Earlier this year, Guy Griffithe became president of Bridgegate Pictures, a major independent studio making films with actors like John Cusack, Christina Ricci, Wesley Snipes, Nicolas Cage, Vicellous Shannon and John Travolta. What made the announcement interesting is that Griffithe is also a partner in Green Acres Pharms, and his affiliation with a boutique cannabis operation did not affect his opportunity to run a film studio. The Bridgegate president even plans to produce cannabis-themed content.
Do you know what else makes Griffithe interesting? He previously opposed cannabis legalization. Like so many people, Griffithe fell for the government-funded propaganda he had heard since birth, but he finally looked into cannabis himself when the shifting legal landscape brought new business opportunities. He is now a proponent, even using a topical cream for a skin condition he suffered.
Some might resent so-called "outsiders" investing in the cannabis market, but sometimes it takes a business motivation to spark a closer look at the issue. Griffithe epitomizes what can happen when a anti-cannabis individual finally questions the propaganda and reconsiders the movement.
Grittithe, along with Bridgegate Senior Vice President Travis Cloyd, spearhead the studio's virtual reality production, and he was in Puerto Rico filming the virtual reality portions of the upcoming film Speed Kills when he spoke with PRØHBTD about filmmaking, cannabis and U.S. drug policy.
What are you shooting right now?
Speed Kills with John Travolta. The movie is inspired by Don Aronow, who built the very first cigarette boats back in the seventies. He built the boats, not only for the police, but for the drug smugglers as well, and the drug smugglers' boats were just a little bit faster.
Two of your main businesses right now are Bridgegate Pictures and Green Acres Pharms. Take me up to the point where you got involved in film production and cannabis.
I was raised by my mother with nine to 12 of us in a two-bedroom apartment. Sometimes you had lights. Sometimes you had food. You typically didn't have both. The next door neighbor was a hooker. The guy above us shot the pizza man in the head. The guy across the hall stabbed his wife four times in front of me. It was an interesting childhood.
When I was in second grade, I had an opportunity to be in a school play, and acting became a passion of mine. When I was 15, I auditioned for a movie and got a role, but my mother couldn't get me there to do it, which killed my dreams. I worked for a publishing company that year and went on to run three of its departments, and when I was 16, I legally divorced my mother and bought my first home. By 20, I had built my first mortgage company, which I grew across the country with 200 employees and 17 locations. Then I got divorced in 2008 and had to liquidate four of my companies and lose $20 million, and [when the market crash happened,] I went through a $9 million bankruptcy. I was at a point in my life where I had no faith anymore. I didn't know where I was gonna go or how I was gonna do it.
How did you recover?
I decided to take a leap, to go 100 percent and just figure out what else I could do. In 2011, I met some of my partners that I still do business with today, and I got back into the lending world. I started managing the actor Tiny Lister, and I basically told him the story I just told you. He called me out to the set one day and put me in my first movie with him, but I had to play a racist [in a film] with an entirely black cast. You're super excited because you always wanted to do something like this, but at the same time, you're thinking, "I hope this movie never comes out." I didn't want people to see the movie and think I'm a racist.
I then played an FBI agent in an independent movie called American Justice. During the process of making American Justice, I started to look at how to sell and produce a movie. I studied the art of foreign sales, domestic sales, tax incentives, rebates and financing.
Then, in 2012, cannabis became legal in Washington. My partner Bob and I had never been users of the product, but we knew where the market was going. There were 3,000 applicants, and we were one of the first 38 to get a license. Bob is not part of the entertainment side, but on the cannabis side, we started to build out a premium product in Washington.
What are your thoughts on cannabis culture and U.S. drug policy?
I had always been anti-cannabis, anti-drugs, anti-pot, because of the generalizations and the stigma that we saw all of our lives. When I heard it was becoming legal, I wanted to understand the elements of what's taking place. As I started to do a lot of research, I started to see the benefits. We have people with throat cancer [that utilized medical cannabis] and, six, eight months later, they can talk again. Even me. I had skin cancer and required surgery, and I used a cannabis cream to help. At the same point, we traveled all over the world and purchased 100 strains, 20 of which are exclusive in the United States, 30 of which we're producing now.
I believe the government knows that this movement is going to happen. It's already licensed in some form or fashion in 38 states. Look at the magnitude of what they call the green rush. In 2015, Washington had $165 million in sales and about $60 million in tax revenue. In 2016, they had $1.2 billion in sales, with just under $400 million in revenue. The government's now going to figure out how to get their fees. I see them [down-scheduling] cannabis so it's no longer [fully prohibited as] Schedule I. It's too far along now to turn it back.
When you originally invested, you were still anti-cannabis? Was this just a business deal?
At the time, I was still on the fence. I was looking at the space in general, but through the process of the licensing, I did an essential amount of research. That's when I started to learn that it helps with diabetes and AIDS and autism and seizures and epilepsy and cancer. When you really start to become educated, even as a consumer in our society, you start to see that the government created this stigma to try to control society. So yes, it was originally monetary, but before we fully launched, I became convinced of the product itself and its benefits.
Could you see yourself diving into cannabis-themed films?
Sure. Absolutely. I'm already preparing to do VR content and, maybe in the future, a reality TV show on cannabis. That's absolutely something we're looking at.
What films are coming out next?
Recall is already released. In about a month, I deliver Humanity Bureau with Nicolas Cage to the foreign markets, so we'll probably go theatrical in the fall. A couple of smaller movies I did some financing on like School Spirits will come out on Halloween. But the big one we just finished filming is Distorted with Christina Ricci and John Cusack.
As far as the name Bridgegate, to what extent has the Chris Christie scandal affected online searches for the company's website?
When you just type in Bridgegate by itself or Bridgegate Pictures?
I just typed in Bridgegate, and Chris Christie dominated the search suggestions. There were lots of pictures of the congested bridge.
You can find a lot on Bridgegate Pictures. Everybody usually knows it's Bridgegate Pictures, but I have a new revamp on SEO and marketing getting ready to launch. On the public side, it'll start to come up in the forefront a little bit more.
Cannabis is a movement right now, but some people are against it no matter what. How is growing cannabis a different type of business than the other companies you've run?
A product's a product. The difference with this particular product is that, one, it's very lucrative, and two, it's very helpful. We slow played our product to the market because we wanted to be a premium product that created longevity and better health benefits. Our products are 100 percent organic. Our THC levels are all over 30 percent. We have a wider range of products in the cannabis space. We give people more options based upon their needs, both recreationally and medically.
We're still at the forefront of this because we can't do any interstate sales, but even now, the numbers are substantial. This is going to be one of the largest industries that we have moving forward, and then it will eventually become a standardized section. I believe this is a very different business in the aspect of the consumer, but it's the same as somebody who's drinking soda pop. It's just more about medicinal purpose, to try to help them.
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.