15 years in the
making, the Germs biopic is finally set to hit the theaters.
BY A.D. AMOROSI
Between 1977 and his suicide in December
1980, Darby Crash pretty much invented Los Angeles’ version of punk rock, with
bassist Lorna Doom and guitarist Pat Smear (plus a succession of drummers,
including Belinda Carlisle and Don Bolles) by his side. The Germs played wordy nihilistic
hardcore across two singles and one full-length full-tilt classic, (GI), that was to Hollywood’s hills what The Doors was before it and Nothing’s Shocking was after: the
definition of a heated sound and scene.
poet laureate Crash, the tender company he kept (Smear), and the heroin-addled
circumstance of L.A. punk’s twilight gleaming would seem an improbable tale to
tell until first-time director/screenwriter Rodger Grossman made it his mission
and handsome actor Shane West made it his job. That film: What We Do is Secret, a long awaited and duskily executed flick
that’ll see light of day this summer.
INTERVIEW: RODGER GROSSMAN
What drives a man to make his first project after leaving
the American Film Institute a punk rock fairytale?
I did a lot of soul searching and
thought about movies that inspired me – Clockwork
Apocalypse Now, Repo Man, The Decline of Western
Civilization. Bob Fosse was big: Star 80, All That Jazz. I wanted to do something that had not been
done yet. It hit me, like a lighting bolt: “the Darby Crash story”. It
seemed like such an obvious exciting movie.
You managed to make it gritty without being forced – the
temperature of the cinematography, the tone of the language. How do you think you
did it? Because most biographical films often seem reliant on “then THIS
happened” exposition … too obvious.
We had a lot less money than we
needed so I threw my original vision of the film out the window and adapted to
the given circumstances, which turned out to be great. This was a guerrilla
shoot in every sense of the word. We stole locations. We spray painted walls when
we couldn’t afford to dress sets. We walked when we couldn’t afford trucks. We
shot on Super 16 because we couldn’t afford 35mm. We worked with people that
were passionate about being there and wanted to do it because they wanted to be
a part of this, not because they were earning a paycheck. We embraced all this
and used it creatively. I even structured the film like a traditional Hollywood musical. There were a specific number of
musical pieces, each that drove the narrative forward. Remove one number and the
movie will not make sense. That structure kept the narrative kinetic.
The delays. Ten years? What
happened? How did you manage to make a cohesive film?
Actually, fifteen years. It’s hard to get a movie made under the best of
circumstances. And this was the worst of circumstances. It had a young cast,
and it’s hard to raise money if you don’t have “name actors.” Drug
use makes it tough. Getting a music-driven movie is tough, especially
about an obscure band. Punk rock is an impossible subject matter. It’s hard to
get a movie made with a first time director attached or a
first time writer. Gay-themed films are very tough to make. This
movie had all those challenges. Plus this script was written and rewritten
more times than perhaps any script in movie history. Darby was enigmatic,
and his story revealed itself to us very slowly, which is one reason why the
film is called “what we do is secret,” because it was hard for us to
understand what drove him. Ultimately when I learned about the five year plan –
to become a legend by committing suicide – I knew what the story was about.
INTERVIEW: SHANE WEST
This was very much a stop ‘n’ start project.
Oh yeah. It’s been the bane of Rodger’s
existence and his passion project. I’ve been involved for the past four years
and that blows my mind. I can’t believe that much time has gone by. It wasn’t Lord of the Rings. But with so many
stops and starts it feel that way
And no Frodo. You say it was a passion project for Rodger.
What about you?
In the beginning I wanted to play
this character I knew of, in a scene I liked, and music that I enjoyed. It grew
as time went by and we started losing financing that we got close to the band, close
to the people from that old scene and to Darby’s family. It became more; much
more than I had to help finish it. I even put in some of my own money.
Do you feel like you won over those people – believers and
disbelievers – as to your ability to portray Crash’s complexities?
The people who were into the
scene, then and now, got into me as filming continued – we got into each other.
I know Pat Smear couldn’t be on set a lot because seeing me freaked him out –
that having someone act and look like his old best friend was too weird and too
close and too real. So he came for the performance stuff because that was his
job. But he didn’t hang out. For the fans to come around – even though there
are plenty who still hate me – what got them to come around was that we toured
the music; twelve shows that proved that we weren’t screwing around
Look, it’s an acting job. But watching you, it seemed like
you felt it. When did you realize that you got Crash?
From an acting perspective, when we did “Manimal” from Decline of Western Civilization. It was one of the few things I had
to see where I could imitate him. I studied all his moves, his looks. On the
day we filmed. I sprained both ankles. Still I really felt that I got it. From
a hanging out perspective, it really felt like a continuation of what Darby had
started. Some of his fans even started to follow us around – a little spooky but
cool at the same time. I knew then that I was IN IT. That it was real.