jetlife collective who has worked with Wiz Kalifa, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross. Margrette Bird Pictures’ recent documentary on “The Price Is Right” game show (“Perfect Bid: The Contestant Who Knew Too Much”) is currently streaming on Netflix after winning the best documentary prize at the Orlando Film Festival and being chosen to open Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival. Margrette Bird’s next project to be released is a feature, “The Fiddling Horse,” this fall.
“In 2013, I spent every cent i had on my first feature, and it was a nightmare experience,” said Wallis from New Orleans, building up to his initiation to Mac Miller. “I hadn’t seen my parents, lost two family members while being away and it was a very isolating, bleak time of self-doubt and extreme frustration. I had just released a new episode of my Curren$y documentary series ‘JETFLIX'” when, out of nowhere, Mac Miller tweeted him, calling his video “genius.”
At a time when everything was seconds away from caving in, Miller’s tweet inspired Willis to figure out the fastest way to dig himself out of the darkness. “I saved the tweet and randomly found it on an old hard drive two weeks ago, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I printed it out, framed it, and it’s the only thing hanging in my office. I never got to work with him but I’ve put references to him throughout my work, hidden or in plain sight, since his passing.”
Now, the director was about to change that.
Wallis made the announcement on his Twitter account on June 3 that he was ready to get his Mac doc started:
So, over the next year I’m going to start collecting interviews & content to make the definitive @MacMiller documentary for his family, friends & fans… Please share & tag anyone you think we need to speak with! #birdseyeview #ripmac pic.twitter.com/PmmOhU5g3A
— FORTYFPS FILMS (@fortyfps) June 3, 2019
Wallis immediately found support and began either reaching out to or hearing from Miller associates via Twitter.
“I posted my intentions of casually gathering interviews as well as asking for help in finding all the correct people to speak with, knowing Twitter would do two weeks’ worth of initial research in 30 minutes of interactions,” said Wallis. “I emailed his former manager Christian Clancy to request his blessing and messaged Thundercat asking if he’d be interested in being involved. He said, ‘Can’t do it without the family’s approval’ … to which I said, ‘Of course, who can I speak with?,’ and waited for the reply.”
Wallis explained his intentions for the film to 25 or 30 different people, making it clear that the film would not involve any tabloid content. Each of them immediately agreed, traded numbers and offered additional friends, celebrities and athletes they knew would want to speak. “Several people signed on based on the future approval of the family. Mac’s parents and approval were always paramount in my mind at all times,” said Wallis. “I truly thought this concept of vignette-ed stories with animated cut-aways would be something that would be a positive, touching thing to create for his friends, fans and family.”
In the day that followed Wallis’ announcement, everything from simple misspellings of Miller’s name to the notion of exploiting Mac’s relationship with Ariana Grande got amplified online, as a growing cadre of fans expressed suspicions of his intentions.
“People jumped to the conclusion that I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, looking to exploit the family and legacy of Mac. I never received any music or any content from anyone. In the six total hours of this idea’s lifespan, the only thing I received was kindness and support of those I contacted, and I was relieved to discover those closest to him reflected the same spirit and kindness he had.”
Wallis then got an email from Miller’s manager Christian Clancy, who requested that the director hold off on the project at this time. “He was letting me know that the estate wasn’t going to be able to approve anything at this time and offered his number to call, which I did. They hadn’t decided yet how they wanted to handle the story in all regards, and gave the example that ‘even if [Clancy] wanted to make a documentary, it wouldn’t be approved right now.’ I immediately assured him I wouldn’t continue as I never wanted to do anything to bring chaos to the family, but frankly told him I considered myself the best person to handle the official version for them if and when they wished to do so, and to just please consider me going forward. I asked if I could stay in touch with him, and he agreed. I then wrote every person I contacted and updated them about the status and thanked them for whatever they’d offered.” The director added that he would like to apologize to the Miller family for causing them any hurt or inconvenience.
Wallis feels lousy that he became the target of some degree of intense online aggression, but he also received hundreds of heartfelt stories similar to his own, where “Mac saved them at some point in their lowest moment and continues to get them through whatever, whenever.“ He still hopes to make his Mac Miller documentary when, or if, the estate and fans are ready.