SOMM 3 Preview: An Interview with Director Jason Wise

It’s back: a new SOMM movie is about to hit the big screens, and this one promises to stir up more controversy than a 2003 Saint-Émilion named Pavie. I happen to have a very small cameo in this latest installment, but I must confess that when director Jason Wise came to Napa to film earlier this year, I was more interested in securing a chance to meet the guy that was able to nail the “Wine Documentary” genre, where so many before him had failed. 

“I want to entertain,” Jason Wise said simply. “If I can’t do that, then I have no business making a film.”

In anticipation of the world premieres happening next week at the Cameo Cinema in St. Helena and Clos du Val Winery (both in Napa Valley, California), I spoke to Jason today to tease out of him what audiences can expect from his new film. (As an added bonus, we’re also able to reveal for the first time the poster for the new film.)

LPB: I’m a wine geek, but even for me watching movies about wine is like watching paint dry. Sideways was one of the few movies to transform the topic of wine into an entertaining backdrop for a fictitious story, which engaged mainstream moviegoers. You went one step further with the SOMM movies by making documentaries about wine compelling for the mass market. Watching your films, I find you have a unique talent for bringing out the dramatic conflict between people and wine. What in the world initially made you say to yourself, “Yes, this will be a great movie!”

JW: Well, SOMM is the first feature film I ever made. The original idea came from meeting Ian Cauble. I met him, got to know him socially and realized that he is just as passionate about being a sommelier as I am about being a filmmaker. I wanted Ian to succeed and that gave me a story. Then I met Fred Dame, who functions as both villain and mentor, and I knew I had a film. Look, you can hate SOMM, but you can’t deny that it has insane passion.

I truly believe that wine is one of the most boring topics on the earth. People love it for so many reasons: it gets you laid, you have it at your sister’s wedding, you can drink historic bottles that date back to war times. It tricks you into believing it is exciting. It’s not. So, instead of producing stories about wine, you have to use wine as a cornerstone for stories. What I try to do is make films about things—wine in this case—but the films are really about other things.

LPB: From what I understand, your new movie is quite a departure from the previous two SOMM movies. What’s your new movie called and what is different about this movie?

JW: Yeah, there were a lot of heated arguments among our team about what to name this third movie. After all this, we called it, “SOMM 3.”

So, SOMM 1 is about the craziness of the Court of Master Sommeliers Master Sommelier exam. SOMM 2 delves into why people are so crazy about wine. SOMM 3 is totally different. My original idea was to get these three wine legends together at the same table—Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson and Steven Spurrier—along with Fred Dame, the doyen sommelier from the first two films. Wine as an industry was lifted by Robert Parker; you cannot deny that since him, the quality of wine produced has been greatly improved. Jancis Robinson has an amazing amount of pedigree. Steven Spurrier has done so many things, including the Judgment of Paris, and now he is making wine in one of the most difficult wine regions of the world! We didn’t get Parker, but I was excited to get at least two of those three involved in the filming: Jancis and Steven. Parker may not be in the film as a person, but he is certainly there as an idea. But in the end, I have to say, I never expected what would eventually happen in the film.
SOMM 3 director Jason Wise filming

LPB: Sounds ominous! Can you give us a little teaser as to what kind of juicy controversy we can expect in SOMM 3

JW: Without giving too much away, as we started following a storyline about the Judgement of Paris, we realized that blind tasting is in fact being put up for judgment in this film. We had planned to put together a secret blind tasting in New York City, but then the results of this tasting were so unexpected. I could never have anticipated what would happen, and I think it could have serious implications in the wine world. 

LPB: I just watched your latest documentary Wait for Your Laugh, a biopic about 92-year-old Rose Marie Mazetta—star of vaudeville, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Vegas and so much more. Not only do you and your wife Christina uncover a provocative untold story that would have been lost on most directors, you so beautifully essentialize what is a seemingly sprawling, unwieldy life’s story. Considering the major “characters” in SOMM 3—Jancis Robinson, Steven Spurrier, Fred Dame, etc.—I imagine there was an incredible amount of essentializing to do in order to bring the most exciting facets of their careers to life for your audience and knit them into the semblance of a unified story. How did you zero in on what to show and what not to show in this movie?

JW: SOMM 2 was a nightmare to edit. We shot this mostly digital and dealing with all the footage was awful. For SOMM 3, we shot a lot of it on film. Shooting on film changes everything. It forces you to focus on what’s important, and ultimately, it gave me the ability to control the uncontrollable. Also, SOMM 3 had the most targeted cast of the three films. Pretty much from the beginning, we knew who would be in this film, whereas with the other SOMM films we didn’t. So, we were more in control. Honestly, I feel this is the best of the three films. Even the prickliest person could find something to take away from this.

LPB: You mentioned that the name of your production company, “Forgotten Man Films,” is based on a reference in the 1930s romantic comedy My Man Godfrey, which you consider to be one of the greatest American films ever made. If you had an unlimited budget and total freedom, what film genre would you direct and why?

JW: Easy—I’d make a Western. I’d make it tomorrow! My favorite Westerns ever made include: Once Upon a Time in the West, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, The Wild Bunch and Unforgiven. My second genre choice would be Horror. 

SOMM 3 opens at the Cameo Cinema in St. Helena on October 19 and will be available on iTunes later this year.

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