With over two decades of experience in the creative arts, ‘Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk’ is Corbett Redford’s first foray into the world of documentary filmmaking. In 1995, Corbett co-founded the satire-based, folk-punk band Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits. Over the next 20 years with that band, he played thousands of shows, co-wrote and recorded over 100 songs, produced 15 music videos and co-wrote two books. Redford’s band found a home performing at the 924 Gilman collective in Berkeley and also volunteered at that venue for many years. His deep interest and involvement in the local music community of California’s East Bay area led Corbett to be chosen by executive producers Green Day to helm directing and producing duties for the documentary ‘Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk’. Because of this project, Redford co-founded a film production company, Capodezero Films, with his longtime creative collaborator Anthony Marchitiello. After 3 years of production, Corbett is excited to share this documentary in hopes that those who watch it might be reminded of the importance of inclusion and community in a world that seems to be growing more fragmented and exclusive by the day.
‘Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk’ explores Northern California’s pivotal role in evolution of punk rock – the loud, intense and anti-authoritarian philosophy of music and politics that arose in the late 1970s. Early San Francisco Bay Area punk pioneers like Dead Kennedys, Avengers and Flipper as well as the Maximum Rocknroll fanzine helped take the punk underground global. As the once-vibrant local scene became wrought with violence, corruption and racism, punks over the bridge in the East Bay responded by creating a fun and inclusive style of punk that also carried on the region’s tradition of radical thought. Banding together around Berkeley’s all- volunteer 924 Gilman Club, this diverse collective of misfits created a do-it-yourself, no-spectators’ petri dish for art & music that changed the Bay Area punk scene… and the world at large. Today, we know about some of the bands who emerged from this scene, like Green Day and Rancid, but their success is just the tip of the iceberg; the roots of this inspiring story go deep into the underground. Narrated by Iggy Pop and executive produced by Green Day, ‘Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk’ is told by the people who were there. The story of East Bay punk rock unfolds from its unlikely beginnings, continues through its struggles, and triumphs with its raucous power continuing to be influential today.
Json Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with director Corbett Redford to discuss his passion for the punk scene in East Bay, the challenges of bringing ‘Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk’ to the screen and the impact the scene and making the film had on him creatively.
You have had a truly unique career path. How did you go from being focused on music to taking on an ambitious documentary?
I’ve been in a band on and off for 20 years. I started a band because it was a way to tell stories. Not to discredit anybody who has gone to school to make film or anyone who has had a career in it for a long time, but with my band, I had produced and directed a few music videos and, to me, a documentary was another way to tell a story. However daunting it was, I wasn’t really afraid of taking it on. In many aspects, you might be able to tell that I’m a first time documentary filmmaker, but I think it was an easy transition because both music and film are ways to convey stories.
‘Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk’ is an amazing film. How did the ball get rolling initially?
Green Day had the idea for many years, to do a documentary about their early days. It would include some of the bands like Neurosis, Operation Ivy, Rancid and Jawbreaker, who were bands who came out of the scene. Billie [Joe Armstrong] was thinking about getting it rolling and he asked me if I could find some footage of Green Day before 1994, when ‘Dookie’ hit big. I went out and found a whole bunch of footage and brought it back to him. He said, “This is fantastic! Thank you! We’re looking to make this film about our early days and the scene. Do you know anybody who could do it?” I said, “Yeah! Me!” [laughs] They have always been supportive of my art and the things I have done in music. I think they either knew that I had something special or I was missing a certain cog in my brain that would allow me to take on something so insane! [laughs] He said, “Yeah, I think you could do it. Let me talk to the guys and I will get back to you tomorrow.” Before I knew it, I had the gig! Another factor was that I wasn’t an outsider in the scene. A lot of these people in the film don’t want to share their stories with outsiders. I think that the guys in Green Day knew that I had the ability to take on complicated projects and that I had the trust of a lot of people in the scene, which allowed me to cover the story that we wanted to tell.
This is an expansive documentary for which you did 185 interviews and shot over 500 hours of footage. How did you wrap your brain around the story you wanted to tell early on in the creative process?
That’s what we took the most time with! Our lead story editor Dan Abbott and our other story editors Frank Piegaro and Melissa Dale, my co-writer Anthony Marchitiello and the editor, Greg Schneider, were all focused on that. The story editors would put all of the content into a database, so that if we needed to know something about a particular subject, we could look it up and reference any minute of the 500 hours of interview footage. That’s how we would kind of find our story elements. With every one of the 185 interviews, your narrative changes! You learn new things and you go down different paths. This movie took so many forms! Too many forms! [laughs] We had a 5 hour cut at one point! With that said, there will be a lot of deleted scenes but the movie still clocks in at a whooping 2 hours and 38 minutes already! [laughs] It was a really, really complicated task and I could not have done it alone! We were also very lucky to have people like Kamela Parks, Robert Eggplant and Dave Mello, people who were in the scene, who would help us check things for accuracy. We had questions like, “Was this band that was alive for 2 months very important to many people in the local scene?” They would help me with recalling their time in the scene, if that was the case. With that said, no documentary is definitive. I would encourage people to look at this as a bit of a primer. There are a million other documentaries that could be spawned out of the dozens of subjects in this film.
How did the end product you achieved differ from what you might have envisioned early on in the process?
Ya know, it didn’t really change that much. Originally, we were looking at very simple scenes — Green Day’s early years, Gilman, and the bands that came out of it. Then you realize that Gilman was created in a bubble, San Francisco, right across the bridge from Berkeley and Oakland, and it was the birth of punk in the Bay Area. It played a big part of what happened in the East Bay. Before Gilman, there were places like Ruthie’s and New Method. We really wanted to be as thorough and complete as possible but the basic tenets of the idea that 924 Gilman changed punk in the sense that it made new rules. A lot of people think of mohawks, leather jackets, reckless behavior and loud music. but a lot of the kids who loved that stuff in the East Bay, also had parents who were professors or hippies, so there was a bit more of a thoughtful, intellectual thing going on. With that came satire, humor and not taking yourself so seriously and with that usually comes inclusivity. That idea inspired me! Punk wasn’t about a costume or a sound but about what could be achieved if you showed, were kind to people and put in the work to build something positive within your community. That was always something I knew I wanted to focus on. So, I don’t think the original vision changed that much, it just grew! [laughs]
There are some very unique characters within this scene and in the film. What were some of the highlights for you when it came to tracking them down and documenting their stories?
Oh, wow! One of the great stories is that I was waiting for Kirk Hammett from Metallica to respond. He had a big knowledge of Ruthie’s Inn and a love for early East Bay punk and San Francisco punk. He’s from the same town and general neighborhood that I’m from, as well as where Primus, Green Day, Isocracy, Corrupted Morals, and so many other Bay Area punk bands are from. I was reaching out to him and one day I started getting texts from an unknown number. It was like, “Hey you Gravy Boys, let’s meet up and do my interview at Ed’s Bar.” I was like, “Ok, wait. Ed’s Bar? That’s in El Sobrante down the block from me. Wait?” I looked over at my wife and said, “I think Kirk Hammett is texting me!” [laughs] Ya know, a lot of the folks in this film, bless their hearts, are kind of burnt out. I think a lot of people in the punk community, including myself, are kind of wingnuts! I had to really brush up on my speaking burnout and wingnut! [laughs] I had to speak with passion and conviction to as many people as I could to let them know they could trust me to share their stories. There were so many wild rides in this! I was so happy to speak with people like Michael Franti, Miranda, Ian MacKaye and Kathleen Hanna. I even spoke with Duff McKagan of Guns ‘N Roses, who was in a punk band called The Farts, which is pretty wild! There were so many others like Metal Mike, Stacy White, Kamela Parks, Robert Eggplant and a lot of the unsung authors, educators and volunteers that make help this scene what it was. A lot of people were hard to confirm but I did it and I’m glad that I didn’t give up on trying to snare some of them into being a part of this! [laughs]
Looking back on the entire process of bringing this film to life, what do you consider the biggest challenges you faced?
The biggest challenge I think I faced was the responsibility of doing the story justice. A lot of people in this film, dozens and dozens, have never shared their stories or been in a documentary. They are not rockstars and they don’t have an ease in their walk. What I’m saying is that for many of them, all that they have is their memories. I felt a deep responsibility to consider that in every waking moment of building this thing. I felt the responsibility to do it right. That was the biggest challenge! When you are dealing with 500 hours of interview footage and 30 years of history, you’re condensing it all into 2 hours and 38 minutes, it feels exploitative because you can’t include everybody. In small ways, I hope that we did include everybody but I know that it wasn’t really possible. I’m proud of the film and I’m proud of what we pulled off but it certainly wasn’t easy.
You couldn’t have asked for a better narrator for this story than Iggy Pop. How did he come into the mix?
We knew when we were condensing the film down from 5 hours that we need a narrator to help condense the themes. Billie Joe Armstrong and I started thinking about who we could get who had an interesting voice. It had to be someone who wasn’t in the scene because if you choose one person, others start to ask, “Well, why was it this person? Why wasn’t it that person representing us from within the scene.” We knew we had to have an outsider. I initially thought of Tom Waits because he was local and has an interesting voice. Billy said, “That’s a really good idea. Let’s keep thinking.” One day, Billie called me and said, “What about Iggy?” I said, “Iggy Pop! The Godfather of Punk, man! He’s got a great, resonate voice!” Billie said, “Yeah! We backed him up on some songs and his record, ‘Skull Ring.’ Let me reach out to him.” He called me later and said, “Consider it done!” Before I knew it, I was collaborating on the script with him and flying out to his living room to record the narration with our sound guy Matthew Voelker, and our director of photography, Greg Schneider. It was a wild ride and I still can’t believe it happened!
The punk rock scene in the East Bay, and 924 Gilman in particular, made a big impact on all involved. How did it impact you and help to shape the man we see today?
I was from a region called Contra Costa County and there are no universities here. Our parents were working class folks – waitresses, bartenders, construction workers, etc. When we go out to these centers of knowledge, like Berkeley, some of the stuff that was coming out of our mouths was very, very uninformed and definitely not progressive, ya know! [laughs] For example, let’s take the journey of the Beastie Boys. They went from singing “Girls, to do my dishes, to do my laundry…” to “To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends, I want to offer my love and respect to the end.” They were cognizant of their journey. When I came out here to Gilman, I wasn’t racist, sexist or homophobic necessarily, but I didn’t have a filter. There were enough people who would kindly check me and ask me what I meant by something. Ultimately, the lessons that I learned at Gilman and through that scene made me a better citizen of the world.
We’ve talked about what a wild ride making this film was for you. How did the experience of bring this project to life change you?
I think it definitely gave me a meter as to what kind of projects I will take on. Maybe it will be something a little more simple next time! [laughs] Maybe a single subject kind of documentary is in my future! [laughs] It really gave me more of a filter on the kinds of projects I want to do next. I’m really we happy we pulled this one off, but I think people can tell when they watch it that there is a lot going on and that there was a lot of work done to make it happen. I became a father for the first time during the making of this film and I also turned forty years old during the making of it. I’m a completely new person now that it’s done! [laughs] I hope people enjoy it and I hope people see things that they can relate to in this film that might inspire them to make art, music and community together themselves.
Where can people dive into the music you have created in the past and to learn more about ‘Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk’?
I’ve been on and off in a satiric folk band called Bobby Joe Ebola and The Children MacNuggits for 20 years. People ask me about the name and I say, “Well, that’s what you get when you are stoned at 19 or 20 and you make a band!” [laughs] You can go to www.bobbyjoeebola.com to learn more. To find out more about the film and where it’s playing nationally starting on July 25th until the end of September, you can go to www.eastbaypunk.com or find us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter!
Awesome! Thanks so much for your time today and for putting 3 years of your life into making this film a reality. It’s truly an inspiration!
Thank you, Jason! I really appreciate it!
‘Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk’ hits select theaters on July 28th, 2017.