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South By Southwest 2011 Interview - "Hit So Hard" director P. David Ebersole

Hit So Hard - At SxSW Film
by Jason Whyte

"Once upon a time in Hollywood, a good friend in the industry told me never to mix genres, which is advice I seem never to heed. So we have made a lesbian rockumentary that is equal parts tragedy and comedy, a road picture and a home movie, a behind-the-scenes backstage pass and an intimate portrait of one woman's journey from small town girl to rock star to homelessness. "Hit So Hard" is the story of Patty Schemel, the hard-hitting, openly gay drummer of Courtney Love's seminal rock band Hole; but it also the story of a true survivor. It's The Wizard of Oz meets The Decline of Western Civilization." Director P. David Ebersole on "Hit So Hard" which screens at this year's South By Southwest Film.

Is this your first film in SxSW? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend the festival screenings?

I was named one of Filmmaker Magazine's New Indie Faces back in 1998, so I would say I've been around the block and back to be here, at SXSW, for the first time, with my very first documentary feature. Films I have directed, produced and/or written have played everything from Sundance to Smogdance, from Cannes to Marcos Island...and my big goal now is to have "Hit So Hard" play Abu Dhabi. We love feeling the audience reaction in the room and not only will be in attendance but might just be sitting right behind you so, please, be kind and laugh and cry in all the right places.

Could you give me a little look into your background, and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

When I was 13 years old, I went to a cattle call and landed the starring role in a film called "Junior High School", which came out do the math. I had Farrah Fawcett hair and puka shells and Teen Beat looks to rival Leif Garret. But as an actor, I was a piece of wood. It turns out, "Junior High School" co-starred a young Paula Abdul and, partly because of that, it is being remastered to BluRay as we speak...but I digress. When I was on set, the directors let me sit on the dolly and listen to the cans on the Nagra and I was immediately hooked. At Hollywood High School, where I was Prom King, 1981, dated a cheerleader that was #1 on my tennis team, I directed my first play "Shadow Box" by Michael Cristofer...only my cohorts and I dubbed our production "Shallow Box".

So yes, I decided to end my film and theater career and switched my major to English literature at UCLA. Born in Los Angeles, the only son of a feminist psychologist whose stepfather was the city editor of the Los Angeles Times, I grew up in a household that routinely made connections between the personal and the political. In 1984, I moved to NY to do an internship with CNN thinking I wanted to go in to journalism. I spent that entire Spring in the editing room; CNN was in the basement of the World Trade Center, then, believe it or not...but again, I digress. By Summer, I transferred to NYU film school. And the rest is an attempt at history.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …”

...teen superstar. DId I mention yet that I starred in a movie with Paula Abdul when I was 13? And I auditioned for the original "Gong Show." I always wanted to be a singer and on certain nights at our house, I live the dream, with projection Karoake and a system with over 55,000 songs featuring more new wave and punk rock than any bar you've ever been to.

How did this whole project come together?

My friend Patty Schemel brought me a gold box, filled with 40+ hours of never-before-seen video footage from when she was on tour with her band Hole. She shot the tape on Hi-8 and was afraid it would disintegrate soon, so she came asking for advice about how to best preserve it. Soon, the two of us were transferring the tapes and watching the footage together. Patty, a great raconteur, began telling me her very personal and sometimes harrowing story. And the seed of the documentary was born. My husband/producer Todd Hughes and I spent the next few years interviewing Patty's band-mates including all the members of Hole (Melissa Auf der Maur, Eric Erlandson and Courtney Love), friends, fans, social critics and other women drummers to craft what has become “Hit So Hard: The Life & Near Death Story of Patty Schemel.”

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it the script, principal photography or post-production stage?

This movie was beyond low budget; it was literally out-of-pocket. So the largest challenge we faced was finding an editor. I come from narrative where you bang out a director’s cut in 8 weeks and finish it all up in another 4 weeks. Even if you have to beg for favors, it’s only a couple of months. This movie took a full year to cut. There isn't a friend alive that can give you that amount of time. So I had to go back to my roots and teach myself how to cut again. I was head of post production at both NYU and USC film schools and I worked as a video editor once upon a time, but when I started it was flatbeds and ¾” linear systems. When things transitioned to non-linear, I learned the basics but from that time on I worked with editors. To keep "Hit So Hard" moving forward, I decided to rough in the scenes and the structure, always thinking eventually I would turn it over to someone else. Every time we got someone to say they could hop on, they’d get some awesome full paying job. Patty shot so much amazing archival footage and people told so many great anecdotes in the interviews, that our first cut ran over four hours. I won’t say it was boring but it certainly helped the few people we subjected to it get a little shut-eye. “Think of the DVD extras,” we would say as things got eliminated and Patty’s story shone though more and more. I just kept cutting and cutting and honing until we one day showed it to friends who were now fully engaged and quoting lines from the movie back at us, and Todd and I looked at each other and said, “Hey! It seems to be done.”

Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

Early on, we decided we would get more intimate and honest interviews if we kept the crew tiny so, except in a few circumstances, we used the Maysles brothers as our model, with Todd working the camera and sound and me asking all of the questions. "Hit So Hard" is literally a family made film. Todd and I doing the heavy lifting, our great friend and producer Christina Soletti finessing all of our access, and Patty’s best friend Roddy writing the score. Everyone working on or appearing in it did so out of love for Patty and a belief that telling her story, now, was important and necessary. It was the definition of “labor of love.”

Patty's life journey naturally lent itself to the documentary style we chose for "Hit So Hard", a complex tapestry of current-day interviews blended with archival material and stills, peppered with her powerful behind-the-scenes home video. Imagery and interviews are juxtaposed, often with split-screen in order to weave us forward, to witness Patty's breaking point and hopefully learn from her ultimate triumph.

We shot on mini-DV partly so that the project could remain a desktop movie and partly because the standard definition feel seemed correct to the subject matter. When we started in 2007, HD was certainly an option, but knowing that Patty's footage was Hi-8 and working out of the punk rock spirit of her world, we wanted the footage from "today" to not feel too distant from the archival material.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this project in particular?

I am inspired most by the Raging Bulls & Easy Riders, and the French New Wave. Early Coppola and Alain Resnais...don't get me started on the genius of "Hiroshima Mon Amour"...are my role models. And I can't get enough of the 70's cinema I grew up watching and wanting to some day emulate: "Dog Day Afternoon", "Manhattan", "Gloria", "Jaws" and "Rumble Fish". But I'm also a fan of movies that entertain so I love popcorn movies like "Showgirls" and "Carrie" and "Endless Love" as much as I love intense, intelligent fare like "Network", "Day of the Locust" or "Blue Velvet". I wonder if you stir all of that together into a pot, would you end up with "Hit So Hard"?

How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself working on larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?

It's not the size of the boat, it's the motion in the ocean. Bigger, longer and uncut or down and dirty in a back alley, it's all good in my book. FIlmmaking is a set of assumptions. You look at the parameters of what is in front of you and you do the job as it needs to be done.

If you weren’t in this profession, what other line of work do think you would be involved with?

I would be a professional tennis player. I'd have Roger Federer hair and Rafa Nadal's butt and Andre Agassi's class and talent. I'd travel the world with an entourage of trainers and masseurs and top models in tow. And Shakira can come too since she cast Rafa in that music video. But I'd be a throwback to the 70's superstar players like Vitas Gerulaitis...I'd fly all my friends to the Grand Slams and stay out all night at Studio 54 with Grace Jones.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

Good reviews are important. Bad reviews don't matter.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

Grauman's Chinese on Hollywood Boulevard. I'm a Hollywood boy so I've seen everything from "Diamonds are Forever" to "A Star Is Born" to "Earthquake" to "The Shining" to "A Single Man" at that theater. And, since this is my fantasy, Patty would be invited to immortalize her hand and footprints in cement at the premiere!

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?

Are you saying you don't think our film will be playing next year on multiple screens at the local megaplex, alongside BIEBER 3D TWO?

What would you say or do to someone who is talking during or conversing/texting on their cell phone while you’re watching a movie?

I'd be on Grindr and would text back.

What do you love the most about this business of making movies?

I honestly love it all. I love what we call the "idea factory" where Todd and I brainstorm on the morning dog walk. I love writing (when I finally sit down to do it). I love being on set. I love love love editing when all of the ideas are finally a reality. I love the chess game of the business. And I love getting to put something out into the world that might actually affect people and make them think about their lives in reaction to what we have made.

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

One word: do it. Wait, that was two words. But it's one idea: don't let anyone hold you back. Set a goal for the day you will start making your movie, whether it is financed for millions or cobbled together by favors, and then stick to it. All movies can be made with a huge budget but good movies are often made with ingenuity and nothing more.

And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?

Shirley Knight's performance in "The Rain People" breaks my heart and that's not just because of her great acting but also because of every element that is in every frame of that film, from the shot design to the time in which the movie was made to the simultaneously careful and freewheeling hand of Francis Ford Coppola that is guiding everything we see, hear and feel. I guess that's what cinema is truly about: what reaches into your center, breaks it into pieces and puts it all back together at the same time?

This is one of the many films screening at the 2011 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 11-19. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte Facebook: jasonwhyte

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originally posted: 03/10/11 06:57:27
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