May 10th, 2010
When You're Strange, a film about The Doors
Interview with Executive Producer Dick Wolf

Two-time Emmy Award-winning producer Dick Wolf answered some questions for American Masters about his role as exective producer for When You’re Strange, a film about The Doors. Wolf talks about his collaboration with Tom DiCillio and why The Doors qualify as American Masters.

right-dickwolfAmerican Masters: In episodic television the producer is very closely involved with creative decisions. What was your role like working on this documentary film?

Dick Wolf: Our strength as a production company is picking the right people for the job.  My operating philosophy has always been the same – all of us working on the film had years of experience.  As a result, communication, particularly with (producer) Peter Jankowski was shorthanded and the end result speaks for itself.

What first sparked your interest in producing documentaries?

When Bill (Guttentag) got involved with us on Crime & Punishment and Twin Towers, Peter (Jankowski) and I embraced the documentary genre as a logical extension of our work at Wolf Films. We realized this is a genre that allows us as filmmakers to explore information and insights in a much more layered and in depth process.

Are you  a Doors fan?

All my life, from their first album.

What interested you about the band?

Their music is hypnotic and complex.

How did the collaboration with Tom DiCillo come about?

Peter (Jankowski) and I knew of Tom and his amazing work on indie films, and I got to know him when he directed episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.  He was a perfect choice for this because of his attention to detail, and his vision. He was able to find the balance between performance and art.

How did you make the decision to tell the story entirely through archival documents?

The footage speaks for itself.  There was no need to have talking heads explain what was obvious from this never before seen footage.

The film is a snapshot of an era.  What do you think audiences today can learn from that?

In a world where commerce often trumps creativity, Jim and The Doors remind us that no true art is made without risk and music is the universal language.

Why do you think The Doors belong on American Masters?

By receiving the imprimatur of PBS, the film automatically becomes the document of record about one of the greatest groups in history.

  • Larry Haven

    This is an idiotic choice, apparently made in part by the idiot who is the subject of this interview. “one of the greatest groups in history” – - – ? say, on a par with the 1927 yankees? Or with the Maccabbees? Perhaps the Pony Express? What’s the next choice as “masters” – the tea party creatures?

    This choice is wide open for a mastersdbate.

  • Morpheus

    Is this documentary available on I don’t have cable or satellite; I have a crappy converter and a crappy antenna and the signal sucks!!

    I really pray….that this is going to be available on PBS, by this weekend if not tonight!

  • yvette scampton

    This film was exemplorary: factual, not gilded nor biased either way, it has documented the rise and fall of this extraordinary band, whose music has not dated over the last 40 years. Love him or hate him, Jim Morrison WAS The Doors and without his creative input and enigmatic presence, the group has faded into insignificance. Is this film available on DVD?

  • merle c

    During the military draft era, I enlisted into the Navy Reserves to avoid the Army, obviating any direct personal entanglement with LBJ’s Viet Nam war and found myself, lucklessly, tossed on the deck force of the antiquated WWII appropriated Exxon oiler, the USS Guadalupe AO 32, as I had refused to convert to a NAV CAD while in boot camp and learn to fly jets and bomb Hanoi. Capt. at the time, was George Stephan Morrison, father of Jim. I slipped out of the deck force quickly and became a “stricker” in the ship’s office. That allowed for much contact with the Capt., usually evenings, having him sign numerous papers in his stateroom and the added duty as attentive captive sole audience listening to his strange soliloquies . Got to know him well, — and became fascinated with his family who would come aboard after we returned from sea activities…..His nice looking wife, Jim, [ who rarely showed up] his sister and brother. They would visit for perhaps 1/2 an hour, at most. Capt. Morrison was ALL Navy, all out for his career, all out for himself, period, and not noteably bright [ about 2 standard deviations below Jim on a standardized IQ test]. [ 110 vs. 140+] Capt. Morrrison was a typical Napoleon type, short, cocky, assertive, and unpredictable. We in the ships’ office disliked him and as the new “stricker”, I got stuck having to deal with him. There is no wonderment why Jim was astranged from him, they were one of those little cosmic mismatched jokes… opposites thrown together….the only course available to Jim was submission and emulation or rebellion. Makes perfect sense for those of us who had to cope with Capt. cum Rear Admiral, Morrison….I note on the internet it was only a year ago the onery old bastard died up…..

  • Sly

    When can I purchase this???

    GREAT having Johnny Depp narrate!!!

    When I was a little girl I was foolishly told I would grow out of this music… I went from 45’s to albums to 8 tracks to cassetts to CDs.

    Having over 500 CDs the Doors have their own CD album book as does Stevie Ray Vaughan and Cowboy Junkies.


  • maria parker

    Is this movie out yet? I would love to see it when can I see it???? A loving Doors Fan ;)

  • Paula Brown

    I was mesmerized by this documentary. I had no idea so much footage of the band and Jim existed. It is woven expertly into an incredible story of self-destruction and artistic fervor. Thank you for capturing an era and choosing to highlight the bizarre career of the best male rock voice of all time.

  • Sam

    Does anyone know the story behind the footage of the two little vietnamese boys holding hands and crossing the street? It was part of one of the final video montages. The older boy had his one hand up in submission while he held the hand of a younger boy and guided him across the street. I’ve never seen that footage before. While lasting only a few seconds, it was heartbreaking. Does anyone know what happened to those boys or the story behind the footage?

  • JB

    I believe the interviewer failed to ask a very important question of Mr. Wolf:

    “Did you ever see a movie called ‘This Is Spinal Tap’?”

  • L Sievers

    Hey Larry Haven, just as you are entitled to your opinion, so are the producers of the show. No need to be rude, just turn the channel, I’m sure an epsisode of American Idol is playing, maybe that’s more along the lines of your musical taste, or should I say lack of?

  • Keith Hentrich

    I am very glad that this film did not use as Mr. Wolf said ‘talking heads’ to reiterate what the film so brilliantly shows. That type of documentary making is so redundant.

    This was one of yet another excellent American Masters episodes. One of the most fascinating aspects about The Doors was their quick rise to fame and the music that these young guys made and how enduring their mystique and popularity has remained.

  • Janet

    I was absolutely transfixed on The Doors documentary. DON’T MISS IT. I loved it!

  • Mr. Mojo Sinkin’

    When is this going to be available online on – I’m dying to see it ?!?!?!

    At least let us know before I start getting mad at the sight of (the wonderful) Lena Horne!

  • John Poole

    The documentary was a powerful warning tale of what the music industry at that time offered to some who sought creative expression and needed confirmation on a mass scale. Morrison’s iconic achievement was a harrowing tale of commerce’s powerful meme.

  • Jerry

    Bravo! Extraordinary film about bright, gifted people. 2010….God, where have we gone so wrong.

  • Tommy

    I am just wondering if anyone at all has a way for me to contact Mr. Wolf. I have wrote a novel that I am positive he would be interested in for a TV mini series. If only I could get it into his hands.

  • Susanne

    Does anyone at PBS read these comments. The majority of the comments ask to own a copy of “The Doors” as pictured by “American Masters”, Me, too. I checked on PBS and it was NOT available. It was shown last night. Jan.12th, 2011 by PBS SoCal; after “Jeff Bridges” with a warning that the material might upset people. It was an excellent slice of American History and it would be good for people to see it. I thought that it was wonderful.

  • Wayne Grogan

    I’m an Australian writer with Doors mystique coded in my DNA. My latest book is a final catharsis of Jim’s influence on me. This is one for true fans. Welcome comments which can be directed through the site.

  • abram hernandez

    American Masters has taken me back to when I first seen The Doors at the Whiskey Go Go. I can so vividly remember Jim’s entrancing vocals and enigmatic lyricy; Krieger’s elcectrifying guitar riffs; Manzarek’s hypnotic keyboard sounds, and Densmores’s marching drums. I may not have had long hair or smoked pot, but I sure wore my diapers well.

  • Lary Nine

    Those who reject The Doors as a fitting focus for American Masters may be suffering from elitism or from a failure of imagination or both. If you are young, then you’re excused, for you have a limited personal context of the times and places in which they created their huge legacy.
    Their music was wholly startling. I imagine it was much the same way that Beethoven’s symphonies assaulted the Viennese sensibilities of his time. The Doors surely broke the mold but in doing so they reconstructed an accompanying libretto in perfect pitch for the California counter-culture of the 1960s.I was there. I heard them live on many occasions. Their brooding, complex, moody rock anthems are still annealed on my aging rock ‘n roll heart. But they weren’t just musicians. They were immersed in and influential upon the larger story of that unique period in American social history and this documentary catches the spectral spirit of the sixties as well the discography of this great rock ‘n roll band.

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