with Penelope Spheeris
By Sarah Jacobson and Beth Loudmouth
(A shorter, edited version ran in Punk Planet, Winter '98)
This one is looooong, and way more interesting!
Penelope has always been an idol of mine. I got to meet her at the Chicago
Underground Film Festival this year and she was one of the fiercest, most
honest, most passionate, toughest chicks I'd ever seen. For me, as a woman
filmmaker, there are very few chick director role models, let alone any
filmmaker who does hard-edged content in the punk realm. Penelope defined
the punk film genre as the director of DECLINE OF THE WESTERN CIVILIZATION
I and SUBURBIA. After years of struggle in the film industry, she was
able to make DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION PART II about metal, a hilarious
expose more than a sequel. Four years later, she made WAYNE'S WORLD, a
monster worldwide hit, but the smart/funny film deserved it, nailing pop
culture on the head. But then she went on to make a string of stupid comedies.
From my outsider viewpoint I thought that she had moved on from her punk
roots and that she didn't have much to say anymore. All that changed when
I saw DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION PART III. No asshole would make
this kind of movie. Looking at the homeless crusty punk scene, she makes
you empathize with these kids who on the outside seem drunk and obnoxious
and scary, and not in Movie of the Week kind of way. She reminds us that
they are human and shows us what they go through in order to survive.
She understands them and they trust her. DECLINE III is riveting, in-yr-face
and honest, just like Penelope. I invited Beth Ramona from the Loudmouths
to join us in the interview because she's such a huge fan of all the DECLINES
and to break up the heavy filmmaker angle if it was just me and Penelope
talking. (Sarah J.)
BETH- I was really moved by DECLINE III and have been thinking about it
since I've seen it. I have to admit, we were drinking in the theater and
we're laughing our heads off because everything seemed really funny, but
then we started to get quieter and quieter.
PENELOPE- That's what happens, there's a point, right when they start
talking about being homeless where all of a sudden you can feel like the
audience got hit in the stomach.
BETH- There were some kids in the theater and there was this one guy who
was being boisterous and making a lot of noise and I was like "Would you
shut up?" I wanted to go strangle him. And then we went outside and he
was with a group of kids, I recognized some from the movie, and they were
all crying and hugging each other. I was like, "Oh, man" (laughter) But,
I was wondering how DECLINE III evolved from I and II. Is it like "This
one will be about the gutter punks scene" or if it's something that just
PENELOPE- I think documentaries, if they're done right, have a life of
their own and are quite organic. You kind of get a vague idea of the subject
when you're starting and then you're not in charge anymore, it's takes
you. I did the film because, (laughs) I saw some ad in the paper for some
east coast band and it said, 'The Decline of Western Civilization Part
III.' I said, 'Jeez, if they're ripping me off I better get going. So
I wrote them a letter that said "Don't do that." And at that point I thought,
'Well you know, there is this kind of resurgence in punk, Rancid and Green
Day and those bands have popularized it, but still there was the real
thing in the grassroots level.
SARAH- What did you think of that post-Nirvana thing when all of the sudden
punk rock was this corporate term for a type of music.
PENELOPE- It did look like that kind of thing that happens with all music
which is15-20 years later, it recycles and imitates itself...
BETH- Like rockabilly right now...
PENELOPE- Heavy metal does it, after rap dies for a little while that
will come back, it's just the way it works. So I just said, "Oh, it's
just punk being regurgitated." But then as I researched it a little bit
I realized that there was still some kind of really valid political and
social street version.
BETH- One thing that I was thinking about was in the first two DECLINEs
it seemed like it was more about the bands. The bands stole the movies
and in the third one, honestly, I remembered a couple of the bands in
the movie but it's the people that really come forward.
PENELOPE- The music is not new anymore, obviously. I would be stupid to
try to fake like there's a new music moment going on. The second DECLINE
did deal more I think with the fans than the first one did. So it's sort
of moving towards the socialogical study as opposed to the musicology
of it all, you know?
SARAH- What were the differences in your approach in doing all of them?
PENELOPE- Well, the first time, I swear, I felt so passionate and so energetic
about it and so much like 'this is my film, my subject,' nobody else could
bring a camera into a club. I used to go up to people and say, 'I'm sorry
you can't film here.' And they'd say "Why" and I'd go "Because I'm making
a movie about it!" (Laughter)
PENELOPE- And they'd stop filmming.
BETH- How old were you when you did the first one?
PENELOPE- Twelve. Nice try, though. I was older than they were, let's
put it that way.
SARAH- That was your first movie ever, right?
PENELOPE- That was the first film I directed. I had produced a feature
before that for Albert Brooks called REAL LIFE.
BETH- So the DECLINE I were people you knew from the scene?
BETH- So getting them to be in the movie was just natural?
PENELOPE- Yeah, it was kind of like (in retard accent) "Look at this stupid
chick, she's just running around doing this dumb fuck little movie, with
dumb people who don't matter."
BETH- So when the second one came along and you had to call people you
didn't necessarily know personally, were they open?
PENELOPE- Yeah, but they had seen the first film and they had respect
for that. Plus I had these producers that made all the calls, 'cuz you
know me, I'm not going be calling up fucking Steven Tyler...
BETH- Paul Stanley.
PENELOPE- Yeah, hey Paul, would you go lay in the bed with a couple of
chicks there? (Laughter)
PENELOPE- I like really hard core heavy metal, I like industrial sounding
noise, but that movie kind of got funny when it starting dealing with
all that glam metal.
BETH- That Russian Winter song, that's what I always remember. That and
the one thing I always remember from that movie - these girls are all
sitting with a band in a hot tub and then they suddenly become aware,
like, "We're getting filmed!" And this one girl is with a really overweight
guy and I can see the horror on her face, like she's trying to edge away
from him... (Laughter)
PENELOPE- There were a lot of beer bellies in that movie.
SARAH- I was wondering what it was like when you were filming that guy
from WASP in the swimming pool? Were you just like "I can't even believe
this is happening?"
PENELOPE- The thing about documentaries is sometimes, like that night,
I thought 'okay, I didn't get anything.'
SARAH & BETH- Whoa!
PENELOPE- I didn't know we were making history. That's how subtle and
profound it can be. I'm like, "This guy just won't fucking talk to me.
He's too fucked up and I'm not gonna get anything." And his mom was all
like shy and coy. And I was like, I might as well not even develop this
film. And then once we looked at it, I sat there and I went "Oh my God!
I'm watching someone kill themselves!"
BETH- Well, his mother sitting there is what's makes it even more crazy.
SARAH- It's one of those moments you can't believe you get to watch that.
It's too bizarre.
BETH- So for II, you said you had people do the calling, but for III I'm
assuming it goes back to you, meeting the kids on street. 'Cuz you can't
PENELOPE- Yeah, I paid for this film myself, you know with money that
I made hooking, I mean making studio movies, so I was totally to free
to shoot whatever I wanted. I figured I should give creedence to the name
of this series and also just tell the truth. Because in my opinion, it's
all just going down the fucking toilet.
BETH- I totally agree with you there but at the same time it seems like
the whole punk scene, there's always been the people who are the instigators,
the creators, like the bands, the fanzines, the DJs, like whatever. And
then there's a lot of the drunks the slackers and people who just go and
PENELOPE- Like any other part of society?
BETH- Right, but I think that those people, like the people in the movie
who are just kind of non-inspired, it seems like they've always been there
and SUBURBIA, for example was about people who were more of the hanger-on
PENELOPE- Well the first film I think was there for a reason. It's kind
of like the first hippie movement was like 'We can change the world' It's
this beautiful delusion. Actually, I don't know. I don't mean to be too
BETH- But you know, maybe people are just starting to give up and that's
PENELOPE- Yeah, that's the thing. When a new generation comes along I
think it is their innate urge to try to change the world to suit themselves
and to make it apply to themselves, which I think is a good thing. Unfortunately,
the generations who came after the baby boom generation were so much smaller
in number that they've had to fight really hard. So to make a stamp on
the world, they had to be very extreme to be noticed and to try to change
things. And I think things were changed to a degree, but unfortunately,
the way that I see the change that's most obvious is in visuals. Stupid
superficial things like fashion...
BETH- Back to the whole Green Day whatever, things have become a lot more
accepted than they were, like ripped up jeans and mohawks and whatever,
people won't even point to that stuff now.
SARAH- But it almost seems like, at least up here in San Francisco, that
the people who are really doing a lot of punk rock stuff, that are continuing
with that We Can Change the World attitude, it's like they do it but they've
become businsesspeople. In a good way where they're running their own
companies. But even though they don't wear the outfits, they still have
the spirit. You can't pick them out at a show.
PENELOPE- I think you have to ask yourself at one point, why does this
person have that outrageous look, you know? I think it's the fact that
there's a whole generation of kids who didn't get any attention.
BETH- I went and saw the Subhumans the other night and I haven't seen
that many mohawks in one place in 5 years. I mean the real postcard punk
PENELOPE- Are they gonna play down here? I gotta get a paper.
BETH- It was really good, they might have already played L.A.
PENELOPE- Yeah, they usually come here before SF. Yeah, but everyone's
sportin' the hawk lately.
BETH- Do you think you have in your mind that there's going to be a DECLINE
PENELOPE- Yeah, there probably will be a DECLINE IV because I own the
copyright on the name. And even if I'm too old or dead to it, my daughter
can do it.
SARAH- Is your daughter a filmmaker?
BETH- Right on. We were watching DECLINE I last year and this one guy
sitting with us, he goes, "Oh that person he's doing this and she's a
teacher and he's doing whatever." And I thought, that would be a really
rad movie, like, re-doing DECLINE I but showing what all those people
are doing now.
PENELOPE- I know, but you know, a lot of them are...I don't think I could
do that because a lot of them kind of have some grudge against the first
BETH & SARAH- Why?
PENELOPE- Because they think I made a lot of money on it and I didn't.
And they think I should have paid them. In their minds they equate notoriety
with money. When the film came out, it was the most written about film
of that year. But it didn't even pay for itself. But I can't tell them
that because they don't believe it. So for me to call up Exene or Greg
Ginn, I'm sure they probably wouldn't talk to me 'cuz they think I took
they're money, but I didn't.
SARAH- What about DECLINE II?
PENELOPE- Did DECLINE II make any money? Well, II is owned by New Line.
You can ask them, I certainly didn't make any money on that movie. I think
I made on that movie like $35,000. Could've been $50K but I think it was
$35K as a directing fee. Next to my normal fee of $3.5 million kind of
BETH- Did they offer, since they were funding it, to pay any of the people
being interviewed or anything?
PENELOPE- I think for legal purposes they had to pay them some minor amount.
I paid the kids in Decline III $50 a piece to do an interview.
BETH- Well, when they were all eating McDonalds in that one scene. They
had a keg, we were wondering if you...
PENELOPE- I didn't buy the keg, I bought the food though. See what happened,
when I first started filming I thought, you know, these kids, shit, man,
they ain't got nothing else to do but sit and drink so I'll buy 'em a
couple of beers. And then, about a week into the filming I went "Wait
a minute!" I need to buy them food, not beer. So I stopped buying beer
and I bought food. And I gave them money. And as you know, profits from
this movie go to shelters for homeless and abused kids.
SARAH- I just want to go back to this one point that we were talking about,
like, the difference between DECLINE I and DECLINE II, 'cuz actually,
it's hard to find DECLINE I.
PENELOPE- Is it?
PENELOPE- 'Cuz I own the video rights and I will re-release it pretty
soon, both of them.
SARAH- When I was in Cleveland, there was this cool video store there
that was like 'God, if you ever see a copy of DECLINE I, let us know.'
But you can find DECLINE II everywhere. I'm not sure what's up with your
distribution with DECLINE III...
PENELOPE- I have no distribution for DECLINE III because the offers I've
been given...I could tattoo 'DUH' on my forehaed. The offers go like,
'Okay we'll distribute theatrically DECLINE III if you give us the video
rights to all three DECLINEs.'
SARAH- No way.
PENELOPE- I know. How 'bout I just write you a check for my entire bank
account? So basically right now, me and my friend Steve who's a music
supervisor, 'cuz all the other soldiers fucking died, man, nobody else
stays with this kind of stuff, like I do and Steve does. We're distributing
it ourselves, we just opened it in San Francisco for a week and it kicked
ass, thank God.
BETH- You were here one of the nights?
PENELOPE- No I didn't make it, actually. My boyfriend's from San Francisco
and the last time we were up there he got arrested.
SARAH- For what?
PENELOPE- He'll kill me if I tell you.
BETH- You could say outstanding warrants!
PENELOPE- It was outstanding warrants! (Laughter)
PENELOPE- He got arrested and thrown in jail so I had to stay there a
couple of extra days and get him out of jail and all that shit, and then,
see I don't dig to travel alone, too many demons out there. He wouldn't
go with me because it was San Francisco...I even had all the tickets and
BETH- So isn't this your new boyfriend that you met, did you meet him
BETH- 'Cuz I was gonna ask you do you have a hard time seperating yourself
as a filmmaker and the friends that you're filming?
PENELOPE- We were shooting when I met Sin, but him and I didn't get together
until a year later. And as September 9th, which is coming right up, we
will have been together for a year.
BETH- Happy Anniversary!
SARAH- It seems like you guys are so good for each other.
PENELOPE- Here's the thing, the guy's been out on the street for so fucking
long that, I mean, he's living in a $1 million dollar house right now.
Okay? And driving a Mercedes. It's really not comfortable for him. And
he's almost like ashamed. I'm frustrated sometimes because it's like he's
ashamed to be with me. But what am I supposed to do? You don't pick who
you fall in love with. So bottom line is, he'll probably hit the streets
again because that's all he knows.
SARAH- Is it strange having him in the movie and having him in your life?
PENELOPE- The only thing that's strange is that he's uncomfortable with
BETH- But back to the other people in the movie. I was a psychology major
and I did some work with juvie kids and I'm wondering if it's hard for
you to seperate yourself, to not get too involved.
PENELOPE- I still do see quite a bit of the people that are in DECLINE
III. Like Kirsten from Naked Aggression just stayed here for a while...
BETH- Oh, I heard about...
PENELOPE- Yeah, because Phil died.
BETH- That's so sad.
PENELOPE- He did the score for the movie, too. He's an incredibly talented,
classically trained musician. He plays the acoustic guitar in the film,
BETH- It was so sad, they'd been married for two weeks or something.
PENELOPE- I know but they've been together for ten years.
BETH- You could tell in the movie how close they were. I just meant that
they had just gotten married. Two weeks later they had this show and then
- asthma? It's like...
PENELOPE- I know.
BETH- That really made me sad too.
PENELOPE- But anyway, the point is I do still see them quite a bit but
a lot of them are very, kind of nomadic, they're not even around. Like
right now in L.A. it's too hot to be out on the street. I'm sure they're
in some more comfortable area. They come and go.
BETH- They're probably in New Orleans. Did you see the gutter punks movie
about the New Orleans kids? I think it's called GUTTER PUNKS?
PENELOPE- I heard about that. When I was shooting DECLINE III some of
the kids said 'Are you doing the movie on the Gutter Punks? It's from
Texas...' And I said, no this is just MY movie.
SARAH- Go kick his ass. You can't film, this is my movie!
PENELOPE- You can't film this, I own the world!
SARAH- How's your take on it different now, it seems like you probably
have a different role in each movie.
PENELOPE- Let me just say that I blinked and it was 20 years. But in different
times in your life you feel different ways about the world. I don't believe
that there's a person that when they're a teenager thinks about life and
God and the reason we're here in one way and keeps that thought all through
their whole life. And back in those days, I guess I along with a lot of
other people were more into trying to be cool and hip and uh, outrageous.
When I was in that whole scene and younger, I was always like the freakiest
person around. And then as time goes on you go, "Shit, I don't have to
be freaky, I don't have to prove anything." And now, when I did DECLINE
III it has more to do with more substantial issues. When you get older
you go, wait a minute. There's big problems in the world. What can I do,
knowing what I know and doing what I do? I'm a filmmaker with some accomplishment.
What can I do to at least make people aware and try to change the world
a little bit about problems, that seems, to me anyway, this is the tip
of the iceberg. I'm gonna say 10-20 years from now there's gonna be fucking
huge packs of kids out there wandering around with no place to live and
nothing to eat.
SARAH- It sounds like Suburbia the movie come to life.
BETH- I just moved to San Francisco 7 years ago...
SARAH- Only 7 years ago, Beth?
BETH- (Laughs) Yeah, but the amount of kids in the last 7 years that I
see, and I know I'm in a city, but it's like, it has increased monstrously.
And it's kind of intense. One of the things that freaks me is the amount
of tattooed faces I see. I see them all sitting in the parking lot of
the grocery store and their doing it, just sitting on the streets.
SARAH- It's like, when you see that they're thinking that they're not
gonna live that long.
PENELOPE- Those kids don't give a shit.
SARAH- I remember when I was editing MARY JANE a lot of them would hang
out in front of the Warfield building, where I was editing, on 6th and
Market and I'd come out...I never felt so old in my life. They'd all go
PENELOPE- I've been called ma'am for quite a few years here.
SARAH- It was so weird. And other punks, too, were like 'Oh, the crusties,
it's not the normal punk scene, it's like a different...'
PENELOPE- I think it's definitely much more prevelant in the future. The
not so distant future, the near future.
SARAH- Beth remember that scene that we filming in the punk house with
all those 18 year old drunk punk rockers? That was insane, trying to control
that was like herding cats or something. How is it to try and film punks?
'Cuz everyone wants to be looked at, they're all clamouring for attention?
PENELOPE- Well, not always. I understand the point that you're making,
yes, it's true, but also...that's the way Squid was. There's some, like
Sin, for example, who will run from the camera. Just like in every part
of society there's all different kinds of people in that movement. But,
I would say in general in filming that movie...Do you know who Mark Hejnar,
Beth? He's a filmmaker from Chicago, he did a film called AFFLICTION,
with G.G. Allin.
BETH- I was just looking at a fanzine last night. I totally want to see
PENELOPE- You gotta see that, man. Me and Mark were talking about how
when you get really deep into the subject that's very serious, it sorta
like sucks your soul. And what happened when I was doing the DECLINE and
when he was doing AFFLICTION as well, is it becomes incredibly depressing.
You have to go through this psychological metamorphisis where you start
in one place and then you integrate this shocking information into your
consciousness and then you come out a different person. And that's what
it's like. It was fucking really profoundly affecting to do this. Besides
the night my brother got killed, I will say the night that I shot that
scene in Darius' apartment was the most depressing night of my life. (Note
- The scene where all the kids are partying in the apartment with no furniture
and they're all totally fucked up and puking) And I'm walking around going
'Shut up Squid!' That scene just fucking...I thought I was gonna go insane.
I went home, laid in my bed, stared at the ceiling and thought, "No, the
world can't be like this.'
BETH- That's what I meant asking about removing yourself from it because
it would be so hard.
PENELOPE- So that was my most profound statement. (Laughter) (Beth has
to leave for work)
SARAH- When you started making films were you a punk chick that was making
films or you were someone who started making films and then...
PENELOPE- In '75 I had the first company in Los Angeles that did music
videos, Rock and Reel. And I did a whole bunch of jive ass music videos
like the (stutters like a stoner) D-D-Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac,
David Essex and all kinds of old fucks. I shot Funkadelic.
SARAH- Were you involved with punk...
PENELOPE- There wasn't any punk, this was 1974-75. And then I kind of
dropped out of music because it was disco heaven, I didn't even listen
to the fucking radio. And then one day, I'll never forget it, I was standing
in this equipment house checking out a camera to go shoot some video and
this guy comes up to me and says, "You know what? You would like this
band the Sex Pistols." And I said, "I'm not into music anymore, shut up."
And that's when I first heard of the Sex Pistols. Right after that I produced
a feature film and I was on my way to becoming your basic normal mainstream
Hollywood movie producer person. I was asked if I wanted to produce PRIVATE
BENJAMIN. And I said, "You know what? I'm having too much fun going to
these punk rock shows. So I'm gonna have to say forget it and go make
a documentary about it." And that's what changed my life.
SARAH- Were you in film school?
PENELOPE- I already had graduated from film school in 1972 with a master's
degree from UCLA.
SARAH- How did you know that you wanted to be a filmmaker?
PENELOPE- 'Cuz this guy that I liked went to UCLA Film school and I decided
to come up here. No, that's not true. I was studying behavorial psychology
at UC Irvine and I heard about film school and I said, 'Wait a minute,
I'm gonna go try it.' And that was it.
SARAH- Back then it wasn't anything like it is now, like now you have
everybody and their mother...I mean even my mom's working in film,
PENELOPE- It was much more like the freaky weird people took film.
SARAH- I did a poll on the internet for one of my columns on What's the
Punkest Movie Ever? 90% of the time it was SUBURBIA in both alt.cult movies
and alt.punk. And it's almost become this rite of passage. I remember
being 14 years old and getting into punk going through this ritual of
getting drunk at someone's house watching SUBURBIA. How did SUBURBIA happen
and how do you feel about the fact that it's become this landmark film
for an entire subculture?
PENELOPE- I'm changing phones 'cuz I gotta go kill this bee that just
came in my house. Dammit. (Whack) Nailed the fucker. I couldn't get any
good distribution for DECLINE I and the reason they kept giving me was
because it was a documentary. So I said, 'Fine, I like the subject matter.
I'm gonna make one that's not a documentary. I'm gonna make a dramatic
piece on the same subject. So I wrote the script. I was able, from Roger
Corman and some dude from Cleveland, to get the money together. After
that I did THE BOYS NEXT DOOR and that didn't too very well because it
went back and forth from the MPAA rating board like 10 times because of
the violence, which is ridiculous because it wasn't even that violent.
But it was a woman making it and it was a low budget thing and just didn't
want it out there. So after that, I couldn't get a job. And I was offered
this dumbshit film called HOLLYWOOD VICE SQUAD. And my agent said to me,
"Where the hell else are you gonna make $50,000 Penelope?' He was absolutely
right, I was starving to death. I did the movie, $50 grand. And after
that I really couldn't get a job. That movie fucking blew weenies. And
then, what did I do after that? Oh, finally I got DUDES. DUDES is a cool
movie. Flea's in DUDES and Lee Ving is in DUDES, but again it bombed.
I mean it did good in fucking Australia, thank you.
SARAH- Jon Cryer was in it, right?
PENELOPE- Yeah. I didn't wanna use Jon Cryer but I had to because the
producers forced me, but whatever. I mean, we were interviewing all these
people like Keanu Reeves, back then he was nobody. And they had to have
Jon fucking Cryer okay?
SARAH- It's so funny, him as a punk!
PENELOPE- Oh, I know, it's so wrong! They're scared, in this business.
They don't want it to be too edgy, they want the appeal and then they
fuck it up. So then I did DUDES. Then I really couldn't get a job. And
then I was doing television shows. Then I got a call from Miles Copeland
from IRS records. He said, 'Is there any movie you'd really like to do?'
And I said, "Yeah, the DECLINE PART II about heavy metal." So he said,
"Well, gee, that's doing pretty well, heavy metal, let's do it!" So I
didn't own it. And then he sold the rights to New Line and whatever.
SARAH- It sounded like the producers on that movie had a lot more say
than you've had with the other two DECLINEs.
PENELOPE- It's not like they had more to say, I guess I could've exerted
myself, but the movie started to take a life of its own, like it was really
funny. You know what I mean? Then after the DECLINE PART II, I saw that
Madonna movie, TRUTH OR DARE. And I saw that she was standing around with
her arms around all of her crew guys and her dancers and they were praying
before every show. So I said, "Fuck, look how well that's working for
Madonna, I think I'm gonna try it." So I fucking started praying that
I could get a job. And I got WAYNE'S WORLD.
SARAH- But WAYNE'S WORLD is like four years after DECLINE.
PENELOPE- Yeah, that's why I was praying, dude! (Laughter)
SARAH- So in between, was that when you were doing a lot of television?
PENELOPE- Yeah, I did VISITORS FROM THE UNKNOWN. WOMEN IN PRISON.
SARAH- And then you worked with Roseanne, right?
PENELOPE- Please don't remind me. Yeah, I did. I did anything I could.
I was selling my ass to get a fucking dollar in my pocket.
SARAH- Even when you were doing stuff like ROSANNE you just felt like
PENELOPE- You never waste time, everything you do in life you learn if
you're smart. I learned. But man, that was fucking miserable.
SARAH- If you look at it from an outsider's point of view it's like 'Wow,
someone like Roseanne and someone like Penelope!" But it was TV and it
PENELOPE- Clash of the Titans, baby!
SARAH- So then you got WAYNE'S WORLD. I told you that story how Mike Myers
came into my work and bought a Sugarcube tape and I'm like, "whoa, you're
Mike Myers!" And he's like "Yeah!" And I'm like, "What was it like working
with Penelope Spheeris?! Omigod, that's so cool!"
PENELOPE- He must have hated that.
SARAH- He was bummed. He goes, "Um, you know her work?" But to me, it
was such a perfect movie, it was funny and it was relevant. How was it
working on that movie?
PENELOPE- It was fine. I mean, basically, it was difficult because you
gotta shoot one version for me, one version for Mike, one version for
Dana, one version for Lorne, one version for the studio, you know what
PENELOPE- After Wayne's World, I only got sent comedies, right? Now, knowing
the movies I did up til then, should I have been given comedies, no. So
finally, after going through 50 stinky comedy scripts, I said, "Shit,
man. I really liked the BEVERLY HILLBILLIES when I was growing up, I'm
gonna do that." That was not a big hit. It made some money. But then after
that I did the LITTLE RASCALS. And then I realized, 'Oh, shit, I'm being
known for doing recycled TV shit.'
SARAH- Doing these movies, especially with your background as a punk,
was it hard to...
PENELOPE- But, see, you get to an age where you go, 'Wait a minute. I've
been trying for all these years and I've never made any fucking money.'
'Cuz I didn't make any money on WAYNE'S WORLD. And then they go how about
$3 million to do BLACK SHEEP? So I go well, if I did BLACK SHEEP I could
probably finance my own movies. Yeah, okay. So I did that. And then they
go, Well, how about $3 million for doing SENSELESS? Okay. And now, I've
turned down $3 million four times in the past year.
SARAH- Oh my god. On one level that must feel so strange.
PENELOPE- Yeah. You know why it felt strange? Because I'm still in touch
with the people who are in DECLINE III. And for me to be turning down
$3 million all the time... Steven Speilberg called me personally to ask
me would I do LITTLE RASCALS Part II. $3.5 million. I said no.
SARAH- How did meet up with the people in DECLINE III?
PENELOPE- I drove around in my car with a video camera 'cuz they wander
around the streets all the time. And then after a while when I got to
know some of them, some of them have beepers so I could find them, there's
a couple of apartments which they could crash at.
SARAH- How did you approach them? Did you get out of your car and say
"Hi, I'm Penelope!"
PENELOPE- A lot of times they would be on the street and I would film
them from across the street and they didn't know I was shooting them.
And then I would drive up, get out of my car and still keep filming them.
It was like, "What are you doing? We get paid for that." And I said well,
I'm doing the DECLINE PART III. And they go, "You can't do that, that's
Penelope Spheeris' film." And I'm like, "Well that's me." "No way! No,
really? Really? Wow, yeah, okay!" 'Cuz they knew the other films. Once
they knew it was me they were cool.
SARAH- Do you think that helped them trust you?
PENELOPE- Yeah, I don't think there would be any other way to do it. Plus,
it's not just the DECLINE films, but most of them are very familiar with
SUBURBIA and even the BOYS NEXT DOOR and DUDES. When I was shooting they
would stand behind me and quote my other movies just to fuck with me.
SARAH- With DECLINE III, is a lot of your personal time going into distributing
PENELOPE- Yeah. I'm working on my house here, I can't leave and I was
seriously thinking about taking all the shit out of my garage and setting
a bonfire and then just seting up a couple of computers in there and just
hire a couple of people to distribute it myself.
SARAH- I think that's so cool!
PENELOPE- It matches the film.
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