Television giant David Chase who gave us The Sopranos, made his first film Not Fade Away concerning a 60’s suburban New Jersey teen who with his friends, formed a rock and roll band based on the music of the British Invasion.
As he told us in Toronto, it is strongly personal and biographical.
M&C: The sixties in New Jersey was an important time for you growing up. What gave it enough weight to make a movie?
Chase: Most people who are going to make a movie with anything to do with themselves would probably go back to those years, the years between 17 and 20 when you’re really going through changes. That wasn’t my reasons for doing this movie. My reason for doing the movie is that I just love the music of that era.
I wasn’t that crazy about the sixties and I didn’t want to do a story about the sixties but I did want to tell the story about guys who loved music and talked about it all the time. And lived it.
M&C: How many of the characters are real and how much are you in there?
Chase: The characters in the band are amalgams of different people, different characteristics. There was one guy, we made this self-financed demo and tiny studio in West Orange New Jersey in 1965 and the guy who owned the studio said “If you guys sign a contract with me I’ll let you use the studio free to practice your sound and develop it.”
My friend said “Who’s he?” We had nothing to lose. We listened to him and we suffered for it. These are amalgams of real people. How much of it is me? I just happened to have a better voice (than the other band members) and those duties fell to me.
M&C: How much was pure nostalgia?
Chase: I don’t feel any nostalgia. The sixties to me were not so nostalgic. We didn’t really touch on those things that happened in the sixties.
M&C: The British rock Invasion of the sixties changed everything and it was American music coming back to itself. It was great that you addressed that.
Chase: It’s really important. People don’t know about that, and maybe don’t stress enough in interviews that yes it’s about appreciation but the fact that the invasion carried it with it the American music. The majority of white kids never listen to it at all.
It came from the Mississippi Delta and the Chicago ghetto, places like that which were undervalued where life was tough and sad and that why it matured rock and roll music. It made it about more than teenaged love in cars.
M&C: In the film, your father was hostile and unsupportive of your musical ambitions. Was your real father?
Chase: I got support from my other band mates and I got support from my girlfriends. One told me time was on my side as you saw in the movie and that actually happened. My father gave me half assed support, saying “As long as you finish college I don’t care what you do”. My mother completely didn’t get it; she took it as an affront.
M&C: James Gandolfini plays your father. He’s one of your regulars. Why?
Chase: James Gandolfini is real smart and he knows where the values lie in the scene, the important parts it doesn’t have to be explained to him. Most of all what a hard thing to say is his appearance. People are just attracted to him. Maybe it’s his eyes; they’re very human with sadness there. He goes way deep in his roles.
M&C: What about the young actors impressed you?
Chase: Any actor who didn’t say “dude” is a guy in the movie. It was really hard. You have got to stop saying “dude”. It’s impossible, it’s just so second nature. “Dude, I got my watch on”, “Dude!” It’s second nature. We had trouble even after we started making it. We had to cut, “You said dude again!”
M&C: You cast unknowns and that’s a risk.
Chase: I said to Paramount and I was kind of lying that I would cast name actors. But at that age there aren’t young people who mean that much financially, not that many people can open a movie. There aren’t that many people in their early twenties who can do that. So it never became a concern. In the end I’m glad it came out that way.
M&C: How important was New Jersey in the development of the rock music tradition?
Chase: That whole New Jersey thing is overhyped. That Springsteen ethos and what his songs are about. It’s the same thing as all the cool stuff, when you’re 18, when this movie was made drink in NY at 18 and you can’t drink in NJ and once that starts happening you get the people coming into NY and you get the club scene.
M&C: So when you grew up music defined young people’s lives. Do you think it has that power today?
Chase: I don’t really know. I’m not really there when they’re young and alone. My guess is not quite. That’s all I ever talked about, and I waited for the next Stones album next Kinks album. That’s all we ever did, and play that stuff.
M&C: Did you choose the music or did Steve Van Zandt?
Chase: I choose it. Steven and I are friends, and everyone we talked about what was the best track on this album, blah, blah. He’s a font of information and we both loved the Stones and the Beatles and this movie is kind of like a recreation of the arguments we used to have.
He advised me not to do this movie, but when I persisted, he felt his role was to be a consigliere with his vision. Most of the songs on there are songs I’d been saving in my back pocket for a long time and songs were ones he liked.
M&C: What sort of challenges did you face making this film?
Chase: I just wanted to do a movie about all the kids like myself, who played a guitar, a bass guitar and I wanted to make a movie for all of us. There was this period. Nothing changed; it was always going to be like this. There was a draft in which they actually played for Jerry Ragovoy in an audition and they played the Night Owl Club. The reason I got rid of that was because we were really struggling budget wise.
Also I liked it better, people would say why not a battle of the bands? No! I had an early version of this – but it wasn’t this at all. It was about two guys in their 30s who used to be a band. It was a similar version in which they watched TV and saw the Beatles.
M&C: The Sopranos is a huge part of pop culture. Are you interested in going back to weekly TV movies?
Chase: No. I don’t think I’m done it for so long, a lot of TV, the Sopranos (and Northern Exposure and I’ll Fly Away and The Rockford Files) and I’m tired of it. I don’t get any satisfaction out of it and I don’t think I would do as well. I want to do more movies. I talked about this in the writers’ office once, during the show.
I never had the opportunity to do a movie. I really wanted to do a psychological thriller a tough, hard crime story, not a gangster story.
Something suspenseful but I didn’t have any ideas, I tried and tried so this was in the back of my mind. I had a deal with Paramount to do a movie and I knew this would be a tough sell. I’d still like to do it.
M&C: What are the challenges of making a movie versus television?
Chase: Honestly it’s a stamina thing and I don’t like being away from the family for that long. You go into an altered universe and your personal life suffers and its hard on you and your loved ones, even when you’re there you’re not there, you’re talking to them and that was hard.
And I was tired on this film. I work out and I couldn’t so I was tired all the time. The shoot was 54 days.
M&C: Movie and TV writing different
Chase: Television is a group effort, a room full of writers and scripts are done by 5 or 6 people. You develop the story and hand out the story outlines I get episode one, you get episode two, you get episode three and we have people working on the storyline after having talked about it for months.
Then you go away, you write the script giving notes and do a rewrite and give it back to them again and I go through it and there’s a lot of organization.
Because it’s a factory system. You have to know the story before you hand it out. I can’t just hand it to you and say “You write up episode three of the Sopranos”. “What?” “I dunno, just figure it out”.
This time I wasn’t going to write, I was going to let the story carry over time and develop and it made it a lot harder.
M&C: I’d love to see what you could do with a classic novel, like the Brothers Karamazov.
Chase: I was thinking of doing The Great Gatsby, or The Beautiful and the Damned by Fitzgerald.
M&C: Who are your writing idols past or present?
Chase: I have filmmaking idols, writers not necessarily. Serling was a big one, but my filmmaking idols were Kubrick and Fellini and all those guys and Martin Scorsese at one time.
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