Punk’s Dead? An interview with Director James Merendino and a Behind the Scenes preview of...
The cult-like following behind James Merendino’s film SLC Punk! is somewhat legendary among those who participate or are even aware of the subculture. Even during my travels, whenever I mention that I live in Salt Lake City, two things are always asked. One—Am I Mormon, and two—is SLC like the movie? Needless to say it has become a classic. This is evident as I walk toward The Complex and come across an assortment of punks, both local and foreign. They are waiting for their chance to be an extra in this spin off.
Upon actually entering the Complex, I am escorted with the punk extras into the main room. I gather that the part being filmed today is for the concert scene. Since Friday is the day of the actual gig, todays’ filming is more for a controlled environment. This is meant to allow for the dialogue to take place between the actors. Instead of dealing with the sure chaos that the next evening’s performance would surely bring. The band performing the scene in question is Extreme Corporal Punishment, the “English” band from the first movie, aka The Eight Bucks Experiment.
After a few minutes studying my surroundings, I am taken to another part of the building. The area where I am taken and left for a little while is the waiting room for the goths. Among them is local actor Tim Drake. There, they wait to be extras in some sort of gothic nightclub scene. It is here where I get my first of many chances to bump into Merendino, who like the rest of the crew, is busy running around making magic happen. My time in this area is very brief. It feels like just as soon as I got here I am escorted back to the punk room. The difference in atmosphere is very striking. The gothic extras all portrayed a certain calm cool as they sat around their room in near silence. Their presence gave off a feeling of being formal and composed. In comparison the punks are strewn across the room. They come across as more relaxed and loose.
The process for the assorted punks to be extras requires them to shed visible logos and brands of any sort. Apparently it’s not punk to display band names. Shortly after everyone is checked out to make sure that they are in compliance with the regulations, a portion are led off to film a quick scene, including yours truly. We are required to appear as if we are lining up to get into the gig and we are told to be quiet for the filming. This is something that is not surprisingly difficult to do for a bunch of punk rockers. The scene has Machine Gun Kelly’s character “Crash” bumping his way through the crowded hallway to catch up with his friends to get into the gig. While time seemed to go slow, it is pulled off in only a few takes. The process for filming this scene comes across as feeling somewhat natural thanks to the rowdiness of some of the extras. Kind of like a real queue for a punk gig.
As we come back into the main room, the set up for the scripted concert scene is almost done. The punks provide a circle pit for the gig. Giving this segment the appearance of an actual show, Extreme Corporal Punishment blasts out hardcore punk rock to energize the extras. The process requires several takes, which has the circle pit moved around to provide a platform for Kelly’s character to get into it. The constant stopping and starting of music reminds of continuously pressing repeat on an mp3 player. Despite the show being on demand, it is intense. When the extras are finally given a break they quickly disperse to get water and food. Who can blame them, especially after continually moshing/circle pitting on the go.
During this break I managed to chat with Director James Merendino about the film and Salt Lake City.
SLUG: Why are you making a sequel to SLC Punk?
James Merendino: It’s a spinoff. I had originally wanted to revisit, three years ago, revisit the punk scene … and felt that there’s a whole new generation interested or a part of that scene. I also wanted to resurrect this character I had written a long time ago who is the lead of this story. The lead of this story is not a punk. He’s Heroin Bob’s kid and he’s sort of a goth kid. An anachronistic way, because really he’s a Victorian goth and he is friends with punks. … In his day, in his journey he’s had his heart broken and so he discovers himself through these friends of his that are punks who take him to a punk show. It’s a much smaller story—there’s no timing about it at all. You know, it’s the kind of comedy’s that I like to make and I thought, well, for me to go back to Salt Lake City and make another movie that’s about punk, I’m gonna have to bring some people back from the original.
SLUG: Do the bands Screeching Weasel and the Dwarves represent something about the time period that this film is set in?
Merendino: To be honest with you Blag Dahlia (Dwarves) is a friend of mine and he was willing to come out and do the show. Then he talked to Ben Weasel (Screeching Weasel). That’s how it came about.
SLUG: I’ve heard you’ve brought Heroin Bob back from the dead? Is this true?
Merendino: No. He’s not back from the dead. He’s narrating the movie. In the way that Sunset Boulevard is narrated by Bill Holden, who’s dead—he’s drowned in a pool and he narrates the movie. He’s not really there, he’s not a ghost, he’s a memory.
SLUG: Will Matthew Lillard be making an appearance in the film?
Merendino: No. Stevo’s character’s not in the movie, because I felt that story’s a different story … a much bigger story. Because Stevo, he’s not in Salt Lake. I wanted to come back and a make a movie about Salt Lake City, where I grew up. The lead character is more the way I was. Friends with punks, but not [one]. I was a romantic and kind of silly. But I would go to the shows and they would drag me to the shows. That’s how I observed and made SLC Punk. But as far as Stevo goes, that’s a much bigger story. It would take place in Harvard and in New York. If he were to be in this then the movie would just be about Stevo. Because he would have to narrate it and it’s not, it’s about a lot of characters.
SLUG: Do you plan to write the Stevo story?
Merendino: It’s written.
SLUG: What do you think of Salt Lake City now?
Merendino: Because the Olympics came and sort of changed everything? I don’t know, the city’s weird—It’s still retained its eccentricity. I don’t find that it’s changed that much. I know they’ve got that trolley, they’ve got new stores, they tore down the Salt Palace and put up something else. But it still feels … well, there’s the Mormon Temple and the Capitol. So I mean it’s the same.
SLUG: What do you think of the cult like status of the first SLC Punk?
Merendino: I didn’t expect it. I didn’t know it even existed until I started diving in to making that movie I wanted to make about young punks. I found out there were all these fans on this page and it started to grow and of course they affected the way I was writing the script because I was hearing their opinions. How do I feel about it? Well, it affected how I was going to write the story. Otherwise I was going to write some story about punks in Salt Lake.
SLUG: How specifically did it affect the story?
Merendino: I put a lot more punk in the movie than there was going to be. Like there wasn’t going to be a show. It was going to be more like a midlife crisis movie.
SLUG: When can we expect the film to come out?
Merendino: I was shooting for the end of the year. But I may be invited to Sundance. So I might hold that and go in the beginning of January.
SLC punks—can you dig it?