When Brent Wilson set out to make Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road, a documentary about Beach Boys’ co-founder Brian Wilson, he knew the process of interviewing the legendary songwriter and performer wasn’t going to be straight-ahead.
What began as 70 hours of footage of Wilson and Rolling Stone journalist Jason Fine driving around with Wilson became a touching documentary about Wilson’s ability to create something beautiful out of his struggles with mental illness.
“Brian’s very random in the way he thinks; he doesn’t think in a linear fashion,” director Brent Wilson (no relation to Brian Wilson) said on a recent episode of the Factual America podcast, which you can listen to above on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or right here:
“He’s not going to start at the beginning of his life and take us up through, and as Jason predicted, there were long stretches where Brian wouldn’t say anything,” Brent Wilson said. “And then, we ended up with 70 hours of footage of them in the car. And one of the things that I didn’t want to do is, I didn’t want to infer anything on Brian as far as an agenda, as far as what we wanted to talk about. If Brian wanted to talk about something, we talked about it. If he didn’t, we didn’t. I didn’t want to tell him to wear the same clothes to match continuity.”
Just witnessing Brian Wilson being himself revealed some of the documentary’s most heart-wrenching moments.
“I saw the emotions, I saw the answers in his eyes and in his face, and you just take it on faith that the audience will as well… he says so much with his eyes and he says so much with his face that the answers can be monosyllabic or short, but there is so much in them when he says them,” Brent Wilson said. “When he talks about [his brother] Dennis passing away and he says, ‘I really love him,’ that may only be three or four words, but my God, it just rips your gut out when he says it. And the way he says it, and then the emotion on his face, because you can see the hurt, and you can see the pain. I think you can tell that he’s never said that to his brother, you know, he never got a chance to say to Carl and Dennis, ‘I love you, and you’re a great producer.’ And to hear him say, ‘I miss them’ — it may be three words, but for me, it was heartbreaking to see him say those three words.”
The documentary also covers Wilson’s lifelong struggle with his mental health.
“I wanted people to understand that this is a daily battle for Brian Wilson, right? This is not something that goes away… He has a schizoaffective disorder where he hears voices in his head, and those voices are always saying evil things, bad things: Brian, we’re going to murder you. I’m going to kill you. Brian, this is the Devil. I’m taking you to hell. Just horrible things,” Brent Wilson said. “The miracle is Brian’s courage — the courage that Brian Wilson has every day to get out of bed and function at the level that he functions. It’s truly a miracle. And I hope fans come away with that. I hope fans can witness and see just a tiny sample of what it’s like to walk in Brian’s shoes, just for an hour and a half.”
Brian Wilson: The Long Promised Road is now available on Apple TV+, Google Play, YouTube, and Amazon Prime Video. Here are some time stamps from the Factual America interview with Brent Wilson:
00:00 – The trailer for Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road.
05:50 – A synopsis of the film.
08:50 – Brent Wilson’s unique approach and the challenges with interviewing Brian.
13:26 – How Brent came to the idea to film Brian driving around LA.
16:26 – The challenges of making a documentary from unstructured camera footage.
22:56 – How Brian’s mental illness has affected his life.
30:46 – How music acts as a release for him, and why he is so self-conscious about his music.
37:43 – The ways Brian’s creative genius has continued through his later life.
41:16 – The soundtrack that is coming out with the film.
45:02 – The next projects Brent is working on.
48:30 – Comments on episode with Anne Rapp, director of Horton Foote: The Road to Home.
51:12 – The way some buyers took advantage of independent filmmakers during Covid.
Factual America uses documentary filmmaking to examine the American experience as well as universal topics that affect all Americans. Guests include Academy Award, Emmy and Grammy-winning filmmakers and producers, their subjects, as well as experts on the American experience. We discuss true crime, music, burning social and political topics, history and arts with the creators of the latest and upcoming documentary films in theatres and on the most popular digital platforms. This podcast is produced by Alamo Pictures, a London- and Austin-based production company that makes documentaries about the US from a European perspective for international audiences.
Main Image: Brian Wilson pictured in Brian Wilson: The Long Promised Road