You probably know David Chase best as the creative genius behind The Sopranos. The show may have ended, but Chase’s career not only lives on, he can now add feature film director to his list of credits. His new film, Not Fade Away, screened at the Paramount Theater in Austin Film Festival Thursday.
The film, a love letter to rock n’ roll – music that Chase says “saved my life” – follows a group of friends in 1964 surburban New Jersey whose lives are transformed after seeing the Rolling Stones perform live on television. They form a band and go through the motions of making it big. Thanks to the omniscent narrator — the lead character’s little sister — we know right off the bat they’re not going to make it, but that doesn’t do anything to dampen the journey. The angst, the passion, the tension between bandmembers, the inevitable love story – and yes the music — drive a sweet and compelling narrative that pays homage to both coming of age in the 60’s and to Chase’s own teenage years as a wannabe rock star growing up in New Jersey. Oh, and it also has James Gandolfini.
David Chase was on hand to introduce the film and take questions after the screening. The following are some of the highlights:
Q: What was the inspiration for the film?
A. The inspiration was the music. I was an English major. I learned more from — I probably shouldn’t admit this — but I learned more from rock n’ roll than I ever learned from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Music turned me around at ages of 17-21. It changed my life. It was an amazing time to be alive. Everytime the Rolling Stones or the Beatles or Bob Dylan put out a new album- which was every six months – it was like quantum leap forward. Between Rubber Soul and Revolver it was like a miracle. It made you feel so good.I thought if that’s what art was, I could do that. You know you see art as a little kid in museums and it’s beautiful but it feels so remote. This was alive.
Q: I saw that Steven Van Zandt was the executive producer. How did he contribute? Did he share his own stories?
A: No, he didn’t share stories, in fact he was was opposed to me doing this. He said “Why don’t you do a crime story? This is going to be hard to sell, hard to market.” He doesn’t understand why these guys [in the film] are scared to play and scared to make it, but he’s one of the ones who made it.
Q: When you introduced the film you said it was semi-autobiographical. The kids in band spend a lot of time spouting quasi-intellectual riffs. Were you and your friends like that?
A: Yeah, kind of. I mean we were so pretentious that we never played for anyone because we were ‘too good’. The guys in the movie, they at least played a couple of dates. We just stayed in the basement and practiced. We only played for ourselves.
Q: Can you talk about the budget? You use a lot period stuff – costumes, music, cars…
A: People say it’s a small movie and I guess it is small but it wasn’t cheap. I couldn’t have gotten an independent production company to make it. The music rights alone…Paramount did, they screamed bloody murder but they did it. Steven [Van Zandt] was helpful because he had relationships with labels, so we got a good deal, but it still cost a fortune.
Q: You got the period dead on. How hard was it to get the 60’s artifacts?
A: The cars were a big part- that guy I’d like to kill, the car guy. It was hard to get stuff and then it never seemed like things worked – the trunk didn’t open when you needed it to or the car wouldn’t start.
We spent a lot of time – a lot of time - getting the right instruments, the guitars and the drums. Sometimes I think it’s easier to make a film set in 1863 than 1963. In 1863 you don’t have the real streets, you have to recreate a set. Here you can use the real streets and dress them, but reality always intrudes somehow. You know, all of a sudden, a Fed Ex truck drives by. I always say I won’t make another period piece but I don’t know of that’s true.
Q: Can you talk about the music — I saw in the credits you wrote song with Steven Van Zandt — how was the experience of choosing music for the film?
A: Stevie and I wrote the medical jingle (audience laughs here — see the film and you’ll get it) Steve wrote the song that they use when they master the audition. At one point I was frustrated and wanted to quit writing and Steve sent me a demo with that song and it kept me going.
Q: It was an interesting choice using the sister as a narrative device. Can you talk about why you did that and what point in the process you decided to use her?
A: I decided to do it in post production. I had shown the film to some people and they didn’t get that the band never went anywhere. They spent the whole film trying to figure out who they were. some people thought they were supposed to be the Rolling Stones. I also got the Byrds. I realized that I needed to state up front that they never became anybody, so that the audience could just relax into it and be with the story.
Q: I noticed you use the holidays to anchor the story…why?
A: That’s how I remember it going when I was that age, coming home at holidays and life revolving around those times. I was frustrated with the process at one point and ready to give up Stevie Van Zandt sent a demoof one of the main songs and the progression of the lyrics went from holiday to holiday – I thought it was a sign.
Chase introduced the film by invoking Buddy Holly:
“I found out earlier that today is Buddy Holly’s birthday. As you know he wrote the song ‘Don’t Fade Away’ that the film is named for. I can’t even wrap my mind around the fact that this film is having is screening here on his birthday. So Buddy this is for you, I hope you enjoy the movie.”
Erin Essenmacher blogs at The Film Panel Notetaker.