By: Jarrod Dicker
New Brunswick, NJ, USA
Mandy Stein is a documentary filmmaker and director of Burning Down The House - The Story of CBGB. Following a review of the film on staythirsty.com, Jarrod Dicker sat down with the director to discuss her experience making the film and the motivation behind its production. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California and is presently working on another music documentary with her fiancé.
Thirsty: How long have you been making films?
Mandy Stein: My first documentary was titled, You See Me Laughin' (2002) where I followed the last of the Hill Country Bluesmen. The idea was sparked in early 1999, from a Mike Rubin article in Spin Magazine about the Bluesmen. So I went on and called Mississippi where the label was based. I had no education in the field and never attended film school. The funding came from borrowed money from my grandfather, and I just went down there, figured it out and created a documentary.
Thirsty: What was the overall vibe at the film’s premier at TRiBeCa?
MS: It was really thrilling to be there. The mood was incredibly positive and I was impressed to see that the audience laughed and cried when the film called for it.
Thirsty: Has it found a home or distribution?
MS: Not yet...there’s definitely some interest, but nobody has taken the plunge.
Thirsty: What inspired you to create this documentary?
MS: Born and raised a New Yorker, CBGB's was a part of my childhood. I went there throughout my adolescence and all through my teenage years to adulthood. When I heard of its situation, being in a serious rental dispute, I called Hilly (Kristal) from Los Angeles and spoke to him. He was a family friend, and invited me to make the film without hesitation. After that, I pretty much jumped on a plane to New York and began shooting.
Thirsty: So was this a personal mission? To document the last days of the historic club?
MS: The reason why I made this film was to preserve the history and satisfy the unsettling feeling of losing CBGB's. It just sounded too frightening, and at that point in time, a grass root campaign to save CBGB's had already begun...I wanted to jump on board. I thought it was so amazing how New Yorkers were standing up for the club, and I knew then, that this was something that needed to be documented. It’s unique to have such a vocal resistance and I wanted to follow that.
Thirsty: You said Hilly was a family friend...
MS: Hilly was really inviting, and everyone over at CBGB's was accommodating and warm. You had to earn your trust. They made you feel like a part of the CBGB family and the atmosphere that the club was run by was so family-oriented. People spent so many hours there, a home away from home. Some of my closest friends believed in it. Everyone really misses hilly.
Thirsty: Has anything ever come about from the Bowery Resident Committee? An apology?
MS: No...they own a lease that they didn’t want to renew. It’s a shame that the club isn’t there anymore, however the B.R.C. didn’t do anything illegal.
Thirsty: What film/camera techniques were used?
MS: The style of the film is incredibly eclectic. We used various lenses from HD, to super 8, to photography...because there were so many different elements and archival footage, for me it was just really trying to blend in as much as I could with all of those elements. Keeping it as simple as possible.
Thirsty: Why simple?
MS: A lot was shot, run and done at the last second. I basically used a camera that was really accessible that could work in low lights and on the run because everything was last minute. All the information was important to have documented and there was limited time to do so.
Thirsty: Limited time?
MS: Yes...everything was last minute because it all (closing of CBGB's) happened so quickly. Basically there was an article in the Village Voice that talked about a rent dispute (March) and then the Washington Square Park rally that Miami Steve (Little Steven, E Street Band Member) put together was the weekend Katrina hit (August). It all erupted very quickly. I literally jumped on a plane, and didn’t have a lot of time to plan the shoot. I didn’t have a budget behind me...it was a shoe string budget, getting what I needed to get.
Thirsty: What do you cherish about the making of this film?
MS: I was really lucky to see all those shows. I saw such amazing music in the closing months of CBGB's. I made certain to shoot more than I would ever use, just to archive it. It was the last of the last, a lot of shows and appearances didn’t make it into the film. I traveled with Hilly five times to Vegas. In want of getting so much amazing stuff I just wanted to shoot everything. Normally I would be more conservative with shooting...over 200 hours to contend with, but I needed it immediately.
Thirsty: Were you able to bring home any of the scraps/memorabilia upon destruction of CBGB?
MS: Somewhere I think I have some nails from the stage that held it together...also a couple of picks off the floor. I didn’t take a piece of the wall, at one point it was the last day, and I did borrow a steamer from a store down the street and steamed off three of the posters and gave those to Hilly. Little did I know that John Varvatos (menswear designer) was going to move in there and preserve it the best he could...but at the closing point nobody knew what was going to come out of that. Luckily John did move in there and preserve the state of the space as much as he could.
Thirsty: Working on any other projects?
MS: My Fiancé and I are co-directing a documentary (Bad Brains: a Band in D.C.) that will be finished by the end of this summer. We’ve traveled with them, and hung out with them.
Thirsty: Any celebrity feedback?
MS: Mickey (Leigh) wasn’t able to go to the premier, but I sent him a copy and he sent me the most loving email. We all miss Joey, Johnny, Hilly...so you know it’s a tough, sad film. But hopefully funny as well! I received the e-mail from Mickey after he watched the film and that was very special to me. It was amazing and so thoughtful that he took the time to watch it.
Thirsty: Any advice for future documentary film makers?
MS: Anyone thinking of going to film school, I encourage you to reconsider...make a film rather than going to film school. You learn more by doing it yourself...