For a couple of days, P. David Ebersole’s HIT SO HARD, which traces the rise and fall (and near death) and then recovery and rise again of Hole drummer Patty Schemel’s life to date, brought some rock n’ role to New Directors/New Films. And that is meant both figuratively and literally, as the enthusiastic standing room only crowd at MoMA would attest as they waited and waited…and waited for Courtney Love to appear so the key members of the seminal rock group could reunite for the first time in 13 years and the lights could finally go down allowing the film to start.
But that was a mere sideshow previewing a film that indeed rocks as it proceeds to cover a lot of material – from Schemel’s romance with drugs and alcohol abuse which took her to the streets and came close to ending her life before her recovery, to her relationship with Love and Kurt Cobain and the grunge rock movement, to the story of an important rock band finding its creative footing and a view from the inside as to how it fractured under the weight and disappointments of its foray into corporate rock, to finally Schemel’s place at the rock n’ roll table as a female drummer that ranked among the very best, regardless of gender.
It’s a lot of ground to cover. A lot. And to Ebersole’s credit, he keeps the momentum going and more importantly, he keeps the emphasis of Schemel and her personal center within each of these stories (which to be fair could have been broken up into a couple different documentaries. Finally, he succeeds in delivering a “person” along with “the story”, when either/or would have been more than acceptable.
1) Can you specify what “scenes” you were watching when you knew that there was a documentary in there somewhere?
There are two scenes that stand out immediately when you ask that question. One is in Paris, where Courtney causes a near riot after a concert, interacting with their fans. Another is Patty and Melissa in bed, like sisters, talking about Patty's failed love issues. They are the crux of what makes the footage so fascinating to me. On the one hand, it's a sweeping back stage pass to one of the greatest moments in rock history. On the other, it's an intimate peek into one person's experience at a crucial crossroads in her life. And then there is all that live concert footage, usually shot from back stage, looking out…a rare view of what it is like to be a member of the band instead of a fan. Plus there is so much we have that is not in the doc…wait until you see the DVD extras!
Kurt Cobain, Frances Bean and Patty Schemel in 1992 (Photo by Courtney Love)
2) Did each of the additional interview subjects participate enthusiastically or did have to do some “convincing” to get them on camera?
If there was any reluctance, it only had to do with the personal nature of the conversations we were sure to have. There was so much generosity from all members of the band towards Patty, especially knowing we were approaching them when she was healthy and on the road to recovery. It's a great lesson to recovering addicts: you think people are angry with you for your missteps when you were using, but the minute you are in a serious place of recovery, hearts open back up and people want to do what they can to keep you on that path. Remember, when we started interviewing everyone, Patty had only been truly sober for two years. Though we are close friends with Patty, Todd and I are outsiders in this world, so we expected resistance on a whole variety of fronts, from managers to record companies to the individuals. But believe it or not, when you call someone up and say, “We're friends of Patty Schemel. She's sober, she wants to tell her story, and we're doing a documentary on her with her blessing,” doors opened up pretty wide and welcoming. Courtney and Eric gifted the music rights to the film. Melissa was our first interview with a band member and she welcomed us into her home for two days. In the post process, Eric went back into his archives and found board tapes for us to make the music sound as good as it could.
3) Since Patty was and is a very good friend, was there difficulty in putting her worse times onscreen and exploring them through the interviews?
Patty Schemel (center) with her band Hole, the bands Veruca Salt and Metallica at the The Molson Ice Beach Polar Beach Party in Tuktoyaktuk, Canada.
4) Was there an attempt to interview Michael Beinhorn, arguably the “villain” of the documentary, who not only produced “Celebrity Skin” which is routinely viewed as the “sellout” album, but also engineered the ousting of Patty Schemel from the band sending here on her downward spiral?
A. I would argue that “Celebrity Skin” is not a sell out. Their experience working on it was their first foray into the dangerous waters of corporate rock…but there is not a member of Hole that I would characterize as anything but a serious artist who wants to play a high level of music for its fans. Shit went down that is not pretty and probably not easy for any of them to talk about or remember, especially when it comes to how it affected Patty's life at the time. But she also is the first person to take responsibility for the choices that followed.
B. We decided that, once we heard all of the band's angles on the experience, Beinhorn's take on the event was simply not pertinent. What is he going to say? That he didn't think one of the greatest women drummers in rock was capable of playing the parts she wrote? Does anyone listen to what most people would say is Hole's seminal album, LIVE THROUGH THIS, and think, man, this could be awesome, if only it weren't for that drumming? No. His idea of what good drumming is and the world's idea of what soulful musicianship is was not an argument we felt altered or added to the conversation about Patty's emotional journey. That is the focus of the movie and that is what we decided was the important part of the segment of the film that Beinhorn's approach to recording music was about. He-said, she-said, was not interesting to us.
5) This was your first feature documentary project after a number of narrative projects. What was the greatest challenge creating the “story” of the film?
Narrative films have a script. You go out, film the scenes — which without a doubt grow and change on set with actors and your crew — but you know what you movie is. With a doc, it unfolds as you go. And it wants new structure all the time. It starts out wanting to be linear and then it tells you it refuses to be linear. Docs are written from start to finish…from inception to picture lock.
6) You were one of Filmmaker Magazine’s New Indie Faces in 1998. And now you are in New Directors/New Films. Is there some kind of Peter Pan directing complex going on here?
All I ask is that you call me young and pretty next.
HIT SO HARD director P. David Ebersole
7) The film has an insanely low budget. However, you also had the bulk of your footage to start with (aside from the interviews). So, what were the big ticket items as far as expenditures to pull it all off and make HIT SO HARD?
Here is where you spend all your money in making a doc: marketing, legal, clearance, travel, and post. Getting the damn thing out of your computer and onto a screen is when the money starts to flow out.
8) Who was more of a delight or challenge to work with: Paula Abdul (on the short JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL you made in 1977) or Tatum O’Neal (in the FOX novella “Wicked Wicked Games”)?
Paula and I were both 13 years old when we were in JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL, which by the way, I literally star in and Paula plays a supporting role. Cough cough. But remember, Paula was not “Paula” she was just a girl from the valley, doing a movie for the first time, like me.
Tatum and I, also the exact same age, were 46 when we worked on WICKED WICKED GAMES. So, as you can imagine, there were many more adult issues involved in the latter. And it was a thrill on the first day on set when I put on my headphones and heard that voice in my ears — Tatum's great, cool, unmistakable voice. But really, who would have ever thought that that kid from JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL, with his feathered hair and puka shells, would one day be able to say he worked with Paula Abdul, Tatum O'Neal and now Courtney Love? Who's next? Yoko Ono? Grace Jones? Liza? Bring it on!
9) What is the best thing about having HIT SO HARD screened at New Directors/New Films?
My first film, LOVER MAN, won best film at NYU in 1986 and a bonus from that honor was that it screened at MoMA. It only took me 25 years to climb back to that moment, with HIT SO HARD showing on the same screen. I feel like I have come full circle…or maybe I'm just caught on a very long treadmill.
10) Popcorn or candy?