CLOVER: What inspired you to make a movie about CBGB? Why now?
Randall Miller: My wife [the film’s co-writer, Jody Savin] lived in New York, and we’d been to CBGB a couple of times. We knew the story of what the logo meant. It says CBGB and OMFUG – Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers. When you look closer, you find out that it’s this famous place for rock ‘n’ roll, but the name of it means: Country, Bluegrass, Blues. So that in of itself is the beginning of trying to figure out the story and to understand its meaning. The club was the brainchild of this guy named Hilly Kristal, who was kind of a two-time loser, he managed the Village Vanguard at one point, and had other clubs of his own, like Hilly’s on the Bowery. He’d gone bankrupt a couple of times, had a failed marriage. And he had this idea to open a country and bluegrass place in the ‘70s in New York. But he was unable to book any country bands. So in come Television, Talking Heads, the Ramones, all those various bands. And even though it wasn’t what he set out to do, he saw that there was talent in that. That’s heroic in a way. Hilly became the godfather of underground rock and punk because he was a lover of the arts, and he was able to see something that wasn’t exactly what he wanted and go with it anyway.
CLOVER: Were there any obstacles in re-creating the iconic ‘70s-era CBGB?
Randall Miller: We focused on authenticity and tried to make it real. We discovered that all of the remnants of the club still existed. They were torn out of the club and were in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in a warehouse. All of that was put in a shipping container for us, and was sent down to a sound stage in Savannah, Georgia, where we rebuilt the club and shot the movie.
Jody Savin: We also shot in Georgia because the Bowery now is so clean and gentrified, and we needed to find a place that had neighborhoods that looked like New York in the ‘70s.
CLOVER: The film features an outstanding cast. Was there anyone in particular that you were excited to work with?
Randall Miller: We’ve made a couple of movies with Alan Rickman, who’s great. Malin Ackerman plays Debbie Harry, and she’s a big Blondie fan. And Mickey Sumner, who’s Sting’s daughter, plays Patti Smith, and she’s a big Patti Smith fan.
CLOVER: You two wrote the screenplay together. Was there anyone you spoke to in researching the movie who shed an interesting light on that era?
Randall Miller: We talked to John Holstrom, the guy who created Punk magazine. His artwork, the image of what punk is, that was created by John and the magazine. We used some of his artwork in the movie.
Jody Savin: It makes a statement, because when people think about New York punk, they think about the music, CBGB, the Bowery, but the graphic look of it gets overlooked a lot. I don’t think the scene would’ve congealed without the look, without the magazine. It lent an attitude, and a visual component that so many other music movements don’t have, this outrageous, satirical, whimsical and really creative artwork.
CLOVER: What can people who are trying to make a creative life for themselves now, in a difficult economy, learn from the movie?
Jody Savin: That was a much worse economy back then! Everybody was broke.
Randall Miller: There’s a newspaper headline in the movie, that says, “Gerald Ford to City: Drop Dead,” because New York City was going broke. The Son of Sam killer was happening then. It was crazy. But you could get a loft in lower Manhattan for like $100 a month, and all these artists lived down there together. The Ramones, Blondie, Television. Hilly had one rule: they couldn’t play covers at all. They had to play their own original music.
Jody Savin: Every once in a while someone comes along, whether it’s by design or they stumble into it, and they become a cultural hero. Hilly was a hero to this culture. He didn’t plan it that way, but he had a stage and the artists had something they wanted to do. It was amorphous; it hadn’t formed yet. It was in their heads. But they had things to say. Hilly loved music and he was his own guy. And by doing that, he helped create an antidote to popular music at the time, which was very processed. He told people to get onstage, say what they had to say, then get off! And he had the intelligence to let the movement grow.
P.S. Did we mention Randall and Jody’s black Lab (pictured above) is serendipitously named Lucky?
P.P.S. Follow Lucky Brand on Twitter and Instagram for live updates from the CBGB’s October 1 premiere in Los Angeles.