Sublime has chosen two-time Oscar-winning director Bill Guttentag to tell its story in a theatrical documentary detailing the Southern California reggae punk band’s rise and tragic loss of lead singer Bradley Nowell.
Guttentag will write and direct the documentary, which will be released theatrically in late 2018, and will include rare and unreleased music from the group. The five-time Oscar nominee won the Academy Award for best short subject documentary in 1989 for You Don’t Have To Die and again in 2003 for Twin Towers. In 2009, he co-directed Soundtrack for a Revolution, a documentary that told the story of the American civil rights movement through song, including new recordings of civil rights and freedom songs by John Legend, The Roots, Wyclef Jean, Joss Stone and more.
Nowell, Bud Gaugh and Eric Wilson formed Sublime in Long Beach, Calif. in 1988. After their self-released debut, 1992’s 40oz to Freedom, received heavy exposure on influential Los Angeles rock radio giant KROQ, the band signed with MCA. The group’s second album, Robbin’ the Hood, expanded its audience, but it was its third album, the self-titled Sublime and its infectious singles “What I Got,” “Santeria” and “Wrong Way” that turned the band into global stars. Only two months before the album’s release and one week after Nowell had gotten married, he died from a drug overdose. The band’s music continued to soar in popularity with Sublime selling more than seven million copies. The remaining members reunited in 2009, joined by vocalist Rome Ramirez, and have toured as Sublime with Rome.
“They have an ineffable quality that managed to transcend time,” Guttentag tells Billboard. “The film will reach people who already love them, but hopefully get to a new generation that will be taken with them as well.”
It took a year and a half to find the right director to tell Sublime’s story, says the band’s manager, Dave Kaplan, who, along with Sublime’s co-manager Scott Seine, Guttentag, attorney Peter Paterno, and Nayeema Raza, will produce the doc. The budget is between $2.5 million and $3 million. Though financing is in place, Kaplan said it was “too early to disclose.”
The doc will weave together multiple story lines including the band’s beginnings, their music, their fans, the loss of Nowell, and the remaining members’ decision to carry on after a long hiatus.
“There are deep friendships within the band, but also demons within the band. Their lives are ones of euphoria, demons and tragedy,” Guttentag says.
The band members and Nowell’s estate have signed off on the project and have given Guttentag full access to Sublime’s archives, including rare music and unseen footage.
Additionally, Guttentag says he has already started a social media campaign to find footage from fans and collectors that hasn’t been seen before. “We’re hoping to harvest that footage and really put the viewer in the studio, in that time. Really good music films make you feel like you’re at the concert. Plus, we’re going to take footage that folks may have seen before, but will look better just from the march of technology. At the end of the day, it’s the power of the story and the band’s music and its ability to connect with fans and transcend.”
“I can’t wait to hand deliver our story to our fans. It has been a long-time coming and now there are literally two more generations of fans who never had the opportunity to see us perform, or don’t know the whole story,” Gaugh said in a statement. “I am excited to work with Bill Guttentag, as I am a big fan of his work as well.”
The movie also hopes to include music and or memories from contemporaries of Sublime’s such as No Doubt, as well as incorporate some of the many acts that the band influenced, including Slight Stoopid, Adam Levine, G. Love, Dirty Heads and Jack Johnson. “We’re trying to meet anyone who had a relationship with the band and has something valid to say,” Guttentag says.
Guttentag calls himself a fan, though he never got to see the band live before Nowell’s passing. “Plenty of music stays in its lane, but I think what Sublime does is they’re this brew of ska and punk and hip hop and reggae, which is extremely compelling. There’s something very iconic and California about it, but their music reached the world.”
Though Nowell died before most college students were born, the band’s music has stood the test of time and has found a following among a younger generation, a point brought home to Guttentag just as he signed on to the project. “I was out with my son the other day and we bumped into college buddies of his and one was wearing a Sublime t-shirt. Why is someone that age wearing a Sublime t-shirt? What is it about that music that still speaks to them?,” he says. “People are still engaged with the music.”
Kaplan expects there to be some musical release to accompany the film, but “we don’t want to just slap together another best of,” he says. Universal Music Group owns the band’s masters.
The start of the documentary comes as Sublime is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the release of 40oz to Freedom. For Record Store Day, the band put out its 1995 EP Badfish on vinyl for the first time. Additionally, it has paired with AleSmith Brewing Company to create a lager called, naturally, 40oz to Freedom.