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Meet the 2011 ND/NF Filmmakers: “Hit So Hard” Director P. David Ebersole

Meet the 2011 ND/NF Filmmakers: "Hit So Hard" Director P. David Ebersole

This pull-no-punches portrait of the hell-and-back life of Patty Schemel, drummer for Courtney Love’s band Hole during its peak years, is no ordinary rockumentary. Told from the point of view of one band member, “Hit So Hard” takes an unprecedented inside look at one of the most crucial and controversial groups of the 1990s, with up-close-and-personal home-video footage of life offstage with Courtney, Kurt Cobain, and the band.

With its candid interviews, unflinching accounts of the personal tragedies that plagued the band in its heyday, and a rare look at hardball music-industry politics during the recording of Hole’s 1997 record Celebrity Skin, this is anything but a sanitized VH1 hagiography. “Hit So Hard” is above all the increasingly harrowing story of a woman who narrowly escaped becoming a rock-and-roll casualty. [Synopsis courtesy of ND/NF]

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the 40th edition of New Directors/New Films to submit responses in their own words about their films. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

“Hit So Hard”
Director: P. David Ebersole
Writers: P. David Ebersole, Todd Hughes
Cast: Patty Schemel, Courtney Love, Eric Erlandson

Responses courtesy of “Hit So Hard” director P. David Ebersole.

From film work to journalism and back again…

When I was 13 years-old, I went to a cattle call and landed the starring role in a film called “Junior High School” (1978…you do the math). I had Farrah Fawcett hair, puka shells and Teen Beat looks to rival Leif Garret. But as an actor, I was a piece of wood. It turns out, the film co-starred a young Paula Abdul and, partly because of that, it is being remastered to Blu-ray as we speak…but I digress. When I was on set, the directors let me sit on the dolly and listen to the cans on the Nagra and I was immediately hooked. At Hollywood High School (Prom King, 1981), I directed my first play, “Shadow Box” by Michael Cristofer, only my cohorts and I dubbed our production “Shallow Box.” So yes, I decided to end my film and theater career and switched my major to English literature at UCLA. Born in Los Angeles, the only son of a feminist psychologist whose stepfather was the city editor of the Los Angeles Times, I grew up in a household that routinely made connections between the personal and the political. In 1984, I moved to New York to do an internship with CNN thinking I wanted to go in to journalism. I spent that entire Spring in the editing room (CNN was in the basement of the World Trade Center, then, believe it or not…but again, I digress). By Summer, I transferred to NYU film school. And the rest is an attempt at history.

The seed of the documentary…

My friend Patty Schemel brought me a gold box, filled with 40-plus hours of never-before-seen video footage from when she was on tour with her band Hole. She shot the tape on Hi-8 and was afraid it would disintegrate soon, so she came asking for advice about how to best preserve it. Soon, the two of us were transferring the tapes and watching the footage together. Patty, a great raconteur, began telling me her very personal and sometimes harrowing story. And the seed of the documentary was born. My husband/producer Todd Hughes and I spent the next few years interviewing Patty’s band-mates including all the members of Hole (Melissa Auf der Maur, Eric Erlandson and Courtney Love), friends, fans, social critics and other women drummers to craft what has become “Hit So Hard: The Life & Near Death Story of Patty Schemel.”

“a family made film”…

Early on, we decided we would get more intimate and honest interviews if we kept the crew tiny so, except in a few circumstances, we used the Maysles brothers as our model, with Todd working the camera and sound and me asking all of the questions. “Hit So Hard” is literally a family made film: with Todd and I doing the heavy lifting, our great friend Christina Soletti (our other producer and not incidentally Patty’s wife) finessing all of our access, and Patty’s best friend Roddy writing the score. Everyone working on or appearing in it did so out of love for Patty and a belief that telling her story, now, was important and necessary. It was the definition of “labor of love.”

Patty’s life journey naturally lent itself to the documentary style we chose for “Hit So Hard”: a complex tapestry of current-day interviews blended with archival material and stills, peppered with her powerful behind-the-scenes home video. Imagery and interviews are juxtaposed, often with split-screen in order to weave us forward, to witness Patty’s breaking point and hopefully learn from her ultimate triumph.

In the end, “Hit So Hard” is about survival and not giving in to the demons within that tear you apart, especially, as Patty’s friend and colleague Roddy Bottum so eloquently encapsulates it in our film, “when your artistry is being called into question.” What creative person doesn’t identify with that, even if for many of us, the intensity of that struggle may not be on such a heightened level? I’m not an addict and I’m certainly not a rock star, but I honestly feel like Patty is telling my story as much as her own. Being a creative person in this world can be treacherous territory, and Patty reminds us that you have to find a way to hold on to that, overcoming not only the hostile situations you encounter, but also your own foibles and fears and doubts and self destructiveness. To be creative is to open yourself up. I responded immediately to Patty’s vulnerability mixed with bravery, with her desire to share what she lived through as not only a catharsis for herself but also as a way of using her truth to potentially help someone else going through similar emotions.

The greatest gift to Todd and me as filmmakers that we did not expect is that the film itself may have begun a healing process for Patty and the band, who had not spoken about many of these issues in more than ten years and are now back in touch.

Working “out-of-pocket”…

This movie was beyond low budget…it was literally out-of-pocket. So the largest challenge we faced was finding an editor. I come from narrative where you bang out a director’s cut in eight weeks and finish it all up in another four weeks. Even if you have to beg for favors, it’s only a couple of months. This movie took a full year to cut. There isn’t a friend alive that can give you that amount of time. So I had to go back to my roots and teach myself how to cut again. I was head of post production at both NYU and USC film schools and I worked as a video editor once upon a time, but when I started it was flatbeds and ¾” linear systems. When things transitioned to non-linear, I learned the basics but from that time on I worked with editors.

To keep “Hit So Hard” moving forward, I decided to rough in the scenes and the structure, always thinking eventually I would turn it over to someone else. Every time we got someone to say they could hop on, they’d get some awesome full paying job. Patty shot so much amazing archival footage and people told so many great anecdotes in the interviews, that our first cut ran over four hours. I won’t say it was boring but it certainly helped the few people we subjected to it get a little shut-eye. “Think of the DVD extras,” we would say as things got eliminated and Patty’s story shone though more and more. I just kept cutting and cutting and honing until we one day showed it to friends who were now fully engaged and quoting lines from the movie back at us, and Todd and I looked at each other and said, “Hey! It seems to be done.”

Miss Love!…

Should I tell you the story of getting our interview with the great Courtney Love? I am going to bust myself and say that I am a fan and a believer. I think Courtney is awesome. She has a line in our film about how she has no rivals — people wake up everyday and want to be Madonna, but no one wants her job. True, that. She is an original and a force of nature and you expect every bump in the road that comes with that pure fact. On the eve of our scheduled interview with her in Los Angeles, we got a text from her assistant.

Paraphrase: “Um…CL is thinking about moving to NY tomorrow. We’ll let you know if she caught the red eye or if she is still here.” Suffice to say, she caught that red eye. Cut to almost a year later and we were in the lobby of her NY hotel waiting for four-and-a-half hours to be let into her room. I checked…and legend has it, she kept Kurt Loder waiting for longer than that. So not only am I honored to be in the company of one of the top R&R journalists of all time, I am thrilled to say I truly believe we got the best interview we ever could have gotten from Miss Love. And I have to believe it never could have happened any other way.

Future projects…

How do you top a rock & roll documentary, filled with the ups and downs of life-threatening addictions, about the openly gay drummer of Courtney Love’s Hole? How about “The Devil Made her Do It” a true-life narrative (based on rumor and hearsay and the tabloids) about the relationship between Hollywood bombshell/confirmed genius Jayne Mansfield and the sexy but married Anton LaVey, head of the church of Satan? The script Todd and I have written asks the burning question: was wild acid-loving Jayne spinning out of control before her tragic death in 1967…or did the Devil make her do it? We want Christina Hendricks from “Mad Men” to play the tit-u-lar role (Jayne’s joke, not mine).

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