Director/Producer/Editor Jim Fields talks about “the black leather wall of silence,” the benefits of being highly unrealistic and The Ramones’ reaction to watching END OF THE CENTURY.
What motivated you to make END OF THE CENTURY?
Michael Gramaglia (Director/Producer) and I are old friends from early on in high school. At one point, he got a job to pay his way through college at a place called Padell. Here he was the assistant bookkeeper for Ramones Productions (the company was the financial management firm for many top rock stars). Michael would report to me the crazy goings-on of the various Ramones members from time to time. It was amazing stuff. In 1995, Johnny Ramone told Michael that The Ramones had finally called it quits.
Michael then called me because I was working at an editing company in New York. He asked me if I wanted to make some sort of video or film about The Ramones breaking up… some sort of live show with interviews, etc. That’s how the film started, and it just evolved through the years into the present form.
What has the audience response been so far to the film?
People seem to have really loved the film. Of course, the people who e-mail their appreciation are motivated. So maybe we don’t get a chance to hear the more ambivalent opinions. But as far as we know, the fans and non-fans seem to really respond to it really emotionally.
What were some of the challenges involved in making the film?
Well, if you see the film you get an idea of the animosity between Johnny and Joey. This enmity colored everything they did, in a way. It also became the overriding feud between the opposing families (after Joey died). We pretty much got caught in the middle so either Joey’s family was hostile to us at various times or Johnny’s side had problems with us. Complicating this was Johnny’s manager who acted as if he was trying to stop the film's release, or at least grind it to a halt for the time being. It may be that he had legitimate business reasons to behave this way or his motives were part of the overall feud. We just didn't know. So, in a way, there was a lot of dysfunction we were caught up in over the course of the years of making the film. Plus we had no money and were constantly maxing out our credit cards to get this film done (but that’s the typical indie film story).
How did you meet the members of The Ramones, and what was the interview process like?
As I said before, I met them through Michael, who established a really trusting relationship with Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone. I think he was less familiar with Joey. Also he got to know Tommy. I met them all through Michael.
In terms of the interview process: at first we found something we called, “the black leather wall of silence.” If you’re familiar with the “blue wall of silence,” you’ll understand. The Ramones had spent a career selling an image of a gang unified when that was not at all the reality. It was hard for them to come clean with us because they were so entrenched in the “story” they’d repeat to the press. Our interviews would go on for hours and hours until everyone was exhausted. Then, we’d meet up again months or years later and do it again. Through that we were able to peer through the defenses.
Also, interestingly enough, Johnny, who comes across in the film as perhaps the least sympathetic, was the most co-operative. He was the most enthusiastic about our project. He really believed in it.
What was the band’s reaction END OF THE CENTURY?
Well, Johnny told Rolling Stone, (which is printed on our t-shirts for the film) “It’s accurate. It left me disturbed.” We loved that. It says it all. But Dee Dee and Joey never got to see the film… only their families. They all loved it. It was a pretty well received, though shocking, film for them. We told the truth and they all understood that.
What did you learn about the band that you didn’t know before? What surprised you?
All of it surprised us. I mean we knew most of the story going in. But it was always surprising. It was amazing to hear Johnny being emotionally confused by his feelings of loss after Joey’s death.
For me, I’d have to say, though, it was when Johnny told us that they weren’t successful. That was the oddest thing. I was such a fan of theirs growing up and here I was in Johnny Ramone’s house. I was a bit star-struck, maybe. And this rock star tells us they never made it? I was confused for a moment but quickly understood what he was really saying. They were hugely famous but they weren’t real rock stars, in the traditional sense. They were sort of underground and that’s just not satisfying to anyone. They wanted to be as big as the Stones. Why not?
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
I really don’t know. I’m insane. I just love making films and thinking about making films. That’s about all I can say. It is really hard, especially when you’re not rich. It’s an enterprise populated by a lot of trust fund kids. It’s great to have that support but when you don’t… it’s easy to starve. But we still do it because we just love making films.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
When we first conceived of the film back in the mid-1990s we thought of it as something that would do the festival rounds, then make it into theaters and then premiere on PBS for TV. I think we were trying to maintain a certain reminder that we wanted to make a substantial film, even though the subject matter might seem, on the surface, unimportant. So to be able to actually have PBS want our film and then to actually show it is the realization of the best we could have hoped from our efforts. We’re really happy and excited about PBS.
What are your three favorite films?
Unfair. I have a thousand favorite films.
As of today:
1. Carnival of Souls
2. Save the Green Planet (Korean)
If you weren’t a filmmaker, what kind of work do you think you’d be doing?
I was on a track to go to medical school. I took the MCATs and everything. So, I think I would have gone that route. I’m not sure what kind of medicine I’d have focused on.
As for Michael, I known he was assisting his dad, who was a union soundman for features and commercials. But I think he was planning on being a rock star. At least that’s what we discussed in high school.
What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film?
Whatever’s cheap and available at three AM.
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
I don’t have much in the way of advice. I’ve only made one film and I know in this business you’ve got to make many before you feel you’re the real deal. At least that’s what I’ve seen. But as far as our one film goes, we had a thousand reasons to walk away. We just kept at it no matter how ridiculous it seemed. So, I guess I’d say you have to incredibly unrealistic… at all times.
Which filmmakers have most influenced your work?
It’s actually a British TV writer named Dennis Potter. He died in the early ‘90s and is most famous for Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective.
If you could have one motto, what would it be?
What sparks your creativity?
A nice shower.