Interview with Bill Cody
Student Life recently caught up with Bill Cody, famed documentarian and Wash. U. alum. His new film about the Atlanta music scene, “We Fun,” was recently screened by KWUR.
Student Life: How did the project start, and how did you get involved with it?
Bill Cody: The project got started when I got a call from two people in Nashville, of all places. A few of my other movies had been showing on The Documentary Channel, and they called me up and said they loved one of my older films [“Athens, GA: Inside/Out”] and wanted to do something similar.
SL: What was the process of filming like?
BC: You know, it was strange. I wasn’t able to go [to Atlanta] as often as I would have liked. I was able to go a number of times, but I wish I’d been able to be there more.
SL: Even with that extra distance, were there any especially memorable moments?
BC: I remember we were following the Black Lips on a shoot for Atlanta Magazine, and Cole [Alexander, lead singer for the Black Lips] had this fiasco with a fire extinguisher. We were all just ostracizing Cole, and I felt kind of bad for him, so I sat down with him and we just talked. And he was telling me about his beliefs about the scene and his plans about where he wanted to play. I mean, Afghanistan, Russia—they’ve gone everywhere. There was also one guy in the film that we didn’t really harp on about, BJ, that actually just passed in June from brain cancer. He was a very young person and a mainstay of the scene, and when he got diagnosed, he just completely changed his life and finished this album, which was actually getting a fair amount of airplay. Getting to spend time with him was really gratifying. And, you know, I’m getting older, and I think I’d kind of forgotten what was so exciting about music. That’s why I’m so impressed with bands like the Black Lips and their energy—it reminds me a lot of this energy in the mid ’80s with R.E.M. and all the rest of them. They were just fresh and vital, and it feels like this is the same kind of resurgence.
SL: Some of these bands are pretty famous for their shenanigans—especially Jessica Juggz (of Mourdella). How was it interacting with them on such a close level?
BC: Well, Jessica’s a real sweetheart. They’ve been very kind to us. I think a lot of folks know of these people for their shenanigans, and one of the big things about this project is that they’ll get that they’re real people from the video. I have grown fond of a number of these people, and the best part was hanging out with the vast majority of them. It was so fun to just sit and talk with them. You get these people that are really well read even without formal education. That was one of the reasons I wanted to come back to Wash. U. I enjoyed my time there, but I forget how much fun it was to be that age and have all of those resources at your disposal. These people have the same kind of wonder. They’re an adventurous bunch, and they’ve got this curiosity and love of learning and respect for those who came before them that’s touching.
SL: I know you were also involved in “Athens, GA: Inside/Out,” which deals with a similar theme. What do you think were the main similarities and differences with “We Fun”?
BC: The similarities were working with each of these scenes, and there was some overlap there. The filming was different this time around because of the funding issues, but Matt [Robison, the director] really persevered. It was amazing to see how much the technology had changed since doing “Athens,” so there was a lot we could do with the editing on this film. We were able to shoot a lot of different shows and get onstage and be there with the bands. The idea is to get people to appreciate that they were at that scene even if they weren’t. You get these retrospective documentaries [about older, more established bands] where it’s like, “Oh man, thank God someone shot that,” but doing it in real time is harder because people don’t think the same way.
SL: There’s been a little controversy about Atlanta bands that weren’t included in “We Fun”—the aptly named “We No Fun” group. How did you make your decisions about who to include, and how do you feel about this reaction?
BC: Well, I didn’t pick bands. Chris Dortch, who’s one of the producers, sent us all compilations. But it’s really hard to choose bands. We ended up using the same criteria as we did for “Athens.” Then you get these circles in circles—sometimes we’d have a band that we really wanted to include, but the footage wasn’t that great. Not having a big budget gets difficult when people are performing and you’re trying to tell a story. It’s always hard when you’re making a documentary and making an entertaining film. Even with a script, a lot of times your favorite scenes aren’t in the move. Things get left out or left on the cutting room floor and sometimes there are hurt feelings because of it.
SL: Are you pleased with how the final cut of the movie turned out?
BC: Yeah, I am! Matt did a tremendous job. It was a very different experience—I hadn’t really worked with anyone in this manner before, but it turned out really well. We just screened the film at the Raindance festival in London and the reaction overwhelmingly positive. People are really embracing it, even with no knowledge of the scene. That’s one of the best parts, is getting others involved. There were a lot of other things we would have liked to do if we could have gotten more funding, but that didn’t work out. So overall, yeah, I’m pleased with how it turned out.
SL: What are you most looking forward to as you do more screenings?
BC: People seeing it, enjoying it. These kinds of projects are always labors of love. We’re trying to get to DVD at some point, and really honor the legacy of the beginnings of the scene. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen in 20 years, if these bands are still going to be playing or whatever. People always look back and are grateful for the footage of bands just getting started, but we’ll see if that’s true for this group. I mean, next week the Black Lips are on the mainstage of Voodoo Experience and Deerhunter are getting more known all the time. I like them all! The Black Lips write the catchiest damn songs, and people always remember really great songs. It’s the same kind of thing with REM. I don’t really know where that comes from, because songwriting is a very strange process but it’s like with the Beatles. Everyone still loves them because they wrote great songs! If they had all the other elements, you know, the fashion and all that but wrote shitty songs they wouldn’t be around anymore! I’m very privileged to know these people.
SL: Any final thoughts?
BC: Well, I’m very fond of alma mater. Actually, I’m really happy about KWUR still being around. Now I’m totally going to date myself, but I was here when it started. I had this show on Friday night and we’d always listen to the Dirty Thirty, and the top 3 songs were always the same. The others changed around a little bit, but the top three were always, “God Save the Queen, “Anarchy in the UK,” and “Sheena is a Punk Rocker.” [laughs] I’m glad that college radio is still a vibrant source when so many others have been crushed and snuffed out. You should cherish that.