A Group Of Local Filmmakers Tells Us About Their New Descendents Documentary.
For the past three years, local musicians Justin Wilson (of Saboteur/Red Animal War), Deedle LaCour and Matt Riggle (both formerly of the Arlington-based pop punk band 41 Gorgeous Blocks), and James Rayburn, their co-worker at the Dallas-based production house Charlie Uniform Tango, have devoted almost all of their free time, cash and energy to a pet film project they’ve been quietly working on the side.
Now, hundreds of filming and editing hours later, the fruit of their labor — a full-length documentary called Filmage that chronicles the story of iconic punk rock outfit the Descendents and its ALL offshoot — is ready for the spotlight. Next week, the film will earn its worldwide premiere at the NXNE festival in Toronto. And, fittingly enough, the Descendents’ Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton will be on hand at that festival, too, performing as part of Keith Morris’ Black Flag incarnation FLAG.
That debut screening should prove quite the celebratory affair for this Dallas-based film crew, to be sure. Their dogged efforts in completing this project are clear simply from their film’s synopsis, which notes the fact that the team traveled the country to collect more than 50 interviews with the likes of Dave Grohl, Morris, the entire Descendents/ALL family tree and loads of the band’s many devotees — all to go with the tons of archived televised and fan footage they’d amassed along the way.
Heading into that screening we recently caught up with the filmmakers to find out why they feel passionately enough about the Descendents to self-finance their documentary, and what exactly they learned about the band and its fans in the process.
Check out the film’s trailer and our full Q&A with the crew below.
Why did you guys choose the Descendents as the subject of your film? Were the Descendents a big influence on your own bands?
Matt Riggle: In 2004, Deedle and I saved up money and drove with our band to Tulsa to record with Stephen Egerton, guitarist of Descendents/ALL. Instead of actually making a record, we spent most of our paid studio time asking questions about his band or handing him guitars and saying stuff like “Play ‘Scary Sad’ right now. OK, now slowly, so I can actually see.” Around five years later, we pitched the idea for the movie. And, a year after that, they said cool.
Why did you guys feel like this was an important enough project to fund out of your own pockets?
Justin Wilson: Not only did the band’s music influence ours, but their work ethic did as well. By funding it ourselves, we stay in complete control and don’t have to answer to any timelines or investors. We passed the edit around amongst ourselves, sharpening the cut at our pace. So we each have a voice in how it was made beyond our financial contributions. Besides, it makes sense to keep a DIY ethos when making a film about one of the most DIY bands ever.
Who were some of the hardest interviews for you guys to get?
James Rayburn: We interviewed every living member of the family shrub, with the exception of Ray Cooper. Ray was very gracious with us, but preferred to stay out of the spotlight. His story is still in the film, just told through some of his bandmates. Bill [Stevenson] was probably the most elusive person to pin down, but mostly because he is so busy.
I imagine you got to talk to a lot of your musical heroes during this process. What interviews were you most excited about landing?
Deedle LaCour: As far as interviews and cast, over 50 formal on-camera interviews were filmed with the members of the band and some of the most noteworthy people in punk rock’s history: Mike Watt [The Minutemen], Keith Morris and Chuck Dukowski [Black Flag], Brett Gurewitz [Bad Religion], Brian Baker [Minor Threat/Bad Religion], Fat Mike [NOFX], Mark Hoppus [Blink 182] and Dave Grohl [Nirvana, Foo Fighters] to name a few.
Rayburn: And, of course, asking our interviewees “Descendents or ALL?” also produced some great answers.
Were most musicians — both those in the band and others you wanted to interview — receptive to the project?
Wilson: Most musicians tend to gush about this band because this doc has been such a long time coming. You can feel the excitement every time the cameras are rolling because everyone understands this is a truly underrated group of musicians.
Was there many things you learned about the band that you didn’t know before working on the project?
LaCour: All the guys in the band love [Los Angeles power-pop band] The Last. I was surprised by how much Joe Nolte and The Last came up during all the interviews. Also, as a huge ALL and Descendents fan myself, I was surprised to find out that many fans who love Descendents don’t love ALL. We explore this in the film.
Wilson: I wound up learning who wrote almost every song in the Descendents/ALL catalog. I would throw some other stuff in here, too, but they would be spoilers.
One of the things that the documentary’s trailer touches on is the frustration by members of the bands on the distinction between ALL and the Descendents. Was your impression that the band just sees both outfits as one long string, or was there any sort of other delineation?
Riggle: Each band member has his own carefully-articulated take on it. But, generally, most seem to feel it’s just kind of this thing that has evolved over a 30-year period. They see it, maybe, more as a series of eras. Each time the lineup shifted — no matter the band name — it was pretty much treated it like a new animal. But I’d say, for the most part, they view it as a steady stream. They understand, however, that many fans do not.
What were some of the factors that have contributed to the film taking so long to complete?
Wilson: Interviewing 50-plus people across the country is hard enough, but when they’re musicians it’s even trickier. Not to mention all the supplemental footage we shot of locations, record covers and backstories. Matt and James transcribed the majority of the interviews. Some were 2-plus hours, but that helped us in the edit process. Some of us edited while others worked on script outlines and trailers. We went back and forth a few times on which stories were the most important, and kept adding more archival clips. We actually set up a site for fans to upload digital files of videos they’d made. Some people mailed us VHS or Hi-8 tapes, and we transferred it all to big digital tapes. We then imported that into our software. We were constantly getting new material from fans — and then we got a huge shipment from Bill that helped us flesh it out the history even more. A company in Belgium did some animations for us, and they were finished about the same time as we were going to color correction and audio mixing. This is not even mentioning the epic task Stephanie Strah is doing, getting footage from MTV, Conan and a myriad of other sources.”
Is there a particular memory that stands out from the filming process as a great one?
Rayburn: [Interviewing] Dave Grohl. Listening to a guy who has influenced music so much discussing how Bill Stevenson was a drumming idol for him? That was cool.