Richard Cranor is the creator and director of ‘Star Leaf,’ the sci-fi horror/comedy about an alien strain of super-potent cannabis and the group of enthusiasts who seek it out deep in the Olympic Mountains; the film pursues and explores the deeply personal connections that many people discover when using cannabis.
Richard recently launched Star Leaf brand cannabis products in Washington’s I-502 marketplace as part of his continued dedication to “the Star Leaf universe.” In this written interview, we ask Richard about his inspirations for the film, his experiences learning to navigate the 502 marketplace, and how his career as an artist has influenced the decisions he faces while expanding a cannabis-centric enterprise.
Could you talk about your inspiration for creating Star Leaf, the film?
I had a brother return from Iraq with a pretty bad case of PTSD. I also had stage 3 testicular cancer in 2010. Both experiences made me realize how important it is to have alternatives to what the status quo considers to be “healthcare”. Nature provides a lot of opportunities for healing, but I truly believe there are forces in our society more concerned with profit than our well being, and that ultimately undermines a lot of opportunities to find real health and prosperity within our culture. I kept coming across accounts of how Cannabis and certain psychedelics really helped people overcome serious trauma, both physical and mental. To me, plants act as chemical gateways that alter our conditioned neural pathways so we can suspend our five sense programming long enough for deeper insights to emerge from our collective unconscious, something we all share and is a source of great healing. So it’s really important to have free access to the plant kingdom without those in our society with less than altruistic motives mucking up the process. So Star Leaf is about helping people see what cannabis really does offer, besides the usual stoner tropes often associated exclusively with it.
When did you decide there would be an accompanying brand of cannabis products for the film?
I had to have actual weed in the film, since fake cannabis plants range about $400.00 each. With our low budget, that was out of the question. I had also always thought it would be great to have a film that raises consciousness about alternative health treatments and PTSD, but then also have a real life product that can actually physically help with those issues! So it was a win-win in my opinion to always push to have a film about cannabis and actual cannabis to go with it, hoping to achieve a synergistic purpose and effect. A lot of great films out there do a lot of good to inspire people, but if ours could have an actual “tool” to “explore the universe” as we say, alongside watching the film’s philosophical themes play out, man…how can you go wrong?
How have Washington’s I-502 regulations complicated your business plan?
We actually had a strain going for a while before I-502 came out, with the help of a local medical grower. People loved it. But as soon as the I-502 legislation came into effect, we had to shut down that arrangement. Luckily for us we’ve found a great partner with Phoenix Cannabis that is producing some really quality stuff. But it took a lot of education and wrangling on our part to find the right business solution that benefits all partners. It’s working, so that’s a good thing.
What was your vetting process like when choosing the right grower to partner with to create the Star Leaf strains?
People in the medical side of cannabis, former patients who’d gone to dispensaries for years, they became big supporters of Star Leaf. We really didn’t want to let them down when we were required to comply with I-502 laws and regulations which focus mostly on the needs of the recreational market. We chose Phoenix Cannabis for several reasons. One they use organic farming methods to produce some great cannabis and we feel that lives up to the Star Leaf ethos. Two, they have been cultivating at a commercial scale since I-502 legalized production and are very focused on quality and consistency of their product, the hallmarks of branded products. Phoenix also is committed to their standards no matter how the market fluctuates. We like that. There’s a lot of juggling to do with the changing landscape of legalization and the supply and demands of a recreational market, but we have found Phoenix Cannabis to be a very solid, trustworthy partner.
Where do you see the Star Leaf brand in five years? Is there perhaps a sequel to the film — or plans for new products — in the works?
On the cannabis front, we’re still actively moving forward with a strain high in CBD medicinal strain specifically for help with PTSD. We feel that is an important offering aligned with the themes of the movie. Assuming the flower products continue to enjoy great success, it also would be natural to expand into edibles and concentrates. We also have a rather unorthodox product in the works, but that’s for another time. We offer Star Leaf paraphernalia, DVDs, apparel, and other items for sale as well. We also hope that by this time next year, Star Leaf will have landed in other states too.
A sequel is definitely in the works. We are currently shooting a small web series that promotes our current cannabis line, and stores, budtenders, and fans of Star Leaf in general will be a part of it. It’s a very unique opportunity within the cannabis world right now, and as far as we know, we’re the only ones doing it. We don’t want to be that corporate “brand” whose headquarters is a 5000 miles away, out of touch with what’s really going on with their customers and community. It’s much more fun to be intimate and personal, sharing the Star Leaf culture with everyone and having everyone interact and add to it in some way. We’re lucky in the sense that our “brand” isn’t just about a look or sense of “status”, but is more about vision and shared ideals for a better world through scifi cannabis movies and products, which believe it or not, I think are working. Many of the modern world’s greatest innovations were influenced by scifi movies and authors (Star Trek,anyone), and we’re happy to leading the way with Star Leaf in the cannabis space.
Wow, were you concerned about filming with live plants in Washington state, where personal grows remain illegal even though possession and consumption are allowed? Also, were these plants grown specifically for the movie and, we have to ask, what eventually happened to the plants that appear in the film?
I knew I needed real plants not just for authenticity’s sake but also for the plain fact that if the movie failed, at least we could sell the weed, right? Actually just kidding… we were given 30 plants from Ohana Farms out of Bainbridge Island, WA to be specifically planted and grown for a medical co-op community garden. This was back before i502 came into effect when you could grow up the 45 plants for medical patients. This “Garden of Weeden” as we say in the film served two purposes then, to both serve as medicine for patients and my film set for the film. We selected several key strains though that could eventually form the genetics of an eventual Star Leaf strain which I had always wanted to create in real life, and made sure the patients were ok with those choices. The plants worked great for filming purposes, but we were forced to plant late in the season (July) and outdoors which in Washington state is very risky due to how wet things get out here. I unfortunately had to go to China for a business trip and leave my plants unattended for a week and when I got back, a mold infestation had destroyed most of the plants. We also lost one plant to a slug earlier on. So none of the plants ever made it into anyone’s bong unfortunately.
How many people who worked on the film have been involved in the new cannabis line, and how many people currently work for Star Leaf Enterprises?
Star Leaf Enterprises is not actually a cannabis grow operation. The company markets a variety of products and merchandise that are related to the movie and its themes. Importantly to us, we have now added cannabis to that product line. Administratively, we essentially license the Star Leaf brand to cannabis grow operations who are 1) committed to product quality and consistency, and 2) aligned with our message of consciousness exploration and alternative health and healing. Currently, we have a small team of entrepreneurs navigating the business opportunities and engage outside consultants as needed for legal, accounting, marketing, agricultural, and other business concerns.
What’s the toughest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in your journey with Star Leaf, so far? And what’s been the most rewarding?
First off, anytime you tell someone you’re going to make a serious alien weed movie that’s going to bring awareness to issues like PTSD – as well as expose an ET conspiracy to control humanity by using trauma as a backdoor into human minds, you’re going to be greeted with a fair amount of skepticism. That’s fine, because I love to surprise people with the unexpected.
Second, the hardest thing is the film business itself is pretty much bankrupt for independent filmmakers. Bootleggers make it impossible to get a decent ROI off your film. Unless you’ve got Alist talent and huge marketing budgets, making a profitable independent film is extremely difficult. But my goal was never really about making a one-off film, I wanted to create a world and culture where a lot of different and important things, some of which are very underrated in their importance to the public, come together to serve and help everyone taking part in the culture. The movie (and coming sequels) are there to frame the issues and worldviews we all share and want answers to in our real life and the cannabis products are there to help ground the philosophical models in a body reality.
Somehow I managed to convince a lot of very sane people to try and make a very insane idea reality real and it’s actually working better than anybody ever thought. So that is both the most challenging thing and most rewarding thing at the same time, to see this dream actually coming true. I would say the most rewarding thing is when anyone whose experienced PTSD or some kind of trauma say the film has helped them. That means a lot, because it means me and my partners have succeeded in a way the bottom line can’t accurately measure, yet it still leaves us all with a sense of worth and wealth and a job well done. One thing I find really rewarding personally is we’ve just added a high CBD strain to our line of products, which is a huge win for me. We don’t want to leave the medical people behind who supported us so much in our early days, and were going to continue to try and bring more medical products to a recreational dominated market as much as we can while living in today’s business reality.
Do you see Star Leaf expanding or franchising into cannabis markets outside of Washington state?
We’re very excited to bring the Star Leaf experience to as many consumers as we can. Expanding the brand to additional states is an obvious next step. We have recently begun the process of identifying and vetting growers and/or processors in other pro-cannabis states who are interested in joining the Star Leaf universe via a licensing arrangement.
With so many artists who are undoubtedly interested in the cannabis space, could you share some advice for how to apply your artistic passion to this unique industry?
You can’t think about it from a money point of view, at least at first. You need to be conscious of business realities, but if you are just trying to “take” money from others, you’re not going to be plugging into your greatest potential. My brother’s PTSD from Iraq and my own journey with cancer and a kundalini awakening forced me to wake up to the realities of a bigger world, and how I might try and contribute to making it better. That belief in conviction is what will get your through the dark moments where your dream fades and you think it’s going to fail, and its the only thing that will inspire others to give their 120% as well. It’s also something that your customers will innately sense about you and they’ll trust you because of it. You can’t think of your ‘product’ as something that is bought and sold, but something that gives value to people’s lives, and I don’t mean monetary value. If you’re an artist, your job is to act as a shaman really for our modern western culture, which doesn’t have true medicine men and women anymore. Even if you’re just selling a pipe with really cool carb technology in it, be sure to make your product and business model give service and inspiration to the community it sells to beyond just whatever cool features the product may have innately.
I feel nowadays people want to invest in “brands” that represent their values. So make sure your values and your business plans are always congruent. And honestly, the more raw passion and emotion you feel, the more you need to channel it and not be afraid of what people tell you is right or wrong, smart or stupid. You just need to go for it – and find like-minded friends and partners willing to invest in your vision. If you’re not an egomaniac and your idea is actually pretty good, chances are your friends/partners will help you define your vision more clearly and find the flaws in it to make it better and compete in a real business reality.
I’ve definitely made some mistakes along the way, but I’m proud of the fact that I found a way to combine my artistic talents with an altruistic motivation that eventually led me to find the right partners to create a business model that is working and expanding at a miraculous rate. But that never would’ve happened if I didn’t believe in the value of the art itself and it’s bigger mission. So if you’re thinking about the cannabis space, be sure your values are aligned with those traditionally held by the cannabis community, and don’t just think you can make a fast buck selling weed.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions today, Richard! To learn more about the film Star Leaf, visit www.starleafmovie.com. To find and purchase Star Leaf brand cannabis, you visit Clear Choice Cannabis in Tacoma, Washington.