Interview: Clay Westervelt from "Skum Rocks!"
Clay Westervelt has lent his talents to dozens of films and TV shows over the years including being a cinematographer on “Gene Simmons: Family Jewels”, and “My Shopping Addiction". His latest project is director of a new rock documentary called “SKUM Rocks!” where he tells the story of a band that gained extreme East Coast popularity without ever really playing any music. The film goes through the bands brilliant strategies to sabotage shows and to continually get more and more popular without actually playing. Clay spent several years of his life on this project following the band members and trying to fit this crazy story together. Clay was gracious enough to sit down and tell me some of the most unbelievable stories I have ever heard. Check it out...
Nick Leyland from The Movie Network: Hey, man, I watched your new documentary SKUM Rocks! and it's pretty wild.
Clay Westervelt: That's one way of describing it.
TMN: I mean, when I was watching it I was like, "Is this real?"
Clay Westervelt: Exactly.
TMN: How much of the documentary, honestly, is real?
Clay Westervelt: So, this is a tricky question about the whole thing. I had a lot of trepidation going into it about like, how am I gonna be able to tell these guys' story in a way that is legitimate and that I can be proud of, but that is also enjoyable by the audience.
And I knew that was going to be a struggle because I found very quickly, I could not rely on the information that they were giving me. [laughter] When I would talk to these guys, there were so many things where I was like, "That can't be true. I don't believe that. I don't know why you're telling me that." So the bottom line is, that everything in there is a true story. We did do some recreations for things that we either did not have footage of. We put a ton of archive stuff in there. We did do some reenactments of things that there was no way we could get. For instance, like the photos coming out of the Miami jail.. We didn't have anybody there at that point, so we just created that.
The biggest recreation we did was we had some footage of people giving quotes. I went through everything with my lawyer. We initially had some quotes in there from people saying, what they thought of the concert and if they liked it and whatnot. But a lot of that was shot before or without me and they didn't get releases from these people. And my lawyer didn't feel like the release would stand up just from the video, because they weren't sure what kind of documentary it was gonna be or anything.
So, we didn't have a signed release. We were able to track down some of them, actually, unbelievably. The people we couldn't track down, then what I did was had those quotes transcribed and then hired an actor to recite the quote, basically. So, that it's the same quote, but it's somebody whose face and likeness are clearable for the film. So, basically, did a reenactment of an interview in a couple of those places. We didn't have to do them for the celebs. It was actually okay for people that are known celebrities because if they're at a party or a red carpet or whatever, that's fine. But when it's a no-name person off the street, the law is a little more cautious with that.
TMN: Did the celebrities really know know who SKUM were?
Clay Westervelt: Well, that's a different question. So, if you ask me that, I'm gonna say that, I feel like some of them knew what they're talking about, and I think a lot of them don't know what they're talking about. And again, this is my interpretation from what I've seen in the footage is that, I think some of them just don't wanna look like they don't know what they're talking about. And, to, me that's perfect. That was really what I was looking at when I was trying to put together. I was like, "I don't know if I believe them, and I love that."
TMN: In the film, I was like, do these celebrities really know what they're talking about or are they just kind of getting away from the question a little bit? You know what I mean?
Clay Westervelt: Yeah. And I guarantee that's the case for at least some of them. On the night that we premiered in Hollywood on the Young Ron Show in Miami, we got alerted that they had The Bacon Brothers on that morning. Since we have a quote from Young Ron in the film, Ww wanted to get some word out before we screened, and so we let him know and we set him as screener, and we let him know that we're gonna play it that night. And so, he had watched the film and he was gonna talk about it.
Well, he happened to have the Bacon Brothers on his show that morning. And so, he says to Kevin, he goes, "Hey Kevin, I'm really excited because my Bacon number is one now." And Kevin Bacon goes, "Oh yeah, 'cause of this interview." And he goes, "No no! You and I are in a movie together." He goes, "We are? What movie?" He goes, "SKUM Rocks, baby!" and Kevin goes, "Oh, yeah, I'm not in that film." Ron goes, "No, you are. I've seen the film." Kevin’s like "What?" Ron goes, "Don't you remember doing it. Giving a quote. You go and you say... " "Oh, yeah, SKUM. I really like their early stuff."
Clay Westervelt: And then, at the end of this radio interview Kevin’s like, "Alright, well, I guess, I'm in that movie."
Clay Westervelt: It's just the perfect thing for these guys. They spend their whole life just making something out of nothing and getting themselves intentionally picked on stage and creating a history. To me, it is ahead of the curve of what we're seeing with Kim Kardashian, like she's famous for nothing. But these guys have a sense of humor about it and I'd much rather be in their camp. That part I like. I like the idea of getting famous from bull#$!&, from nothing.
TMN: It's funny, because I can't even imagine the amount of bands that would die to have someone like Kevin Bacon on camera saying, how much he likes them.
Clay Westervelt: Right? Exactly, right? It's hilarious. But the point that you're bringing up is what our biggest struggle is for this. There's so much of this stuff that you would swear is unbelievable but it is true. There are stories that they would tell me where I would really question the veracity of that story and that would turn out to be totally true. In fact, there's a whole segment of the film that I took out, I had in in an earlier cut that we test screened, I took it out 'cause nobody believes it, but it's totally true.
This terrific story where these guys got in with this rock magazine called US Rockstar. It was a small magazine, wasn't big. It was on newsstand, but not nationwide, and it mainly covered the Miami local scenes. So, it covered a lot of local Miami fans. Anyway, the two guys, Hart Baur, the lead singer, and Todd, the rhythm bassist, started contributing articles because of this film, because they got connected to a celebrity just through this film. Then, they did some interviews with some Rock celebs, and then submitted them under pen names, which is not illegal. Like a lot of people right under your pen names, and they went under the names Bobby Newcastle and Nigel Pandemonium.
Clay Westervelt: They're smart guys and they're good writers. They're well written articles, they're good articles. Then, they started getting published in the magazine, and they even used as their photo, their byline photo, they did a photo of themselves, but wearing a wig or weird teeth or something. So, mildly recognizable. And what ends up happening is this magazine starts to kind of explode, 'cause all of a sudden, its getting a lot of higher profile interviews than it ever had before.
Clay Westervelt: So, all of a sudden, they've got like, Bret Michaels interviews and Debbie Gibson interviews, and then, they've got Paul Stanley on the cover. And then, next thing, that happens is Bobby Newcastle (Hart) gets and email from Gene Simmons manager saying Gene wants to on next month's cover.
Clay Westervelt: They're doing real interviews with real guys but using fake names for a real magazine, and then, that magazine, all of a sudden, is taking off and becoming a much, much bigger magazine than it ever had been. It's the same sort of weirdness that has surrounded this whole film. We took it out in film because nobody believed it.
TMN: What were the reactions to those scenes?
Clay Westervelt: I would notice no one was really reacting to those scenes. I asked afterwards, I was like, "What do you think of that scene?" And they were like, "I mean, whatever... I'm just assuming you guys photoshopped those magazine covers or something." We're like, "No, those are the real magazines."
TMN: Oh, my God! I mean, this story is just so unbelievable because nothing has happened really, but they're famous for causing havoc.
Clay Westervelt: Yeah. Exactly. So that's what I love about it. I jumped on to the project thinking, "I don't know where they're gonna go or what's gonna happen. But, I know that I could learn something, from these guys, 'cause they've got serious balls to do some of the things that they've done."
TMN: I was wondering, when you started doing this project, where did you think it was gonna end?
Clay Westervelt: I had no idea. I really didn't know. It used to be that I thought, "Well, you can do any kind of project, and if it's no good, it's not gonna get out anywhere. Nobody will ever know about it". And that's no longer true. It's really easy to find terrible films that you worked on. So, you have to be a little more cautious with that, but I really didn't know where it would go. I just felt like, I thought, this is an amazing story and I knew a bit about them. I didn't know about them when they first were playing. I first heard of them about 14 years ago when I was in graduate school. So I knew a little bit about them, though, and I was kinda fascinated by that story and I definitely wanted to know more. I knew it was risky, because you couldn't trust anything.
Hart called me and said, "Hey, what are you doing this weekend? You should come to Phoenix." I was like, "Why would I go to Phoenix this weekend?" He is like, "'Cause we're gonna be on TV. It'd be great for you to be there, and then, you could document it". I was like, "Why are you gonna be on TV?" He goes, "Oh, it's a morning show. It's kinda like Good Morning America, but it's just a local one. It's Good Morning Phoenix and the whole band's gonna be on. We're gonna talk about the movie, talk about the album." I said, "Well, I get why you, maybe, would be on in Miami, 'cause that's where you're based from. Why, in the world, would you be on in Phoenix?" He said, "Oh, because of Alice Cooper 'cause he's gonna do the voice-over for us." And I said, "That's fantastic!" Hart had connected with Alice and got Alice to do the thing. I didn't even do that.
Clay Westervelt: And I said, "That's amazing!" He's like, "Yeah, we're going down there to record it." I go, "No, no, no. You can't record the voice-over yet. Voice-over is not even written. I haven't finished editing the movie, and then, we write the voice-over, and then, we do a temp voice-over, and we lay it in, and then, we test it, and then, we'll re-write the voice-over, and then, we'll finally know exactly what the deal is gonna be, that's when we record it." He goes, "No, no, no. It's all done. I got it. I got it taken care of."
Clay Westervelt: I haven't finished movie, yet. He's like, "No, no. I wrote the voice-over. It's perfect. It'll be exactly what you want. You'll love it." So, he totally hijacked the voice-over and went without me and got Alice to record it. And because Alice was recording it, that's why they got to be on this TV show. And then, I go, "But how, still, how did you get on this TV show?" And he goes, "Oh, well, our publicist booked them." I go, "Your publicist? Who's your publicist?" He goes, "Louis Mozam. He's Dutch and he has a really strange accent, and people have a tough time understanding him, and so it's perfect, 'cause they don't want to embarrass him, and so they just say 'Yes' to a lot of things, 'cause they don't wanna offend him. And then, what's great is, he never closes the deal, he just kinda sets it up. And then, either Todd or I will come in to close it. He just goes like, "Okay, man, you know you should really talking to these guys. They're wonderful guys. They're wonderful." And he puts us on the phone and we close the deal. It's perfect.
I go, "That is a riot! I've been working on this movie for two years with you guys. How do I not know about this guy. We got to interview him. We got to put him on camera." He goes, "No, you can't." I was like, "Why? This is perfect! We have to have this." He goes, "No, because he's not real. What? He's like, "No, it's just me or Todd, like we just do the voice. And it's a lot easier to get stuff set up that way. Like people really respond to it. So, it's just something we do." I'm like, "Oh, my God!" And so, that's been my experience for this entire film, is I never know where I stand.
TMN: They're like evil geniuses.
Clay Westervelt: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it's amazing. And so, it's been both the struggle and the reward because I don't really get to work with a lot of people like that in my life. And I, definitely, have learned a lot about, just not taking yourself so seriously. And, at the end of the day, if they weren't all really great guys, that would be a tactic that would totally backfire. But they're really lovable guys.
Clay Westervelt: Yeah, they are. They're obnoxious and asinine and they're very junior high or high school in a lot of ways. But, they're really great guys. I really do like them. Everyone of them, in their own way, is just really lovable characters. It's an unusual situation.
TMN: Hey, Clay. Thanks a lot for talking with me. I really appreciate it and now the film just came out in a few festivals. Is it gonna be out on VOD or anything like that, coming out soon?
Clay Westervelt: Yeah, that's what we're working on. We don't have our deal inked yet, so I can't give any specifics about it. We're expecting to submit and play in a few more festivals in the next coming year. And then, to announce a VOD and possibly TV shortly as well.
TMN: Cool. Well, congratulations. I enjoyed the film. And I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me.
Clay Westervelt: Thank you so much. I had a great time.