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SxSW 2015 Interview: DANNY SAYS director Brendan Toller

by Jason Whyte

"There exists a man currently roaming planet earth who has traversed the coolest scenes of the latter half century. A gadfly and cultural arbiter who connects John Cameron Mitchell to the Ramones, Iggy Pop to Andy Warhol, Lou Reed to Brian Epstein. The man's name is Danny Fields and he's the subject of our feature documentary DANNY SAYS premiering at SXSW on March 18th. The film follows Danny from Harvard Law dropout, to Warhol glitterati, to Elektra Records Company Freak, to "punk pioneer" and beyond. Danny's had an amazing impact on music and "culture" and DANNY SAYS traces it all." Director Brendan Toller on DANNY SAYS which screens at the 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival

Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience and are you going to attend your screenings?

It IS my first time in Texas and first time at SXSW. We can't wait to show this five-and-a-half year labour of love to audiences. Danny gave me keys to his apartment and let me crash on his couch like so many have (and among them, Iggy Pop, Jann Wenner and Joey Ramone). It's a handmade film, literally with some of the animation.

Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker. Also what have you worked on in the past?

I see documentary as non-fiction writing for the 21st century. I made some goofy films with my friends borrowing dad's video camera as a teenager and then got more serious about it at Hampshire College. My first feature doc I NEED THAT RECORD really got me into this whole realm. The film explores the impact and uncertain future of indie record stores and features Thurston Moore, Mike Watt, Ian MacKaye etc. I interviewed Danny Fields which is originally how we met, but alas, we didn't even GET to talking record stores. This is the guy who DISCOVERED the Ramones?!

How did your movie come together as a director?

I was lucky enough to become one of Danny's friends. He was an absolute hoot to hang out with and one day I blurted out "Hey, let me know if you need help with a memoir, or god forbid, a documentary..." Seven years later we are at SXSW! Writer Justin Skrakowski and I sat down with Danny every Sunday for almost 4 years and much to Danny's chagrin our line of questioning was pretty chronological. I worked 4 part time jobs, lived in NYC exile in New Haven, CT and held on to the tenacious spirit. We received financial help through Kickstarter, NYSCA and some goddamned ANGELS leading up to SXSW.

What was your process in getting the film together? Talk about your producing partners and key collaborators.

Ian Markiewicz of Albert Maysles and Jay Reatard fame served as my second set of eyes and ears in the editing process. Editor Timothy Sternberg did a second round towards finishing. There's three different styles of animation; Matt Newman from I NEED THAT RECORD returns with the cutouts, Johnny Woods and illustrator Sage Schmett have a beguiling 2D style and Emily Hubley & Max Rosenthal I can't even begin to put into words. In the past year I've worked with producer Pamela Lubell to kick TCB into high gear! What can I say? Talking about collaborators is like dancing about architecture; they're all wonderful and should be experienced.

What was your #1 challenge with this movie, and how did you over-come it?

Although the documentary genre has swept up eager audiences in the past couple of decades there are certainly monstrous obstacles to overcome for any doc filmmaker. Production and distribution cost has fallen but licensing rights have not. There's an ugly graveyard of films held hostage by the outdated beast we know as copyright. I'd like to see key business players in the "industry" foster a supportive net for filmmakers who are doing great work, because a lot are fading away under current circumstances.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be? The moment where you thought "I had something"?

Pissing in Iggy Pop's bushes per his request was alright! "There's a bathroom inside, or you can do what I do just piss in the bushes." Buying David Peel a monstrous stack of pancakes with pretty much raw eggs on top in the Village. Getting berated by Paul Morrissey for uttering the words "modern art" in his presence. Too many...

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

Just a raw drive that isn't ever going to give in. Can NOT be fueled by caffene, or any illicit substance. 100% gall and naivety.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.

I'm sort of the lo-fi Guided By Voices of filmmaking. Technicality is just a means for feeling. Story trumps all. I borrowed an old Sony HD camera from Tom Luckey, the imagination powerhouse. Wasn't the best piece of equipment, but got the job done; kind of like an old blues man who can move a room with a glorified tennis racket.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW and in Austin?

The audience and their reaction. Barbecue. The folks who made the Doug Sahm documentary. Lonestar beer?

Alamo Drafthouse and Paramount theaters in Austin aside, if you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?

One of the first times I ever emerged out of the NYC subway and ended up in the Village at the West 4th stop I sort of marveled over the IFC center marquee. Whoa, NYC really DOES have EVERYTHING. I'd settle for any theatre with a marquee. Or Mars,aliens should know the wonder of "I Wanna Be Yr Dog."

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being generally disruptive during a screening of your film?

Smart phone, dumb person.

There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. What would you want to tell them if they are aspiring to become a filmmaker?

We're in a golden age...get out there!

And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have ever seen?
Jem Cohen's Benjamin Smoke.

DANNY SAYS official website:
Brendan Toller's official website:

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our 35+ filmmaker interview series. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 13-21. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

link directly to this feature at
originally posted: 03/11/15 03:47:45
last updated: 03/11/15 12:20:42
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