Film Threat: How did you get into punk music?
Susan Dynner: I probably really got into punk after seeing my first show. But I know I already was already into The Clash and The Sex Pistols before then. Although I also listened to a lot of new wave then as well.
What was/is it that appealed to you?
I loved everything about it – the raw energy, the excitement of it being new to me, the music, what the bands had to say, the fact that there was no difference in status between the bands and the audience, and the freedom of thought and expression.
First punk band you ever saw? When? How old were you?
When I was 15, I used to hang out in Georgetown (in Washington, DC – where I’m from) with my friend. I had an early curfew on the weekends, so I’d spend the night at her house since she was a year older and didn’t have one. We’d go to see the Rocky Horror show almost every weekend, and next door to the theater was a Roy Rogers (fast food restaurant) where all the punks would hang out. The guys used to tell us that we should come with them to a show instead of Rocky Horror. One night, we took them up on the offer and a bunch of bands played, but the one that I remember seeing was Minor Threat.
How did you come to filmmaking?
I was just one of those people who always knew what I wanted to do. I remember when I was young, seeing the film “The Little Prince” in the movie theater. It had such an affect on me and really moved me, and I thought that I’d love to make films that had that kind of affect on others. I majored in film in college, then moved out here to LA and worked with some great people. I started off working for Richard Donner Productions, then Wolfgang Petersen’s Radiant Productions, eventually working my way up to become a development executive for Nick Cassavetes and Charlie Sheen’s Ventura Films, Steve Herzberg’s company, and then started my own company with Mark Mathis, where we produced “Brick”.
Are the films of Penelope Spheeris an influence at all? Influential filmmakers/artists?
Well, certainly “Decline (of Western Civilization)” was an influential film for me back then, as was “Suburbia” and “Desperately Seeking Susan”. I think women directors like Penelope Spheeris and Susan Seidelman helped pave the way for other women. In terms of other influential filmmakers, I love Mike Leigh, Pedro Almodovar, Scorsese, Coppola. My favorite film is “All About Eve”. There are so many great filmmakers and films. And of course, Dick Donner and Wolfgang Petersen were mentors for me. It’s great because both Dick and Wolfgang had women producers in their companies – Lauren Shuler Donner and Gail Katz, who showed me that women can be both strong and nice, and still get the job done.
I understand you take photos of bands. How did you come to do this? Think this prepared you in the cinematography/directing stakes in any way?
I took photos of bands when I was younger. When I got into the punk scene, I think I was taking a photography class in school. So it was natural for me to document the scene that I was drawn to. Plus, I got into shows free, got my friends in free, and got to stand on stage instead of being stuck in the pit or in the back – you couldn’t ask for better perks! I don’t know that being a photographer prepared me for cinematography – the only reason I was personally filming this film was out of necessity – it’s definitely not my forte! But I did have the advantage of not being afraid of getting nailed in the head by a stage diver – that’s old hat.
Ever been in a band? If so, what did you do in it?
Yes. I was in the first all-girl band in DC (I think). We were called PTA, which stood for Petty Tyranny Arrest – it sounded cool when I was sixteen. I played guitar. We were pretty bad since we never had time to practice. We did play one show at the 9:30 Club, but then we broke up. I think one or two of the members went on to play in the Nike Chicks, another all-girl punk band from DC.
Any favorite bands? What style of punk do you like best?
That’s a loaded question since I have so many great bands in the film! Actually, it changes all the time. I love the old British sing-along punk. Bands like Stiff Little Fingers, UK Subs, Sham 69, Angelic Upstarts, C**k Sparrer. And of course I love The Damned, The Clash and the Pistols. But there are so many great bands – it’s hard to name them all.
Still go to punk shows? Craziest show you were ever at?
Yes, I still go to punk shows. I’ve been to lots of crazy shows. Most recently, the craziest (not in a good way) was the British Invasion show in San Bernadino. The cops tear gassed the place and shot rubber bullets into the crowd. Luckily, I was backstage so I didn’t get caught in it all. The craziest best show was probably The Ramones in ’83 or ’84 at the Bayou in DC. I wasn’t allowed to take photos that night, so I did my first stage dive (which was cool because it was at a Ramones show). Haven’t done one since.
Why did you want to make “Punk’s Not Dead”?
I saw an ad in the LA Weekly for Inland Invasion – 25 years of punk rock. Bands that were playing were The Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Buzzcocks, alongside TSOL, Circle Jerks, GBH, alongside Bad Religion, The Offspring, Social Distortion, alongside New Found Glory and Blink 182. And it was all categorized as punk. It was in a huge venue that held like eighty thousand people, and it sold out in less than ten minutes. Oh yeah – and it was sponsored by Levis and Budweiser. So I thought – this is a great idea for a film – nothing has been done about punk today, and how it’s become mainstreamed and corporatized and acceptable.
What did you set out to do with it?
I wanted to make a feature film. I bought a camera, approached my producing partners, and started right away. We could have gone to different production companies who were interested in the film, but we decided to self-finance it so that no one could tell us what we should say, how we should say it, who we should have in the film, etc. It’s risky, but I felt that if the bands entrusted me to tell their stories, I should be able to do it without anyone else telling us the film we should make.
What do you want people to take from it?
I hope people enjoy it and learn something as well. Sometimes, punks take themselves and the scene so seriously, but you have to have some fun. And it’s great that so many bands – both old and new – gave us so much access. And hopefully people that know nothing about the scene gain a greater understanding and have some fun as well.
How did you pick the bands and subject matter to go into it?
I picked most of the bands because I loved them. Many of them were my friends, and I wanted to see them profit after all these years – whether monetarily or just through gaining exposure. It was really a great experience – GBH were the first band interviewed for the film. They played the Inland Invasion show and then a couple of them crashed at my house. The next day, I filmed interviews with all of them. The UK Subs came to town the next week and stayed at my house, so they were pretty much captive and had to do the interviews, plus, they were used to it as I whip out my video camera whenever they stay with me. Then, I called Ian MacKaye, and he said that of course he’d help out, and offered Brian Baker’s cell phone number. I called Brian and he said he’s in, so we had Bad Religion, and it just spiraled from there. I think that because people felt like I was their peer rather than an outsider, they were very willing to get involved. As for subject matter, this film was a very collaborative effort. My editor, Patrick Barnes, was crucial to shaping the film and his input was invaluable.
Any bands you wanted but couldn’t get? If so, why?
Yes. This is my saddest story. I was supposed to interview Joe Strummer when I went to England to interview a bunch of other bands. I got a call from Epitaph saying that he was still in the studio and his album was running behind, and could I interview him in a couple of months when he comes to LA. Of course, I said okay, but unfortunately he passed away before I got the chance. That was a huge disappointment. The other band I tried to get but couldn’t was AFI. I guess they decided they didn’t want to be classified as punk anymore. Oh well – their early stuff is good. And Johnny Lydon and Steve Jones declined because they said they’d already done too many docs.
The interview concludes in Part Four of “Punk’s Not Dead”: From Chemical Abuse to My Chemical Romance>>>