Writer/co-director Matt Riggle on FILMAGE (Descendents documentary) w/ info on this weekend’s San Diego screenings
FILMAGE, the long-awaited documentary about the Descendents and ALL has been making rounds on the film festival circuit throughout 2013, and currently it’s hopscotching the country yet again with the help of cool supporters such as Vannen Watches (makers of the Descendents/Coffee Time watch) and Hi My Name Is Mark (Mark of Blink 182 appears in the flick). They are sponsoring three screenings at the Digiplex Mission Valley in San Diego on Saturday, September 21.
I was able to catch an early screening in Long Beach, and was not only stoked to see one of my all-time favorite bands on the big screen blasted though huge speakers but actually learned a lot about the road bumps they’ve encountered and suffering they’ve endured on the quest for ALL. It’s a worthwhile story to tell, and the band’s commitment to its craft (up there with The Beatles and Queen, says Robert Hecker from Redd Kross) and enduring a rough life (as some brushes with death) will appeal to audiences well beyond O.G. punks. I hit up writer/co-director Matt Riggle about the movie, its making, and its future.
MW: How did you get into the Descendents? A rad show, hearing the right song at the right time?
MR: I personally started with ALL’s “Dot” single then traced things back to Descendents. To me they were just so unique sounding. “Can’t Say” was the first thing I heard and it remains, to me, a shining example of a perfect song. I’d never heard a band with so many songwriters sound so cohesive. And they were so strong and melodic and funny without being a joke. I loved the look of their records, too–the covers, the sparse use of pictures, the consistent typesetting. And the fact that the drummer wrote great songs and produced was insane to me. It defied the laws that I thought were in place for bands.
MW: I’ve probably seen the Descendents/ALL 30+ times and know the songs inside and out but never knew why the lineup changes happened, why Bill’s dad sucked, the brain tumor… Were you aware of the band’s struggles and the movie’s general themes before starting filming? Or did they just happen?
MR: Before we rolled any tape, we had the same information as you probably did which consisted of whatever we had gleaned from song lyrics and the limited amount of interviews they’d done over the years. We did have a bit of “insider” information, I suppose, since Deedle LaCour (co-director, producer) and I had worked with Stephen Egerton when he produced some of our band’s records in 2004, 2006, and 2010. But really, the initial goal of the movie was to figure out how a band like that has kept on keeping on through the decades. In short, we wanted to know if the “quest for ALL” really existed and if it had been what had sustained them or if it was something else. So that was the theme we started with. From there, it was a matter of picking their brains for details and laying out a timeline of events. As we did the interviews, two things happened: (1) a very interesting and concrete storyline began to emerge, and (2) we realized: “Oh wow- we only have 90 minutes to convey this thing!” That was a pretty scary undertaking due to the wealth of information we had. But luckily the band members and everyone we talked to were interesting and well-spoken enough to have made it possible.
MW: How easy was it to get access to the band and earn their trust?
MR: Deedle and I knew Stephen pretty well from working with him, so he single-handedly gained us access. From there, because they trusted Stephen, the other band members began to trust us. These interviews were done over the course of about a year, so as things kept rolling along, that trust grew, I guess. The thing that is pretty amazing to me is that these guys bared their souls for us on camera but never once did they tell us what to do with regard to making the movie. Not a single request was made before or after the interviews. They were completely hands-off and allowed us to do what we wanted and to succeed or fail on our own terms. Looking back now, I can see how that made us work even harder.
MW: The early footage is incredible. Can you share where you got it? Were there holy grails you were seeking out?
MR: All kinds of people provided stuff. Fans, professionals, band members, etc., came forward with goldmine after goldmine of pictures and video. Also, Deedle LaCour (co-director, producer), James Rayburn (lead editor), and Justin Wilson (director of photography) worked their asses of tracking things down and making sure we had the highest quality version of everything. It also helped that Bill gave us access to about a million photo albums and videotapes that he’d acquired all these years.
MW: What were some things that were left on the cutting-room floor? Not just scenes but maybe even entire stories or threads…
MR: So much had to get left out. When we did the interviews, our ambition was huge and we hadn’t yet looked at ourselves in the mirror and admitted that a narrowing of scope was in order. Bill Stevenson’s interview alone is three hours long and could stand alone as a movie on its own. Karl Alvarez’s interview was hilarious and amazing, too, as was Tony Lombardo’s and all of the other members. There was also a whole section about the album artwork that had to go, as well as a nice, little sequence showing their grueling tour schedule. The thing that we eliminated due to time constraints that bothers me most, though, was the tribute to guitarist and founding member, Frank Navetta, after he died. Everyone in the band speaks so highly of him, and his influence on their music and punk as a whole was huge. That part will definitely be available at some point.
MW: Did you eat at Alfredo’s? See THE van? Drink an actual Bonus Cup made by Bill?
MR: One day, Joe Nolte (guitarist of The Last) showed us around Hermosa Beach and Lomita, and we went into Alfredo’s and Alfredo himself was there. We interviewed him and everything. He and his wife remember Bill and the band well, and they still have a copy of Allroy Sez hanging on the wall. It’s cool because both the restaurant and band were just getting started when they met, and now both are 30-year veterans at what they do. Again, we were bummed that we couldn’t find a way to include it in the film, other than a few exterior shots.
MW: How is the process of securing rights? Are we getting close to seeing a DVD release? What are some extras we can look forward to?
MR: Our producers and several other people have been working, and are continuing to work, long, patient hours to get this thing released. It will happen, I just don’t know a date yet. And there will be lots of extras. Bonus features, galore, I tell ya. Bonus features galore.
Catch one of three screening of FILMAGE on Saturday, September 21st at Digiplex Mission Valley 7. Watches, shirts, and merch will be available to support the sponsors and filmmakers, so don’t forget your wallet!
And don’t miss FILMAGE and ALL at FEST 12 in Gainesville, FL in early November.
For information on future screenings and a DVD release, keep an eye on filmagemovie.com.