Interview with Hans Fjellestad, Director of the Documentary, “Sunset Strip”
The Hollywood Reporter called Hans Fjellestad “the Ken Burns of the Underworld.”Fjellestad’s documentary “Sunset Strip,” released in 2012, is a fast-paced romp through the stories of the boulevard’s first 100-plus years – packed into one hour and 36 minutes.
Under the opening credits, as a bonus to the dozens of interviews with Sunset Strip celebrities past and present and rarely seen archival footage to follow, the film kicks off with a five-minute animated rollick through the years, set to Donovan’s 1966 recording, “The Trip.” The animation features a dizzying mash-up of notable people and events who appear and disappear in roughly chronological order.
Here it is. (There’s a list of people depicted in the animation below.)
The Opening Credit Animation
The documentary’s director, Hans Fjellestad, is a member of the West Hollywood Center and Museum’s steering committee. Recently I asked him about the making of the animation and the documentary and his predictions for the future of the Sunset Strip.
Jon Ponder: You shared the script for the animation with us. It features about 100 famous and infamous people associated with the Sunset Strip. I know from my own experience that all that research had to have been massively time consuming. In the end, what do you think all that effort conveys to the audience?
Hans Fjellestad: It’s true that all that research was daunting, but necessary so I could make good creative decisions about who/what to include and how it could all fit together. I enjoy research a lot in general, so it was fun too. With the animation, I wanted to visually communicate how deep and dense the history is and also, by mashing together characters and locations from different eras, show how the Strip attracted people who came from all over the world for similar reasons, even across the decades. There’s a consistent energy about it.
Jon: The style of the animation is very contemporary, yet it fits the vibe of the Strip in both its early Hollywood era and the more contemporary Rock ‘n Roll era. Tell me about the animator. The company credit is for Titmouse. Was it a team effort or the work of a particular artist?
Hans: Definitely a team effort. On the movie side, I wrote the script, storyboarded the concept, and my research team provided reference photos for each character and location. For the animation side, there was a team of super talented artists (Otto Tang, Megan Dong, Grif Kimmins, Mike Maloney) led by Titmouse owner Chris Prynoski and art director Antonio Canobbio. Titmouse is the best, with the most awesome, creative people. They really nailed a style with a very distinctive personality, but like you say, also plays well with all the wildly different aesthetics and references from the different eras.
Jon: My understanding is that the 100 or so people in the animation are there because they don’t appear in the documentary, in many cases for the very good reason that they are dead. However, there are dozens of famous people who are interviewed in the film. Any idea what the final count of interviewees was?
Hans: Not sure of the percentage, but a lot of the animated characters actually do appear in the doc as performers, interviews or archive footage. But you’re right that there are more places, people and stories than could ever be included in one documentary. I think the tally of on-camera interviewees that made the final cut was around 90. Fortunately, I worked with excellent producers and researchers, which made it possible.
Jon: It seems like you got everyone – Keanu Reeves, Peter Fonda, etc. Who’s missing? Who couldn’t you get?
Hans: I would’ve loved to have Mario Maglieri in the cast. [Maglieri, owner of the Roxy, the Rainbow and the Whisky, was in poor health and died in 2017.] He was supportive of the project and super generous with us behind the scenes, but there were some health issues I think and we just couldn’t make an on-camera appearance happen. There were a few others I wished had made the cut, but for the most part I feel like we got the key people we wanted for the story. Again, credit to the producers for wrangling such a crazy cast. It was a heavy lift, for sure.
Jon: The Strip’s history is a series of metamorphoses. It was farmland for many years. It was Hollywood’s playground for decades. Then came the Rock era. The documentary takes through all that. As someone who’s studied the history of the Strip more than most, how would you describe the phase it’s in today?
Hans: Honestly, I don’t really connect with today’s Sunset Strip. I’m sure part of that is related to the pandemic. But even well before COVID, the Strip felt like a museum of itself, as if its purpose is just to remember itself and commodify that memory with new luxury developments and fixtures. It hasn’t been culturally relevant for a while, at least not like it was in previous eras. But another part of me hopes it’s just laying low, waiting for a new spark to set it off again in a new way.
Jon: And where do you think it’s headed? What will the Sunset Strip be in 2050?
Hans: Well, assuming this part of the world is still habitable, who knows? Maybe it’ll be The Doof Warrior from Fury Road, cruising the Strip with his flame-throwing guitar? Or maybe some weird corner of Zuckerberg’s metaverse? Or a biodome full of Jim Morrison holograms? In any case, I certainly don’t underestimate the Strip’s power to reinvent itself.
The Documentary Trailer
At the time of this writing, the “Sunset Strip” documentary is available on Amazon Prime.
Cast of Characters in the Opening Credits Animation
Here is a list of the dozens of people associated with Strip over the course of its century-plus history who are depicted in the animation under the documentary’s opening credits:
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sonny & Cher
Rocky and Bullwinkle
Mickey Cohen and Mickey Jr.
Sammy Davis Jr.
Martha and the Vandellas
Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable with the Velvet Underground and Nico
Joan Jett and the Runaways
Eddie van Halen
Slim Jim Phantom
Cast of “Rocky Horror Picture Show”