“High There”: A gonzo-style tabloid TV producer gets lost “in a fog of drugs, sex and paranoia”

By on April 5, 2018

“Gonzo”-style tabloid TV producer & journalist Wayne Darwen’s loosely-scripted 2014 film High There — which could just have easily been titled Fear & Loathing on the Big Island — is a NSFW nudity-laced Hunter S. Thompson-esque “unreality comedy.”

Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.

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Australian-born, L.A.-based Wayne Darwen — who co-stars as his down-and-out alter ego, “Dave High” — originally came up with an idea to film the pilot for a marijuana travelogue series in Hawaii, based around the best places to get high.

He brought along his cinematographer Henry Goren — who co-stars as the gas mask-wearing “Roland Jointz” — to scout locations.

At the beginning of the film’s trailer, Darwen even tips his hat to Hunter S. Thompson: “We were somewhere over the Pacific, on the edge of forty thousand feet, when reality began to take hold.”

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On his first day in Hawaii, Darwen ended up being hounded by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Darwen soon found himself getting lost “in a fog of drugs, sex and paranoia on the road to filming a marijuana travel series.”

“Sex, drugs, booze, idiocy… horrible, degenerate stuff,” Darwen says, describing what happened in Hawaii. “That’s what people want to see. Give them what they fucking want.”

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This super-stoned dynamic duo ended up having a lot of wacked-out experiences with the  Hawaiian locals — including “E Girl,” “Hammerhead” and “Tony the Healer” — toking up tons of Maui Wowie (or whatever it’s called on the Big Island), and watching natives frolicking in the surf on secluded nude beaches.

Dave and Roland also ended up uncovering a Thomas Pynchon-esque secret government plot to control Hawaii’s marijuana trade, an insidious plan to keep Roger Christie — a local “legalize cannabis” advocate busted for dealing and trafficking — locked up in jail for four years without a trial.

This act of insanity seriously bummed out members of Christie’s “THC Ministry,” who regard cannabis as a religious sacrament.

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“It’s raw, politically incorrect — and embraced by the 420 culture,” said the film’s producer, Burt Kearns, upon viewing the film.

“When he brought the material back from Hawaii, I convinced him to turn this into a movie. I helped him and Henry shape and edit the film.”

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Read more about Wayne Darwen and High There below.

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Prior to filming High There, Wayne Darwen was mainly known as purveyor of “gonzo”-style journalism, in which the reporter is typically included as part of the story through a first-person narrative, setting aside all objectivity.

The word “gonzo” was first used in 1970 to describe an article by Hunter S. Thompson, who later popularized the use of the word himself in his book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

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Darwen began his writing career at age seventeen, reporting for the Sydney Daily Mirror. He later contributed to the supermarket tabloid Star magazine and became a foreign correspondent for the New York Post.

Then, Darwen shifted his focus over to “tabloid television,” becoming a producer of influential news-magazine type TV shows like “A Current Affair,” “Hard Copy,” “Geraldo Rivera’s Now It Can be Told,” “Strange Universe,” and “Inside Edition.”

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Burt Kearns & Joey Ramone, circa 1978

Darwen became so well known in tabloid TV circles that many of his crazed exploits were featured in the outrageous 1999 book Tabloid Baby, written by a friend and colleague, documentary filmmaker and tabloid TV producer Burt Kearns, who produced High There.

In his book, Kearns describes Wayne Darwen as a young writer-producer who was rarely without his “milk carton full of vodka,” someone who was inclined to say things like “Oy’m a wombat, baby.”

Darwen eventually switched from vodka to weed, and he’s been an advocate for marijuana legalization ever since.

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Burt Kearns and Wayne Darwen

Darwen’s biggest claim to fame might be his series of televised interviews with David Berkowitz, a.k.a. “The Son of Sam,” in 1993.

Those interviews were likely also the catalyst for the tabloid-style journalist character “Wayne Gale” — played by Robert Downey Jr. — in Oliver Stone’s 1994 film Natural Born Killers.

In order to prepare for his movie role, though, Robert Downey Jr. shadowed a different Australian TV personality, shock-king Steve Dunleavy, who in the ’80s and ’90s wrote for the New York Post, and was the lead reporter on “A Current Affair” (Dunleavy is also featured in Tabloid Baby).

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In May 2015, Darwen and Robert Downey Jr. both made international news when they exchanged snarky comments about each other.

Downey struck first when he walked out of a interview with the UK’s Channel 4, after interviewer Krishnan Guru-Murthy pressed him about his history of substance abuse.

He later said he was tired of working on independent films, which, he said, were “…exhausting and sometimes they suck and then you just go, ‘What was I thinking?’.”

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In retaliation, Darwen told the New York Post‘s Page Six:“Junior was a lot more interesting when he was a substance-abusing, suffering artist — brave and silly enough to push the envelope.”

Darwen — who always pushes the envelope — added that Downey “should remember that it was the untamed spirit of the indie movement and the writings of journalists he now walks out on that made him a name in the first place.”

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High There was screened theatrically in 2014 and released on DVD in 2015, winning the prestigious Viewers’ Choice Award that year at the first annual Cannabis Film Festival in Northern California’s Humboldt County, marijuana farming capital of the world.

Check out High There‘s five-star DVD reviews that have been posted on Amazon.

Watch High There on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.