B&W: MAY FEATURE
B&W: MAY FEATURE
CBD, BY THE SOUND OF IT
Going behind the scenes on ‘Kings of Kush’
WORDS /SAM PFEIFLE
The cannabis industry has come a long way. It wasn’t too long ago that the only depiction of weed-growing in popular media was likely to be found on something like “COPS,” tough guys in uniforms raiding backroom grows while “bad guys” jump out the window. Or maybe we’d get some fun Cheech and Chong.
Nowadays, though, you can watch a full-fledged cannabis farming operation get off the ground and start humming on ViceTV’s brand-new “Kings of Kush,” the story of how “the OxyClean guy,” Anthony Sullivan, decided to buy a 116-acre farm in Vermont to grow CBD-rich hemp after discovering its beneficial properties in treating his sick daughter, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder. It is reality TV at its most classic: Absurd situations, an emphasis on inter-personal drama, and a glimpse into an industry most people don’t know much about.
If you’ve seen “Deadliest Catch” or “Ice Road Truckers,” you have some idea of the format, as it’s produced by the same company, Original Productions, headed by Thom Beers. It also features Dave Christian (an “adventure racer,” and Sullivan’s pal), and Ethan Zohn, winner of “Survivor: Africa,” who has famously recovered from cancer and made cannabis part of his regimen.
And right there with a first-hand, behind-the-scenes view of its making was Sean Slaughter, long-time mainstay of the Maine music scene, fronting bands like Supersoul Challenger, Clubber Lang, and John Hughes Radio; doing his best Freddie Mercury in killer Queen tributes; and recording some of Maine’s best heavy rock in his V69 Studios. (There is also a Christian rapper by the same name; not that guy!)
For “Kings of Kush,” Slaughter had his sound engineering hat on, serving as one of two location sound mixers. “I put wireless mics on talent,” he says of the gig, “I have the boom mic, and I have my mixer and I follow the cameras around and I record all the dialogue and ambient noise and sound effects, and then the editor puts it all together.”
That means when the action is happening, he’s there. For two months straight, he was in Plainfield, VT, probably best known as the former home of Goddard College (Phish went there), living in a hotel room (a rare perk for a sound guy) or sleeping in campers on site at the farm, coming home to see his wife and son once a week.
“It was fun to watch,” he says. “Our job as crew was to have as little interaction as possible with the farmers and cast, just be a fly on the wall for non-scripted reality.” A naturally gregarious guy, Slaughter even got some feedback from producers that he needed to be a little less friendly with the cast! “It was chaotic,” he says. “It was intense and it was a situation where they were learning on the fly and constantly under the gun and getting things done on schedule with lots of technical difficulties.”
One thing he was impressed by was just how hard the principles on the show actually worked. While it can be hard to know with a reality show just what’s true and what’s for the cameras, Slaughter said everyone involved with “Kings of Kush” was basically up at the crack of dawn and collapsing into their beds at the end of the day for the whole time he was there. And he can confirm that what you see in the final product is what you saw day to day.
“When you watch the show, the banter between Sully and Dave is hilarious,” Slaughter says. “They’re constantly talking trash to each other, but in a fun-loving way, and that’s the way it was even off camera. The stuff on camera was genuine. They were really funny. Sully’s got a really dry sense of humor, and Dave was a Green Beret, so he’s really tough and has a lot of know-how and smarts, and just knows how to figure things out. … He knows how to run operations. He had just never farmed before, but he totally dominated because he never stopped working. … It was really impressive to see them learn and see the point they got to by the end of the season.”
Slaughter’s interest, too, goes beyond the professional. He’s seen first-hand how CBD can change lives. “Our son Evan has severe anxiety,” he says, which “made it difficult to take him places and have fun because he’d get anxious or loud or aggressive and so we decided to try CBD with him, and it’s helped a lot.”
Plus, American viewers might not realize just how far Sullivan is sticking his neck out by going in so heavily on CBD.
“He tells the story,” Slaughter says, “about how he was opposed to using CBD medicinally. The perception of hemp and marijuana is a lot different over [in the U.K., where Sullivan is from].” But his daughter wasn’t doing well with the pharmaceutical options she was being given and so they tried CBD. “It just made a huge difference for her, so he came up to Vermont to check out a hemp farm. I’m not sure if he was planning on buying it or just had an epiphany, but once he got a grasp on the product and what it could do for people, he was all in.
“Sully makes the joke and it became one of the taglines on the show: ‘Most men when they turn 50 go through a mid-life crisis and buy a sports car. I decided to buy a hemp farm.’”
Of course, Sullivan is one of TV’s most talented pitch-men, and so his involvement in medicinal CBD can only be good for raising the profile of the industry as a whole. Sure, Slaughter says, Sullivan saw the monetary potential of going big in CBD, “but on top of that he feels like he’s doing something for the greater good — instead of just pitching detergent.”
As the series heads into its final episodes of this first season, Slaughter is proud of the work he’s been a part of and has enjoyed watching the final product, which he’s seeing for the first time along with everyone else. “They’ve done a good job,” he says, “of making it a wholesome type of vibe. … They all have families, Sully and Dave are married with kids, and it was tough for them to be away from their kids, but they did it” because they believed in the product and the mission.
“I hope it gets renewed and has a run of eight seasons!”
“Kings of Kush” runs Thursday nights at 11:30 p.m. on ViceTV, which is channel 133 on Spectrum in Maine, 271 on DirectTV, and 121 on the Dish Network. You can also find episodes on www.ViceTV.com.
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