How’s that for profound: Erich Weiss; director of documentary Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry

In Interview on November 6, 2010 at 8:41 pm

            Once upon a time there was a documentary that was created and directed by Erich Weiss called, “Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry: The Life and Times of Norman Keith Collins.” The documentary was shown at London’s very own Raindance Film Festival this year. A Q&A followed the screening and low and behold, I had a question. Usually I muster up the nerve to ask, but this time I didn’t. But I still really wanted to know how working on the documentary about the legendary Sailor Jerry and the history of American tattoos had affected how he saw his own tattoos… So, I found Weiss outside the Apollo Theatre afterwards and asked him for an interview. Being the nice guy he was, he said yes. So folks, here’s how you tell a story about a man who never did interviews with the press and left behind only a handful of photographs and a trail of history that’s still a huge part of tattoos today.

Can you (again) explain how you got involved with making Hori Smoku? What have you worked on previously?

I was given the opportunity to interview Mike Malone and Don Ed Hardy on a different project. When I returned from that, I spoke with the guy who initially hired me and said, “hey, we really should make a documentary on Sailor Jerry…his story needs to be told.” I thought it would take a couple months; it took 3 years. Good planning on my part.

Previously, I worked on commercials, music videos, and music tour docs, etc….this is my first full length film.

Has working on this film changed the way you see or think about your own tattoos?

Not so much mine, but other people’s. Why? Because now everyone feels the need to tell me the story behind their tattoo. Unless that reason is, “I don’t care”…I don’t really want to hear it.

What was your first tattoo and what was your most recent?

My first tattoo was probably some sort of symbol or something… How’s that for profound? It was so long ago, I don’t remember. My most recent was ‘your name.’

What specifically got you into filmmaking?

I spent the last 3 years making this film couch-surfing, so I as you can tell, I got into it for the money. Kidding aside, quite simply I love to discover stories and filmmaking allows me to do that…as a profession.

What was a tough day of working on Hori Smoku like? How about a good day?

Tough days and good days are the same thing. They both eventually make for a great experience. If directing this film and getting all these guys to be interviewed was as simple as making a phone call… Well, I’m pretty sure it would have come off contrived and phony. I think you can sense the lack of formality in the film and it makes it much more real and authentic.

Was there anything you had to keep reminding or telling yourself during the process of working on or finishing the film?

“You really don’t need another drink.”

Of all the interviews you did for the film, which was your favorite and why? What’s something they’ve said that you really enjoyed and/or has stuck with you?

All the interviews were awesome in their own different ways. Most of the guys are legends, so I can’t really say which one stood out the most. Each interview scenario had its own long and adventurous backstory. Just look at some of the Philadelphia Eddie segments from the film…and you tell me if that wasn’t fun.

One of the best lines, I think, comes at the end of the film. Lyle Tuttle talks about the future of tattooing and how a child today sees his mom, his teacher, the local cop… all with tattoos. Eventually tattoos are going to become a symbol of authority, not rebellion, and that generation isn’t going to touch it with a ten foot pole.

How are you approaching the next project you mentioned at the Q&A involving fonts?

Slowly. I’m doing a lot of writing before hand. Hori Smoku was about grabbing a camera and finding the story. This one has a bit of writing and research… pre-adventure.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you would have known when you started working on the film?


Could you fill in this do’s and don’ts list for future filmmakers:

Do: Your research
Do: What you love
Don’t: Get in it for the glory
Don’t: Expect everyone is going to get it

Watch the trailer
Official film site

  1. I’m always impressed with the things posted here. You really seem to get great interviews with people I’m interested in (or have yet to realize I’m interested in).

  2. Thank you for taking the time to post that. I appreciate it more than you know. I’ll keep them coming.

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