Thursday, September 23, 2010

Filmmakers Amp Up Screening of ROCK SCHOOL

Producer Sheena Joyce and director Don Argott rocked the house at last night’s screening of Rock School, their 2005 Sundance hit about Philadelphia’s original Paul Green School of Rock. The husband-wife filmmaking team’s first documentary feature focuses on Paul Green, the foul-mouthed (but effective) teacher of a group of remarkable nine- to seventeen-year-old musicians who more than do justice to the music of Frank Zappa and Black Sabbath.

Filmmakers Sheena Joyce and Don Argott sign BMFI's autograph book after the screening of Rock School.

This screening kicked off our four-film series celebrating the contributions that Bryn Mawr College alumnae have made to film in honor of Bryn Mawr College’s 125th Anniversary.

Bryn Mawr College president Jane Dammen McAuliffe introduced Sheena Joyce, class of 1998, before the screening, and both Sheena and Don answered audience questions afterwards. Keep reading for selections from the Q&A!
Q: How did the project come about?
Don Argott: The project took shape because I had a production company with another partner. We had always planned on doing a feature, but mostly we had been doing commercial work and corporate videos. He wanted to go to LA, but I had no interest in going there. After the company dissolved, I wanted to do something creative to remind myself why I was in the business. I was out walking when I saw a poster for the Paul Green School of Rock. It had this cartoony type and caught my attention. This was back in 2002, before everything was online, and so I didn’t have a lot of information to go on, but I dug around a little. Finally, I looked up his number in the phone book and gave him a call. I told him I’d like to do a documentary about him, without ever having met him. He said, “All I ask is that you take it seriously and do it for real.” (Apparently VH1 had been in talks about doing something but then backed out, so he was a little protective.) There was something about our first meeting and we hit it off; it helped that I am a musician, too. Two days later, I was there with my camera, and stayed there for the next nine months filming. Sheena quit her job at the film office and came on as a full-time producer on the project.
Sheena Joyce: I was working at the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, the area's film commission, which acts as a free producer to visiting productions. I wanted to do whatever I could to encourage Don, and I offered to help him with this new project. It started at night and on weekends, but eventually, I got so involved, I quit my job, and we formed 9.14 Pictures together.

Q: What’s Paul Green doing now?
DA: He used this opportunity with the kids to build from there. As we were in post-production he opened up a school in New Jersey and one in Downingtown and used the marketing push from the film to franchise. Now there are 48 franchises across the country. He sold off the company and lives in New York now. He's still involved in music, though, and has a new venture called Studio House.

Q: What was it like seeing the movie again on the big screen?
DA: This is the first time we’ve seen the movie in five years, since it came out. It was amazing seeing the film again. It put me back in the spot of where we were then. I forgot how funny it was! It was so nice to revisit it. It brought back a lot of memories.

Q: What other features have you done?
SJ: After this we did Two Days in April, where we followed four college football players as they entered the NFL draft. The project was funded by Netflix and the film is available on Netflix. We followed that up with The Art of the Steal, about the Barnes Foundation’s move from Merion, which was featured at the Toronto Film Festival and released nationally this year. It is now on DVD and will be on Showtime in October. Currently we have four documentaries we’re working on in various stages of production.

Q: This was your first film. How has your approach to filmmaking changed since, if at all?
DA: We cut our teeth on this thing, we were so naïve. We thought, “No one listens to Frank Zappa anymore, it’ll be easy to get the music rights.” $250,000 later… Rock School was like getting our Ph.D. in filmmaking.
SJ: It was trial by fire, but the real work begins when you sell it. You have to make it “deliverable”—get clearances, photo licenses, releases, music licenses. I would say that our procedures have changed, but our filmmaking hasn’t changed. We still try to bring a rock and roll sensibility to whatever we do—even The Art of the Steal opens with a cover of a Black Sabbath song done by a jazz trio called The Bad Plus.
Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Bryn Mawr College's President, joined BMFI's Juliet Goodfriend (seated)
to welcome filmmaker Sheena Joyce, Bryn Mawr College '98.

The Celebrating Bryn Mawr College Film Series continues with three additional screenings, starting with Christopher Strong, starring Katharine Hepburn '28, which will feature a talk about the famous alum's influence on cinema by Bryn Mawr College film studies professor Dr. Homay King. Then filmmaker Susan Koch '76 will introduce and discuss her documentary about the Homeless World Cup, Kicking It. The series concludes with the return of Sarah Schenck '87 to Bryn Mawr Film Institute to screen and discuss her first feature film as producer, Virgin, starring Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men) and Robin Wright.

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