by J.D. Reager
For several months, work has been in progress locally on a documentary film about Memphis' legendary alternative/punk nightclub from 80s and early 90s, the Antenna Club. The project is being helmed by local musician and filmmaker Chris McCoy, who is directing his first full-length film since 2006's Eat.
The film features a complete overview of the club's history, from its origins in the late 70s as the Well, to the 80s and early 90s heyday, to the lean final stretch in 1995, along the way showcasing unbelievable rare live footage and interviews with the Oblivians, Panther Burns, the Klitz, the Modifiers, Pezz, Sobering Consequences, the Crime, the Grifters and so, so many more.
This week, McCoy took his new project public, launching a page on the site Kickstarter which allows anyone to contribute to film's final completion and distribution. McCoy and his crew are ambitiously looking to scrounge up around $6 thousand, but have already raised approximately 20% in a just a few days.
He has also unveiled a new, longer cut of the film's trailer, which you can see via the link below:
McCoy spoke to the Flyer this week about the process of making the film, and the prospects of releasing it later this year.
Flyer: What made you decide to make a film about the history of the Antenna?
Chris McCoy: A documentary about the Antenna Club is one of the projects that Memphis filmmakers have thrown around for years. "Somebody should do that,” we'd say. In October of 2009, we were approached by John Floyd and Ross Johnson, who had been trying to sell a book proposal about the Memphis-music underground. They had some start-up funds, and had decided that a movie would be a better vehicle for the subject than a book, because that way they could introduce an audience to a lot of music that has been forgotten. After talking to them, we proposed to use the Antenna as a focal point for the project, since it was in real life, anyway. We got Steve McGehee, the owner of the Antenna, on board as a producer, and away we went.
Were you expecting the film and project to be as big and time-consuming of an endeavor as it seems to have become?
I knew it was going to be big, but I didn't know it was going to be this hard. And if we didn't have the help of Live From Memphis, it would be impossible.
What are some of the challenges you've faced in putting it together so far?
In the 21st century, everyone has cell phones and digital cameras at club shows. Bands can record in their bedrooms and release music without ever playing a gig. In the 1970s and 80s, it was expensive to take pictures, record video, and record your music. No one ever texted "I'm at the Antenna," and no one ever made their Facebook status "Calculated X rules!" It's been really hard to find vintage video and decent recordings of some of the early bands.
Has there been anyone that you really wanted to interview that's been either difficult to track down or unwilling to participate?
Yes, but I'm not going to say who, because I'm still trying to get them to talk.
What are your plans at this point for releasing the film? Will it be on DVD, in theaters, etc?
We plan to have a 90 to 120-minute theatrical cut by early 2011, hit the festival circuit, and do a limited theatrical run in Memphis. We are exploring a self-distribution model for the DVD, since we figure we know our audience better than anyone else. But if someone reading this wants to invest in a release, call me. In fact, if anyone wants to invest in any aspect of this project, I'm all ears.
In addition to the movie DVD, which will most likely be an extended version of the theatrical cut, we are also planning a bonus DVD of vintage and contemporary performances, a soundtrack CD, and lots of other extras. We could do a 5-hour miniseries with the amount of material we have, and there's more coming in every day.
We understand you'll be submitting a portion of the documentary to the Indie Memphis festival. Can you tell us what that version of the film it will be?
We have entered a documentary short in Indie Memphis called Antenna: Origins. It is basically the first 25 minutes of the film, beginning with the garage rock scene of the 1960s and ending with the founding of the Antenna club in 1981. We have not yet been formally accepted into the festival, but we have our fingers crossed.
What was your personal experience with/connection to the Antenna Club? Do you have a favorite Antenna memory?
Both Laura Jean Hocking (my editor and lovely wife) and I spent countless hours at the club. She says she fondly remembers being scarred for life by seeing the Modifiers as a teenager. I guess my favorite Antenna memory was when my band Pisshorse opened for Neighborhood Texture Jam, whom I idolized.
In the process of making the film, have you discovered any exciting music or bands or personalities that you didn't know much about previously?
I personally had heard about the Modifiers, but had no idea what a force of nature they were until we uncovered a video of them from 1986. Another revelation has been how fresh some of this stuff still sounds. Eraserhead, Metro Waste, Distemper, Sobering Consequences, Barking Dog. . . the list goes on. I played in a noise band called the New Intruders for years, and I really had no idea we were following in the footsteps of Panther Burns.
Tell us about Kickstarter, and the process of taking the project public - what made you decide to go that route to obtain funding?
We started with some private funds, but not enough to finish the job. Instead of pitching a concept to a bunch of potential funders, we decided to shoot with what we had, cut together a trailer, and then try to raise finishing funds. We've been guerrilla filmmakers for years, so we're used to working with nothing. We figured that it would be easier to convince people that we knew what we were doing with a trailer than it would be to just say, "trust us!"
Kickstarter is a new service from Amazon.com that allows people to contribute to artistic and other projects that they would love to see completed, but which might not be "pitchable" to the entertainment establishment. Think about trying to pitch a movie to a Hollywood executive about a bunch of bands that never sold any records, but played at a tiny, stinky club in Memphis, of all places. But just because the big money would rather make Transformers 3D: Robots Blowing Shit Up doesn't mean there's not an audience for this movie. We thought the crowdsourcing model was perfect for the Antenna project, because, in the words of Pezz's Ceylon Mooney, "at the Antenna, you found that the people in the audience and the bands on the stage were the same people."
Finally, do you feel any pressure being the one in charge of the Antenna story, and, if so, how has it affected your filmmaking process?
We went from being excited that we were going to get to make the Antenna movie to being overwhelmed by the obligation to get it right. This is a big piece of Memphis history, and one that is very close to our hearts and the hearts of a lot of people. It's the place and the era that set a lot of the norms that we take for granted in the Memphis cultural scene today. We've come to accept that there's no way to tell this story without pissing some people off, so we're going to do our best to tell the story as truthfully as we can. I think the weight of history has made us more passionate about it.