Ahorn | Monday August 19th, 2013
by Andrew Horn
An important ingredient in filmmaking is just having the confidence that what you’re doing is in some way worthwhile. That you can do a good job, that it will be interesting and entertaining, and in the end reach an appreciative audience – even if not an Avengers sized audience.
This is all the more important because as you might know or imagine, the process of getting an independent film off the ground is often just a long string of rejection and humiliation – big and small. But hey, I’m not here to complain. Frankly if I wasn’t ready to put up with all sorts of shit from all sorts of people – big and small – I’d never get anything done.
When I started working on my latest film, a documentary about the metal band Twisted Sister, I thought for once that I might have it a bit easier with regards to getting some financing together. I mean a movie about a world famous, multi-platinum, MTV icon band – what could be the problem? Well as I found out, everything. I got gonged literally all over the world. All territories, all media. And possibly, in perpetuity.
However, in the beginning, I was able to get a film subsidy for research. Using this, I found and spoke to something like 70 people, some of them extensively, and collected hundreds of pictures, many hours of performance videos and cds – and in the end I was pretty sure I had something really good to offer. It was not the usual story about the band’s success and ultimate dissolution, but rather their almost 10 years in the bars, fighting it out till they got their big record deal. It had humor, character, struggle, some good music and, strange as it might sound, a certain kind of performance art – otherwise known as “bar band schtick”. I put together a pretty extensive proposal which I thought laid it all out, but despite it all, I wasn’t able to convince anyone.
Again, I’m am not here to complain. In point of fact, the film did get shot, and I’m now in the end phase of the editing. And audience reaction has been pretty good. No, it never got easy, and no, it still isn’t, but somehow it happened and is happening (just don’t ask how!). But back then I was really starting to feel like maybe I was just really deluding myself – was I the only person who thought this stuff was interesting?
So, in the midst of puzzling it out, I got an email from the bookstore up the street. They occasionally host readings and various literature-related events and this time someone had put together an evening where people could get together once a month and read things out loud. Basically if you had a poem or essay or an excerpt of a book you liked, you could bring it by and share it with a group of like-minded people. The idea being, it wasn’t supposed to be stuff you wrote, just something you liked that you wanted to…I don’t know…share…with somebody else.
So I thought, well maybe that would be a chance to try some of this stuff out. I don’t know these people, they don’t know anything about what I’m doing, and if it works, great and if not, well I can quietly slink off in relative anonymity. So I chose a story from one of my interviews, edited it here and there for clarity, and presented it as part of some interviews I had done, without saying who it was about or what it was for.
I thought I’d pick something that would be funny but as I stood up and nervously read it, I started realizing the story I chose was actually a bit brutal. But I got through it. And they laughed. And it went over. The next time I put together another, and in the course of a few of these things it sort of got to be where people were kind of expecting me.
The good thing of course was that I was (finally!) getting some positive reinforcement, but also, and even better, I was getting a feel for what I had and how to use it. Maybe a bit like the Marx Brothers performing their material on the road before making it into a movie.
And somehow, I guess the karma gods were watching, because after a few of these, my cameraman called and said he just bought his own digital camera. So we went to New York and shot the movie. And then I came back and continued with my readings, but now I was starting to use the actual interviews that we had shot for the film.
Unfortunately, during that winter it got really cold and the group got smaller and smaller and eventually the whole thing kind of stopped. But it had served it’s purpose. And it was fun.
So this is what I read that first night. It was from one of my original interviews with Twisted’s guitarist and bandleader, Jay Jay French, about a club called Beggar’s Opera in Queens, NY. I called it “Sick Shit at Beggar’s Opera”
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Jay Jay French: …and this one club, Beggar’s Opera, in Queens, the owner of that club, wanted to put the band in the room, but because [they had a dress code], we refused to do it, cause our fans wore sneakers. So we refused to play the room. So he offered us a lot of money to go and we kept saying no.
And my agent, Kevin Brenner told him, “go see them! They pack a room! What the hell do you care if they wear sneakers? “ So the club owner was told to go to Speaks and see us at Speaks.
I don’t know if you heard this story but this was real life. Here was Speaks, right? This had been a disco called the Speakeasy and it became Speaks, the most notorious Rock club in the world. So we’re packing Speaks and the club owner from Beggar’s Opera shows up – on a typical Saturday night – and there’s 1800 people packed to the gills.
And we’re doing what we’re normally doing at Speaks, which is…we had a joke – the Speaks commercial, you’ve heard it, right? (imitating a guitar riff) Na NA na na na NA na… Speaks! Na NA na na na NA na…The Biggest! Na NA na na na NA na…The loudest! So we would just goof on the club. Na NA na na na NA na… the ugliest waitresses! Na NA na na na NA na…the most ice in the drinks! Na NA na na na NA na…the biggest potholes in the parking lot! …like that.
So, Phil Basile, the owner of Speaks, he’s laughing his ass off because his club is packed, he doesn’t give a fuck, he just wants to make money… [the guy from] Beggar’s Opera shows up, so he’s sitting in the back bar at Speaks, and we’re making fun of Speaks, we’re doing the Speaks commercial on the stage and he looks at Phil Basile – who’s the granddad of clubs – and he goes, how can you put up with these insults?
And you know, we’re tearing the place apart and the fans look like shit and the sneakers and everything… And Phil goes, you have a fucking problem having 1800 people in your room?! Basically – what are you an idiot?
So the guy then agrees to book us. And we go out of our way to tell our fans to wear fucking sneakers…wear the worst clothes you have, just fuck ‘em! If they throw you out we won’t play! So we made a big point of it.
So now it so happens that this was a rough club, the bouncers were all guys who trained at the gym down the street, and they were bikers on top of it, and they were the bouncers of the club. Very rough. And the first night we played there, they made a point of the fact that they didn’t like us or our fans…
And some fan – it wasn’t a fan of ours – some guy got unruly with us and heckled us on-stage. And the bouncers grabbed the guy – the guy was definitely not a fan of Twisted – but they grabbed the guy and took him away – pretty efficiently – and we’re on-stage and we go, wow! They kinda looks like in a Chinese rally, and the guy winds up in the gulag or something…?
So at the end of the set we go down to the dressing room and the kid is in the dressing room and they beat his ass up bad. He’s bleeding and had a rag stuffed in his mouth and he’s bleeding from his eye, everywhere. And what the fuck is this guy doing in the dressing room? And the head bouncer comes in and says, “see? This is our gift to you. This is what we did. See that? This is to protect you guys”.
They fucking beat the crap out of the guy and left him in the dressing room as a “gift.”
Yeah. Really sick shit. I said to myself, this is a sick fucking club, I’m not coming back here again, unless they fire all these… We started to play there a lot after that, but we made them change their whole way of doing business.
They were brutal, these guys. I’ve never seen anyone be that brutal. Whether the guy deserved it or not… I mean Big Sal, our security guard, he beat the crap out of one kid once – the kid was being a jerk and Sal kicked his ass and threw the guy out of the club. He didn’t put him in the dressing room for us to witness like a work of art…! That was sick, pretty sick shit.