Interview with Seth Ferranti, the Outlaw Filmmaker.
Written by: Jake Robinson
“In 1991, I faked my suicide to throw the feds off my tail. I figured if Seth Ferranti is dead, then there’s no case, and I planned it meticulously”; Ferranti went on to explain how he:
“Staged the scene on the banks at Great Falls on the Potomac Rivers in northern Virginia. The river is class five rapids, so you will drown if the rocks don’t kill you on impact.”
He is right about that. At Great Falls, the Potomac River builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge. Ferranti penned a faux suicide note, leaving his car, his clothes, and an empty bottle of Vodka behind on the banks of the Potomac.
“They bought it at first,” Seth tells me, “But they dragged the river for two weeks, searching for a body. “The Feds declared my suicide a hoax and made me top 15 on the US Marshalls Most Wanted List.” In his own words: “the chase was on; catch me if you can!”
Accused of distributing massive quantities of LSD and Cannabis, at age 22, Seth was arrested in a suburban St. Louis economy motel, where authorities said they found 18 pounds of marijuana and a dozen or so fake identification cards.
He received a prison sentence which amounted to more time than he had even been alive.
Don’t think for a second that slowed him down. Ferranti is an accomplished author, journalist, director, filmmaker, and so much more. Perhaps most known in the mainstream for his Netflix Original White Boy (2017) and Dog Days in the Heartland (2017), those titles are just the tip of the iceberg.
Ferranti earned his associate’s, bachelor’s, and eventually master’s degrees while incarcerated.
He cut his teeth crafting raw portrayals of prison life, gangsters, crack-era kingpins, dope-boys, and drug lords. With unprecedented access to criminals and their stories, Seth penned pieces for prominent publications, including VICE and The Daily Beast.
I almost forgot to mention; Ferranti founded a successful website (Gorillaconvict.com), a publishing house, and authored 22 book titles while in a cage. Seth Ferranti went into federal custody as a first-time, non-violent drug offender, was released from the Bureau of Prisons 21 years later. And he has never looked back.
I first had the occasion to meet Seth at the Emerald Cup’s inaugural Harvest Ball in Santa Rosa, CA in December of 2021. As anyone who stopped by the Small Farms Initiative will attest, it was the most vibey and BUMPING spot bar none. The bell of the harvest ball. We didn’t get a chance to speak in-depth with all the excitement, however, later that evening I was treated to the chance to see a screening of Seth’s latest work, Tangled Roots, and I knew we had to get into it.
A week or so later I asked Johnny to make the introduction between the self-described “outlaw filmmaker” and I. So, in a nod to the outlaw days of old, I received Johnny’s “co-sign” – at which point Seth welcomed me, much like the Emerald Triangle farmers had done, with open arms. This is where our journey into the triangle begins, and you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Seth and I connected about his latest, and in my humble opinion, greatest work yet Tangled Roots. A Magnum Opus of Marijuana. A
work so near and dear to Seth’s own heart that he calls it “his love letter to Humboldt County”.
A work in progress, Tangled Roots is a four-part docuseries that peels back the redwood curtain and shines a light on the true story of The Emerald Triangle. For the first time, from the mouths of the legacy cannabis farmers who gave this land its legendary status.
Keep reading for my epic interview with the Outlaw Filmmaker himself, plus amazing behind-the-scenes photos, and an exclusive Tangled Roots teaser at the end of the interview.
JR: What is your connection to Humboldt?
SF: I’ve always known about Humboldt, and I grew up in Southern California. In the late ’80s, before I went to prison, I got a lot of Bud from Humboldt. Not through the farmers but through homies in San Francisco. So, the Emerald Triangle has always been a mystical, magical place to me.
JR: Why now?
SF: I met Johnny Casali writing an article for Vice, and we started talking and immediately bonded because we both did federal time. So, we talked about this and where he was, where I was—shit like that. We bonded. We stayed in touch, and I was trying to figure out a way to tell his story.
In my mind, when I met him, I was like, “man, dudes got a legal farm, he’s fuckin legit, he’s in California, fuckin SoHum, he’s fuckin growing for Willy Nelson. Outwards looking in, I’m like, damn this dude got it going on.”
As we continued, he started telling me what was going on and about the struggles that many farmers are facing. We started talking prices, because you know I used to be in the game, and Johnny told me about a lot of the problems they are having within the legal market. And some shit really wasn’t adding up, so I started investigating a little bit more, and I found out like damn, these dudes are really getting screwed.
These farmers championed the plant, they risked everything, they were the outlaws. Their whole area got militarized. They grow the best weed, they have the best genetics, how did the price go from like $5,000 (per pound) to like $500? That shit just flabbergasted me. In Chicago, even the light deps were going for like $2400-$2500.
JR: Straight up! And people on the East Coast don’t even know what deps are, and they sell it as indoor.
SF: Definitely. Definitely. So, I am just investigating all of this, talking to farmers, and talking to my guys in the traditional market, and I’m like, this shit is not making no sense, who the fuck is making all the money?
So that got me curious, but seeing how much they are struggling, like last summer when it dropped down to $500 (per pound), it started making me mad. I was like, dude fuck a little article. White Boy went on Netflix, so I got a little bit of juice; we will do a whole doc on Humboldt. Tell the story from back to the landers up to what’s going on now.
So, it was just going to be a feature-length doc. But then the access Johnny [Casali, of Huckleberry Hill Farms] gave me, and the investor’s money enabled me to turn that from 75 minutes into 180 minutes. It’s weird, though, cause once I went there, interviewed him, and stayed with him. Like at first, he hooked me up with his immediate friends you know Jason [Gelman, Ridgeline Farms], Teddy [Blair, Canna Country Farms], Chris Anderson [Redwood Roots], and Eric Martin at Hogwash Pharms. But once I was out there everyone out there started reaching out to me.
JR: What did people reach out and say to you?
SF: Everyone was like, “Hey, hey, what’s up?” and everyone just had a story to tell me. So, I started going outside the Casalli circle a little bit. I started to get the views from all these perspectives in the Emerald Triangle, which expanded the story and added these other elements. I talked to people about seeds, added that. I got with Tim Blake about the Emerald Cup, added that. Organically this shit just exploded on all fronts. The main theme is, of course, legacy farmers, but it just expanded to look at all of Humboldt County.
But legacy farmers, that is still my spine.
JR: Is that why you made the series? What are your motivations or the things you hope that Tangled Roots can accomplish?
SF: My whole thing is this…I made “White Boy” to get White Boy Rick out of prison. When I make shit, I make shit I want to watch and that I am passionate about.
So, with the farmers, I was like flabbergasted, dude, I was like pissed off. How is this Humboldt County, the Napa Valley of Cannabis, how are they struggling, and how are people not recognizing what they have done for this culture? You can’t just bypass these motherfuckers; you can’t freeze these motherfuckers out man, you’ve got to fuckin honor these motherfuckers you got to recognize.
I’m not from Humboldt, but this is my culture too – fuckin Cannabis Culture. I started smoking weed in 1984, you know, I am one of the reasons that weed is legal now, I made the ultimate sacrifice, fuckin 21 years in jail for Cannabis and LSD, so you know this is something that’s very close to my heart. They are real people. And it goes back to that saying, “real recognizes real”.
JR: Absolutely. But in all honesty, Johnny Casali is kind of just one of those unique humans you would do anything for after meeting him only once.
SF: The dude is just so sincere; he wears his heart on his sleeve, man. The biggest thing, though, I think with John, is sincerity. You hear all the time, “so and so would give somebody the shirt off their back”…Johnny is that dude that will fuckin literally take his shirt off and hand it to you…if your johnny’s friend, that dude will do anything he can for you.
At the end of the day, why they do what they do, people like Johnny, it’s all for the love of the plant and for the love of the culture. They don’t do what they do for money. My biggest things is like, the DEA couldn’t run these motherfuckers out, the Helicopters couldn’t run these mother fuckers out, the military couldn’t run these motherfuckers out, the “War on Drugs” couldn’t run these motherfuckers out, the cartels couldn’t run these motherfuckers out, but now like, legalization is just freezing these dudes out of the business and its unacceptable. This docuseries is like my love letter to Humboldt County and my love letter to the Emerald Triangle, and my love letter to the culture they have championed.
JR: This is a powerful story, but it’s more important than that. People want to help. Do you have anything to say to those that want to see the Emerald Triangle farmers thrive? How can people help?
SF: I would say pay homage to the people who championed this plant and made the sacrifices. Everyone is happy that cannabis is legal but give respect where respect is due. Go to your local dispensaries and demand Humboldt grown products. Demand cannabis with high terpene profiles. Demand organically sun-grown flower. Just like people want wine from certain areas make it the same for cannabis. Create a market for these trailblazers. Don’t settle for huff.
JR: 100% agree. This was so dope. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me, Seth, and the readers will be pumped to see this exclusive clip from the upcoming Tangled Roots series. Definitely Check out Seth’s production company Outlaw Films, Subscribe to Seth’s YouTube Channel to see more of his work, and follow Seth’s on social media to stay up to date: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.
LINK to Video: https://vimeo.com/654830891
Jake is a writer and web designer living in New York City.