'CBGB' Filmmakers on Finding the 'Human Story' of the Famed Punk Rock Club (Q&A)
CBGB may already be immortalized in pop culture, but the famed New York City club that birthed a punk rock movement is now immortalized in Hollywood, as well.
"We weren't exactly sure what this story would be, but we knew there was a story to tell [about CBGB]," says director Randall Miller (Bottle Shock), who wrote the screenplay about CBGB & OMFUG founder Hilly Kristal alongside his wife and writing partner Jody Savin.
"We go for what the human story is and then it's usually an event that also has long-term effects," he says. "In this case, it was a guy who started a country bluegrass place, in the Bowery of all places, in the '70s, and how that morphed into what it became. He became the godfather of punk and underground rock and roll."
The real-life Kristal died in 2007, but his daughter Lisa Kristal Burgman -- who worked tirelessly to keep her father's business financially afloat -- lent a hand on set as an advisor and co-producer on the film.
"For my character, it was less about the punk movement and more about the relationship between Lisa and Hilly," Ashley Greene, who portrays Lisa on screen, told The Hollywood Reporter at the film's New York premiere. "A lot of it was me asking her a ton of questions, her telling me loads of stories so that I could get a sense of what really went on behind the scenes at CBGB and why their relationships was what it was."
For Alan Rickman, who plays club founder Hilly, and frequently spars with his on-screen daughter, Kristal Burgman offered a simple bit of advice: "To remember that she loved him," he told THR.
In addition to Rickman and Greene, CBGB boasts a star-studded cast with Sons of Anarchy alum Donal Logue playing Hilly's longtime business partner Merv, Johnny Galecki as the band manager for Television, and Malin Akerman, Taylor Hawkins, Justin Bartha, Rupert Grint, Ryan Hurst, Stana Katic, Bradley Whitford, Joel David Moore, Freddy Rodriguez and Sting's daughter Mickey Sumner among the supporting acts flowing in and out of the storyline.
Below, filmmakers Miller and Savin tell THR how they found Hilly's story, why they brought the film to DirecTV ahead of its premiere and how they built the Bowery in Savannah, Ga.
CBGB opens theatrically in select cities on Oct. 11, via XLRator Media, with a planned expansion to 140 screens in over 100 markets.
Editor's note: This Q&A has been edited and condensed.
So many bands got their start at this club. How did you decide who to feature and to what extent you wanted to feature them?
Miller: We started at the beginning of the club. And there are actually some other great bands in the beginning of the club. We try to pick a few of the iconic bands and then a few of the bands that were not as well known.
Savin: You can't tell the story of CBGB without Television and The Dead Boys.
Miller: In the movie, when Hilly announces lots of bands, we tried to pick as many as we could. [Some artists] we have their music in the movie, but we don't actually see them. It's hard because you try to mention as many bands as we could, and it's a tricky thing. You are gonna have some hard feelings of people want to be in it, but you tried.
Savin: A lot of the sorting happens naturally because you know who is the key to the story that we are trying to tell. And you also know the sound that complements -- when it's not a piece of music that directly addresses narrative -- just how the sound of whatever piece complements the underscore of the story being told. Some of that just happens naturally in a way.
You've said that you stumbled across Hilly's story while researching for another project. What project was it?
Miller: We started on this road of making a movie about Dennis Wilson and the Beach Boys, and we were looking for other projects when we were in the music world. We weren't exactly sure what this story would be, but we knew there was a story to tell [about CBGB] because it was so influential and yet it was such a strange thing that it was called Country Bluegrass Blues.