‘SLC Punk!’ at 20: The Director, Cast & Music Supervisor Look Back on the Cult Classic


Twenty years in the past, the must-see movie at Sundance's opening night time was a film about punks within the Mormon-heavy metropolis of Salt Lake City: SLC Punk! The cult traditional made its U.S. debut on Jan. 22, 1999 to a sold-out auditorium, crowded with Utah's personal punks celebrating a uncommon illustration of the state's capital onscreen.

Not many movies about punk get the ethos of the tradition proper, and SLC Punk! writer-director James Merendino knew this. When he wrote the movie, he confronted the great problem of making one that might each enchantment to punks and educate child boomers on the subculture. That threat paid off. Not solely was the movie embraced by iconic punk bands like Minor Threat and T.S.O.L., nevertheless it turned a gateway into the style for future generations, with an eclectic soundtrack that serves as the last word 'intro to punk' mixtape.

SLC Punk! is ready in 1985, based mostly on Merendino's personal teenage experiences in SLC, however its story nonetheless resonates immediately for followers who know what it's prefer to yearn for an underground artwork scene the place no guidelines apply. Still, the movie acknowledges this fantasy – the youthful, drug-fueled, endless get together – can’t final ceaselessly.

Two a long time after its premiere, Merendino, Michael Goorjian (Heroin Bob), Annabeth Gish (Trish), and music supervisor Melanie Miller look again at what made the movie a cult traditional.

"There had been terrible a number of different issues occurring in that city. There had been punk rockers!"

Merendino’s course of of constructing SLC Punk! was fast. The writer-director wrote the movie in 1997, ending the primary draft inside three days. At the time, Merendino didn’t even know if the movie was going to achieve success. His aim was to make a movie that captured these fond reminiscences from his adolescence in Salt Lake City.

James Merendino, author and director: Everywhere I went after dwelling in Utah, they had been like, "It will need to have been so boring dwelling in Salt Lake City," being a Catholic and a Mormon metropolis, and I stated, "Well, there have been terrible a number of different issues occurring in that city. There had been punk rockers!" And nobody ever believed me, so I felt like a narrative about that might be attention-grabbing.

[Stevo and Bob] are named after two individuals who had been really fairly huge figures within the punk scene and I obtained their permission to make use of their names. One is Stephen Egerton from The Descendents. He grew up in Utah, and he was in a band known as Massacre Guys. But the story's not based mostly on them in any method, I simply preferred the names. Heroin Bob's tales are drawn from experiences I had with a man named Chris Williams, who's now an Episcopalian priest and an awesome man. He didn't really overdose. He's the one who got here into college with a shaved head and he seemed like Travis Bickle; he actually seemed good with a mohawk.

[Casting directors] Randi Hiller and Risa Bramon Garcia, they introduced in a complete bunch of actors for these roles. Matthew Lillard got here in and the primary day, he stated he didn't get it [the movie], so I pitched it to him. And I used to be actually offended that he made me pitch it to him, which made me extra captivated with him. He stated, "Well, let me come again," and he learn it, and I believed, now this man is the most effective actor for the position. So ultimately I went with Matthew.

Michael Goorjian, "Heroin Bob": I don't suppose I auditioned for Stevo, however James had me learn certainly one of Stevo's monologues within the audition. Or possibly I used to be auditioning for each, however I simply remembered within the audition doing Stevo's monologue.

Annabeth Gish, "Trish": Trish was such a freaking beautiful character to play due to the costumes, and also you're immediately remodeled with furs, and wigs, and silver lace-up Doc Martens boots to your knees. It was simply simple, really easy to get misplaced within the wardrobe. It was such a unique position, and it was iconic, and who doesn't wish to play dress-up in a punk film? I couldn't say no, I believed there was one thing ethereal and actually grounded about Trish, and attractive and daring, so I had no qualms about getting concerned. I used to be very excited.

Filming SLC Punk!

Though Merendino had a small funds and a brief manufacturing interval, he embraced these challenges and helped the actors join deeply with their characters and the story.

Gish: There was one shot in a celebration scene the place James arrange like twenty completely different cameras, like little cameras, and he tipped all of them in type of a domino impact. He had simply actually cool designed pictures and also you at all times felt such as you had been part of one thing simply too rad. The different factor that's memorable was doing the shot out within the Salt Lake space on the lake, which was this stunning desolate pure place within the background of this type of punk colorization.

Goorjian: There's a variety of stuff in that film that's improvised. There's a scene we simply made up on the day the place I'm speaking about taking Trish out and [Stevo] will get hella mad and grabs me by the again of the pinnacle. It was a scene that was wanted within the story however wasn't there and James simply had us improvise and we constructed it on the spot. You're capturing an unbiased film, you don't have a variety of time, so when you discover, it's a single shot.

Merendino: Weeks earlier than capturing [Bob's death] scene, [Matthew] stored asking me, "Am I going to must cry?" and I stated, "No, after all not," however I figured he could be emotional. So after we lastly obtained down there, I set the digicam down and let it run for ten minutes, and he slowly labored himself into this second. It felt actually genuine. When I got here again up into the room, all people – the grips, the cameras, the electricians, the DP – everybody was crying after watching that. One take. He by no means did a second take of that. All that stuff got here out of him… He was type of shouting at me a bit bit on the finish of the scene, it was actually real. It was actually sincere.

Creating the Iconic Soundtrack

Initially, Merendino and Miller had no thought if the movie would have an official soundtrack, however the music needed to be essential to the story. The problem, nonetheless, was getting the rights to the songs. The movie doesn't have an unique rating, and as an alternative options over 30 songs all through it.

Melanie Miller, music supervisor: Part of the method is determining which of them they needed on the soundtrack. And then the subsequent step was which of them would enable. I'm fairly positive we had a listing of in all probability nearer to 20 songs that we had been all in favour of having on the soundtrack. And then it was a matter of "Okay, now which of them might we get permission to placed on the soundtrack?," as a result of it's a separate license and dealing throughout the funds that we had. That's why we began with a bigger checklist, to see what was possible. I imply, there's a Van Halen track. We had been like, "That's not going to make the soundtrack."

Merendino: As far as punks go, after I was choosing the music, I went to Ian MacKaye from Minor Threat and Fugazi, as a result of I needed to make use of certainly one of his songs, and apparently he by no means allowed any of his songs to be in any films as a result of he didn't like the way in which individuals portrayed punks, so I needed to present him the film, I needed to discuss to him for days, and he learn the script, and he felt that the film was appropriately representing the scene, so he gave us songs at no cost.

Miller: I actually suppose that [Merendino] knew going into making the movie that he needed to symbolize as many individuals as potential and that's why you could have individuals just like the Dead Kennedys in there after which you could have The Stooges in there, however then you could have The Velvet Underground. And then clearly there's Blondie on it. The soundtrack has a variety of actually nice punk on it, however then there was a brand new track [by] The Suicide Machines that Hollywood Records actually needed to strive [to include], as a result of that's who wound up releasing the soundtrack for the movie.

Besides the songs used all through the movie, there wanted to be a band that’d play the scene of the present, which proved to be one other problem.

[When it came to casting a band for the movie] it turned a query of are you making an attempt to solid individuals to play someone or are you simply going to have a band carry out one thing that's their very own and/or have or not it’s like "Alright, now we're going to play certainly one of our personal songs" versus doing a canopy. That's typically a artistic technique to get round that challenge, the place you may need a band carry out certainly one of their "originals" after which have them do [a cover].

Merendino: My brother had a bar known as Burt's Tiki Lounge, and I used to be making an attempt to determine how you can make this film […] and [the punk band Eight Bucks Experiment] would come down from Denver, and I simply went as much as them and stated, "Hey you guys wanna be in a film?" they usually thought I used to be mendacity, however I wasn't, they usually got here down, and I preferred them. They're from Denver, Colorado. They simply faux to be English. They had been initially imagined to be a band known as TBH, however they didn't wish to do it, so I made up the identify ECP as an alternative of TBH. One man beat up the bouncer from TBH, they usually stated it was too violent for Salt Lake City. TBH is a reasonably hardcore band. Somebody kicked round Green Day at one level, however that was not going to occur.

"One of the most effective days of my life"

Merendino had submitted a few of his earlier movies to Sundance, however SLC Punk! turned the primary to be accepted, receiving an viewers award nomination.

Merendino: At the Cannes Film Festival, Geoff Gilmore was on the screening, and he got here out afterwards and stated, "Okay, lastly, James is gonna have a film in Sundance." I used to be like, "Oh, wow!" Because I had submitted different films earlier than… And it opened on the Friday night time opening, and it was actually packed. It was a really receptive viewers. I believe Variety stated, "Of course it was, it was Salt Lake."

Goorjian: [James and I] went to the Cannes Film Festival. Sundance, sadly, I used to be capturing one other movie on the time so I obtained there after the screening, which sucked, as a result of I needed to be there for that. I don't have a mohawk anymore [at that time], so individuals would see the movie and be like, "So, what did you do? You had been the caterer? How had been you concerned?" Like, I used to be Bob! Come on!

Gish: I didn't go to the premiere. I used to be working, so I used to be unable to attend, however I keep in mind it was form of this underground hit, and other people had been speaking about it, and it was very thrilling.

Merendino: That was among the best days of my life. It wasn't the opening a lot as having the Violent Femmes play my get together, and it was packed, they usually pulled me on stage and had me sing "Add It Up." That was loopy. It was a dream. I used to be fairly younger, and the Violent Femmes are part of my youth expertise. That was the spotlight for me. The screening, I used to be nervous, I needed to give a speech, it was actually crowded… The factor I keep in mind most is after, and simply being actually gracious.

The SLC Punk! Fandom

Twenty years later, the movie nonetheless has an enormous cult following, with the solid frequently getting messages from followers from all around the world expressing their gratitude for his or her work.

Goorjian: Bob was sacrificed for all you punks on the market! He died to your sins! And in a method, he's the immortal one, as a result of he's at all times Bob. Stevo grows up. Everybody grows up. And ceaselessly Bob is simply Bob. I've had lots of people inform me how a lot Bob meant to them due to that. He is simply type of a logo of that — particularly folks that had been into punk and now are older, he's the punk Jesus or the punk James Dean or no matter. Did you understand there’s a Church of Latter-Day Bob on the market? I'm fairly positive I noticed it on Facebook or someplace. [It's actually a meme page for fans of the film called The Church of Heroin Bob of Latter-Day Punk, not a real church.] And when anyone sends me a message on social media to Bob, I at all times reply as Bob the clever one, and provides them blessings and issues from past.

Merendino: There's lots of people that say the traditional, "Oh, I'm an enormous fan, you modified my life," however then there's… these sorts of [Facebook] messages the place the film helps them mourn somebody's dying. That's actually attention-grabbing to me.

Goorjian: I’ve a group someplace of all of the Heroin Bob tattoos individuals have despatched me, you probably have any go them on, I want so as to add them to my assortment. … There's one relatively risque one. She tattooed me in her nether areas! I used to be like, "Wow Bob is a fortunate man!"  

Miller: It's humorous as a result of I at all times inform everybody [that before becoming a producer] I was a music supervisor. They're like "Well, actually?" And you know the way everybody at all times asks that query, "Have you labored on something I’d know?" And I used to be like "Yeah, my declare to fame was SLC Punk!" And persons are like "What?!" It was actually tough on the time, nevertheless it was so value it ultimately, as a result of to have the ability to have a dialog now, 20 years later, a couple of movie that also resonates and a soundtrack that also resonates with individuals is superior.

Merendino: One of the blokes from T.S.O.L. instructed me that he cried when Bob died. That was the primary time I heard it, and that was possibly three months after I got here out, and I used to be like, "Oh my god, you guys are T.S.O.L.! How are you even speaking to me?"

"It was a really ahead-of-its-time movie"

Two a long time after its launch, the movie nonetheless resonates strongly with followers. And whereas it's set in a really particular period, there are numerous points that make it a timeless story.

Goorjian: It wasn't till possibly ten years in the past, 5 years in the past, one thing like that, that it began to develop into clear there have been all these folks that beloved that film. Originally it was individuals burning out their VHS tapes watching it over and over. I wasn't conscious of the very fact it was such a cult traditional till not too long ago. But it is smart. It's a great film, and it's distinctive. It has that taste of authenticity and originality.

Gish: It was prescient, in a method, in predicting how highly effective social actions of subcultures will be, and particular person expression, and tribalism, actually. What an awesome type of message, an anthropological research of that with superb music, killer enhancing, and it simply makes you empowered and energized. Even 20 years later. It was a really ahead-of-its-time movie.

(SLC) Punk's Not Dead Yet

In 2016, Merendino made the sequel to SLC Punk!, titled Punk's Dead, focusing on Heroin Bob's son, Ross, with Goorjian reprising his position as Bob, turning into the narrator. The movie introduced again a few of the unique solid in addition to Goorjian, together with Devon Sawa and James Duval, however doesn't function SLC Punk!'s protagonist, Stevo. Three years later, Merendino is able to proceed the story, and is engaged on the script for a 3rd movie.

Merendino: It'd price some huge cash, and I doubt Matthew is up for it, so there's two strikes towards it. It's going to observe Stevo's life, what he did in any case that, and it's not turning into a lawyer. He drops out of Harvard and leads to a nowhere life however then form of regains it by saving Bob's child from authorized hassle. But Mike's in Africa, making an attempt to coach children and will get kidnapped by rebels after which negotiates his method out of it… It's humorous. It's loopy. It's extra like SLC Punk!. And there's a complete factor with Til Schweiger [who plays Mark].  He's again. He needs to do it! He didn't even care in regards to the cash!

[Mark's] in a bar, and he's speaking to some man about how the financial institution subsequent door… It's 2000no matter, and the market crashed, and all his cash's gone, and he's telling the man on the bar that he's going to rob the place subsequent door in his loopy vogue, and he goes in along with his cellphone, and he goes into the financial institution as a result of they stole all his cash and says, "I'm robbing this financial institution with this cellphone, it's a bomb," they usually don't consider him, in order that they arrest him and afterward, Stevo represents him, however he was not even a lawyer and he makes a multitude of it.

And Mike's in Africa, and he's instructing in class these children just like the phrase "melancholy," and naturally all of them know what which means, and these two automobiles of guerilla warriors are available and kidnap all of the British and Mike and he's actually pissed off and the remainder are actually terrified, and the remainder are going to kick their ass, they usually convey them in entrance of the chief, and the chief takes off his sweater and has a Ramones shirt on. And Mike's like, "Wait a minute, you just like the Ramones?" and the man's like, "Yeah man, you just like the Ramones?" and he's like, "Are you kidding me?" they usually develop into quick associates, you understand? Only in Africa. So it's all… It's a a lot greater, far more SLC Punk! fashion and scope type of film. It's non-linear, it's in every single place, closely narrated by Stevo.