Relics from New York City’s bygone CBGB club – including “Smithsonian-quality pieces” like its bar, the phone booth, chunks of the walls and those stained toilets, all pulled from storage – will reunite on the big screen next year in CBGB, which indie filmmakers confirmed they finished shooting in August.
Forty years after CBGB opened its doors on the city’s Lower East Side, writer Jody Savin and director Randall Miller of Unclaimed Freight Productions tell Rolling Stone they are now editing the 100-minute feature. It tells the story of how the late Hilly Kristal offered his club’s cramped stage to bands playing original songs, which attracted groups like the Ramones, the Patti Smith Group and Talking Heads. In 1974 Television became the first act to play CBGB, and the band gigged there every Sunday for years before recording their album Marquee Moon. The club closed in 2006.
Though tax credits afforded filmmakers a suitable shooting location in Savannah, Georgia, this summer, initial production wrapped last month following a week’s worth of filming in Manhattan and on Kristal’s New Jersey farm.
CBGB will star both fresh faces and recognizable talent who look and sound the part of New York’s punk scene, including Malin Akerman, who bears a striking resemblance to Blondie’s Debbie Harry; Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, who dieted to fill the role of Iggy Pop; and Alan Rickman, who plays Kristal.
“That’s always a tough creative decision,” Savin said of recruiting actors who embody the spirit of the musicians over relying on straight impersonations. “It was tricky,” Miller added, explaining the filmmakers’ year-long search for actors who not only looked the part, but alsoplayed the instruments that corresponded to their characters. “It’s all about just finding the authentic people.”
Things immediately clicked between actor Rupert Grint of Harry Potter fame and guitarist Cheetah Chrome of the Dead Boys, whom the young actor portrays. Though Grint’s English accent initially worried him, Chrome, who has a seven-year-old son and has seen every Harry Potter movie, says his only advice to Grint was to mumble a lot.
“The first day I saw him on-set, he hit it dead-on,” Chrome told Rolling Stone. “He had me down. I’m really glad he’s doing me.” Chrome himself wasn’t left out of the film: he has a cameo as a cranky cab driver who hates punk music.
To maintain authenticity throughout the film, Savin and Miller exhaustively researched other CBGB regulars, and consulted frequently with Television’s Tom Verlaine, the Voidoids’ Richard Hell and Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz.
“It is a story of Hilly and how he basically was the catalyst for this gigantic, sea-changing music. And he didn’t set out to do that initially, but he became sort of the godfather of punk and underground rock,” said Miller, adding that the film also traces Punk magazine’s role in breaking news from the CBGB scene.
“Places that opened their arms to music, art, poetry – anything – were the places we went to. And Hilly definitely had that,” Savin said. “I believe it was a salon on the Bowery.”
Produced for less than $10 million, CBGB will feature more than 40 songs of the period, though Savin admits “the music decisions are not done yet,” because “some bands are more cooperative than others.”