Show up and Ask for Help (And Maybe Legends Will Deliver), Says Sober Documentary Maker Michelle Esrick

Being open to the grace of others landed DA Pennebaker as producer on a project
(Credit: Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

“Show up and ask for help.” That’s what getting – and staying – sober comes down to, renowned documentary maker Michelle Esrick tells SPIN IMPACT. And it’s how to get work done.

And if Esrick, director of a forthcoming work about Bruce Springsteen’s therapist, is anything to go by, then learning to live sober is often about basic help with life’s basic tasks.

“I didn’t know how the heck to do anything sober. I didn’t know how to brush my teeth. I didn’t know how to eat a meal. I didn’t know I was supposed to feed myself. I didn’t know how to buy a stamp,” says Esrick. “Talk about overwhelming.”

But moment by moment, day by day, she got herself together. “Do the next right thing. Just show up to the meeting. Just don’t pick up that day,” Esrick says.

“And everything I learned in those first 90 days of sobriety – that’s really how I made the Wavy Gravy movie,” Esrick says about Saint Misbehavin’, her 2009 documentary about hippie clown Hugh Romney Jr, better known as Wavy Gravy.

“I just started asking people for help. And I met somebody said, oh, you should call D.A. Pennebaker. Um, I was like, oh, really? That’s like calling Scorsese,” Esrick says of the idea of ringing the legendary maker of such films as Don’t Look Back, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and The War Room.

Nevertheless, that person rang Pennebaker, who ended up producing Saint Misbehavin’, and the rest is history. Or, as Esrick says, “doors started opening up.”

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