You wanted the best, you got the best! Finally heading to the Blu-ray party today, after many years spent missing in action, the 1999 cult classic Detroit Rock City will be making its presence known by shouting it out loud in living rooms everywhere courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment/New Line Cinema. If you know what Detroit Rock City is all about, then hopefully my little “shout it out loud” play with words didn’t go right over your head (sound the failure trumpet). On as serious note though, this former Cleveland, OH resident, which this film fictitiously starts out in, and lifelong KISS fan couldn’t be happier about this news as being a Blu-ray snob I sold my DVD version of the film many moons ago and have been anxiously waiting for this day to come. That magic day in KISSTORY, which I have been referring to all paragraph long thus far, is TODAY! Yep that’s right, the boys are back in town today and to celebrate this hotly anticipated day in KISSTORY with fans everywhere I thought what better way than to sit down and partake in a chat with the man ultimately responsible for bringing the Carl V. Dupré vision to life onscreen, the multi-talented Mr. Adam Rifkin and a few other surprises.
Before we begin this interview I do want to give credit to where credit is due to Detroit Rock City‘s associate producer Tim Sullivan and the images he supplied for this exclusive interview. I have known Tim for many years now and his generosity and professionalism never cease to amaze me. The man is a class act and I tip my hat to him today for what he bestowed upon me to use for this one-a-kind interview/post here. Most of the below photos have never been seen before. They are from Tim’s personal collection. He said to me and I quote that the below photos are “A special gift from me to the fans through YOU.” I am truly speechless, honored and much appreciative, Tim. Thank you so much!
And now we can begin…
BRIAN: Hey Adam. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. How’s it going?
ADAM: Going great.
BRIAN: I’m going to approach this interview like I’m a complete idiot, which shouldn’t be that hard (LOL), and pretend like I know little to nothing factually about the 1999 film Detroit Rock City. So Blu-ray, huh? I remember when I first met you and Tim Sullivan many years ago at Comic-Con and we chatted (link here) about this historic day, of course not knowing when it would come. Are you excited to finally see Detroit Rock City on Blu-ray and what on Earth took so long?
ADAM: I’m beyond excited that Detroit Rock City is finally coming out on Blu-ray. The reason it took so long is because Detroit Rock City is a very low priority title for Warner Bros. It didn’t make any money theatrically so technically, even though the movie has built up a huge cult following over the years, it’s still in the red. When you see the massive list of classic films that will never make it to Blu-ray it’s a miracle that Detroit Rock City ever did. I feel really lucky and I owe it all to the fans who made it such a cult phenomena after-the-fact.
BRIAN: Nevertheless, I’m ecstatic to have Detroit Rock City finally home on the Blu-ray format. Thank you fans! And as they can see from my Blu-ray review over here all I have to say to you is…WOW…things looked and sounded amazing with the disc’s presentation. I was not expecting that from a catalog release, but Warner Bros. really did a good job with the transfer. I had no choice to award it top honors with a 5 out of 5 for both the video and audio scores. I was just wondering, did the print always look this good or was there any extra work that went into making this one of the finest Blu-ray catalog transfers I have seen in sometime?
ADAM: The film always looked great. It was beautifully shot by John Leonetti, not only a fantastic director of photography but now a huge director. He just directed Annabelle for Warner Bros. His work really shines in this new Blu-ray transfer.
BRIAN: First things first, how did you initially become involved in the project?
ADAM: I was directing a film called The Chase and our assistant editor was Carl V. Dupré. He was writing a script on spec call Detroit Rock City and he asked me to read it. I did and I thought it was great, but I thought it was impossible to get made because of KISS. Getting the rights to their image and their songs would be really difficult. A few years later he managed to get the script to Barry Levine who had been KISS’s long time photographer and was now a producer. He in turn got Gene Simmons involved, who had just put together the big KISS reunion tour with all four original members, and suddenly the movie was a viable property. They partnered with a third producer named Kathleen Haase who I happened to be dating at the time. She brought the project to me completely unaware that I had already read it.
BRIAN: Very cool. It’s always great to hear how things turn out for the best and the funny way fate intertwines in our lives. Now indulge me for a moment, Adam. I know the following are loaded questions, but since I couldn’t be a fly on the wall back then for this production like I could be for future others (hint…hint…) what was it like working with the hottest band in the World, KISS, while making the film? Were they cooperative? Did they suggest any changes? Was there anything in the original script you just couldn’t do or wasn’t allowed to?
ADAM: Well first off, Gene was one of the producers of the film and working with him was fantastic. His philosophy is to always defer to the director for all things creative. We never had a disagreement on anything. Working with them as a band was not only fun but hilarious. They’re like the Marx brothers. A bunch of old guys cracking jokes and giving each other shit. As far as the script is concerned, no there was nothing written that we couldn’t shoot. We shot everything we wanted. In fact, we shot too much. That’s why there are so many deleted scenes.
BRIAN: I honestly wish I could have been a fly on the wall throughout this whole production. What an awesome story to tell! Having been born and raised in Cleveland, OH and having lived there most of my life, I was stoked when the story unfolded onscreen back in August 1999 and I saw Cleveland as the starting point for this coming-of-age road trip adventure, even though the movie was filmed up in Canada. I know KISS has rich history tied back to Richfield Coliseum days of Cleveland (I’ve personally seen them there many times), and the current drummer (Eric Singer) is from there as well, but I was curious as to how it was decided to start in Cleveland, and not anywhere else. Was it the city’s close proximity to Detroit or was there another factor in the decision that I’m not privy to?
ADAM: That’s a question you’ll have to ask Carl V. Dupré. It was in the script that way when I first read it. I always assumed it was because of the close proximity to Detroit but he may have some other grander reason.
BRIAN: That’s fair. I’ll ask Carl then. Hey Carl, can I get a quick answer please?
CARL: That’s funny I get asked this question every once in awhile. The original draft of Detroit Rock City, the very first one, that I wrote started in Rhode Island and ended in New York City, but I wanted to and the movie in Detroit just because Cobo Hall is awesome and KISS’ ALIVE 2 was my first KISS record and it began with “Detroit Rock City” so I really wanted to capitalize on all that and I happened to have visited Cleveland in the early nineties and I was looking at a map. I know that Cleveland was about the same distance from Detroit as Rhode Island was from New York City. Basically I said to myself wow Cleveland…cool…I’ve been there…I should have it start there. That’s basically the story. By the way, I was pleasantly surprised by what a great city Cleveland was. I’m just saying that because back in the seventies and eighties America was given a grim picture of that city. Anyway I had a blast. I went to the Flats and partied my head off one night…unforgettable.
BRIAN: There’s no doubt about it, Detroit Rock City contains a plethora of stars and cameos. I know Tim Sullivan and you have a long working relationship with the great Lin Shaye, but I’m curious as it relates to the cast of the film here, who were you most excited to work with and how was the vibe of everyone on the set? Having only been on the moviegoer side of the shop here in regards to this feature it appears like everyone had a blast making this.
ADAM: Everyone did have a blast working on the film. It was a fun shoot. Working with Lin was amazing. I met her on Detroit Rock City and have used her in just about everything I’ve ever done since. Joe Flaherty was a treat because I had always been a huge fan of SCTV. But everybody was great. We all had a good time. Which, by the way, is never a reflection of whether the movie is good or not. Luckily I think the movie did turn out good in this case, which is a bonus.
BRIAN: It definitely is! And speaking of Lin Shaye, I hope you don’t mind, but I thought how cool would it be to check in with her and see how she felt about her time working on Detroit Rock City with Tim Sullivan and yourself. Take it away Lin!
LIN: Let’s start with Adam and Tim…without which there would be no DETROIT ROCK CITY…..two of the best of the best…in all ways…creatively, personally, collaboratively….total joys to be around, friends forever, total crack ups, as well as great story tellers. I am still in love with Mrs. Bruce to this day…one of my most favorite characters ever, and am thrilled they both helped me find her “funny,” her pathos and her pain..all which contributed to her comedy and her timelessness. LONG LIVE KISSSSSSS, AND…. LONG LIVE ADAM RIFKIN AND TIM SULLIVAN!!….both in filmland and in life!
BRIAN: There you have it folks, Lin Shaye! Hey you know, Adam, one of my favorite scenes from the film is its killer opening when Lin Shaye reclines in the rocker with a glass of wine and intent to listen to one of her favorite vinyls, but is rudely surprised by the first track off of the Love Gun album, “I Stole Your Love.” In my opinion, that’s a timeless/classic opening with that killer tune just blasting! Of course there are many more great scenes throughout, but as the director of the film I was wondering what are a few of your most favorite scenes from the movie and why?
ADAM: Well, some of my favorite scenes are my favorite scenes because of the affection I hold for how fun they were to shoot, not necessarily because they’re my favorite scenes in the story. Shooting the concert scene was a career highlight for me. Not only did I get to re-create a KISS concert from 1978, but we also had 10,000 extras, which was really exciting for me as a director. I also love the scenes that capture the spirit of teenage rebellion. To me that’s what Detroit Rock City is about, teenage rebellion. So breaking Jam out of Catholic school is one of my favorite scenes. Being chased through the high school hallways by Elvis the security guard is another one of my favorite scenes. These are the scenes that to me capture that teenage anarchy vibe I was shooting for.
BRIAN: Right on! You nailed the vibe! That’s for sure! While we are on the subject of my wonderful curiosity I was also wondering what influences you had running through your brain while filming this. For example, if someone put me on the spot and told me to describe Detroit Rock City to them, I would say it’s comparable to Dazed and Confused and Fanboys (solely from the fanfare side of things) with a heaping serving of KISS mixed in, rightfully so. So I guess I was just wondering what inspirations you had when making the film or if you artistically wanted it to be judged or compared, in high regards of course, to other such flicks you adore in the genre?
ADAM: Well for one thing I was inspired by my own childhood. I really wanted to re-create the 1970s that I remembered and that I hold a great deal of nostalgia for. As far as other movies are concerned, yes, we watched Dazed and Confused a bunch of times for inspiration. I love that movie. We also re-watched Rock ‘n Roll High School. That movie has a great spirit of teen rebellion. But some other 70s teen movies that I liked and re-watched were Over the Edge and Up the Academy.
BRIAN: Did you find it difficult to mask and camouflage locations in Canada to look like Cleveland and/or Detroit? If so, what in particular did you find most challenging?
ADAM: No, all of the locations looked perfectly authentic to Detroit. The one thing we did have a difficult time camouflaging was the way the local Canadian actors say “about.”
BRIAN: I know Tim Sullivan is a hardcore fan of KISS and if you believe everything you read online, I think I saw he actually adorned some of the sets with authentic articles from his own KISS memorabilia. As a filmmaker what was it like to recreate that 1978 era vibe? In my opinion, the 1970’s are among one of the greatest eras for rock ’n’ roll. Did you find it restricting or challenging at all in any of your directorial decisions and instructions?
ADAM: Re-creating the 70s was the main reason why I wanted to make this film. I have a great romance with my memories of the 1970s and getting to re-create the era was truly exciting. The only challenge was to make sure we were re-creating the era and not parodying the era. I didn’t want to look like a spoof of the 1970s I wanted it to look like it was shot in the 1970s. A lot of signature 1970s items and clothing are difficult to come by so we had to utilize eBay to find a bunch of things.
BRIAN: Wow! That’s a great answer, Adam. I love your thought process and never really thought of it that way when I wrote down that question. Sadly, we all know that the critics back in 1999 sucked. Like the parents in the 1970’s, they just didn’t get what KISS means to the millions of loyal KISS Army fans that will happily take a punch to the face in defense of their honor for the band. That’s the kind of loyalty you just can’t put a price tag on, but despite all this and its cult classic status today, the box office results don’t lie. Technically speaking, the film didn’t deliver there in that respect. However, the curious cat inside of me feverishly wonders were there ever any plans for more KISS related films or even a sequel to this one had the numbers been different at the box office?
ADAM: It’s true, the movie flopped at the box office when it first came out. But thanks to the fans it has become a bona fide called classic. There are many movies that came out that same year that made lots of money at the box office and nobody is talking about today. I’d much rather have a movie that withstands the test of time, than a movie that makes a big splash opening weekend and is then forgotten forever. As far as a sequel goes, no, it was never something we discussed at the time. I suppose if Detroit Rock City had made $100 million at the box office when it came out it would’ve been something we would’ve discussed.
BRIAN: Right on and I agree with you 100% on your remark about the significance and accomplishment of making a film that withstands the test of time. On the subject of KISS, did you see that Australian news article (link here) that circulated all over the Internet last week about the band being immortal? Paul Stanley basically exclaims that everyone in the band is expendable, even Gene and himself. It’s interesting from the fact that it supports the business model or should I say money making machine KISS is built as. However, as much as I want to hear new KISS music and see those makeup faces in concert as much as possible, I gotta admit, it would be weird with no Paul or Gene. What’s your feelings on the subject?
ADAM: I actually agree with Paul. Because of the makeup and the characters that the makeup represents, I think the band can go on forever with different people playing the parts. That said, I don’t think Detroit Rock City would’ve been the same movie with four different actors playing the original members of KISS. The fact that we were able to re-create that 1978 concert with the original four members makes it special.
BRIAN: That is very special, indeed. Alright, let’s get personal for a few moments if you’re okay with that. What’s next in store for Adam Rifkin? Do you have any big projects you are working on that you can talk about at this time that your fans out there may be interested in knowing more about? Can you tell us anything about Director’s Cut at all?
ADAM: Yes, I’d love to tell you what’s new. I directed a documentary which came out this year called just Giuseppe Makes a Movie. I think it may hold special interest for Detroit Rock City fans because it’s a documentary about Giuseppe Andrews who was one of the stars of Detroit Rock City. Unlike Detroit Rock City the documentary currently holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. For those who don’t know, Giuseppe is now a maverick indie filmmaker who lives in a trailer park in Ventura with his father where he makes the craziest movies you’ve ever seen starring all the homeless people. The documentary follows him as he shoots his current project. It’s available on iTunes, Amazon and lots of other VOD services. And I’m currently finishing Director’s Cut which is a movie I directed that was written by Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller. It’s a warped comedy about a stalker who kidnaps an actress off a movie set and attempts to reshoot the movie with her in his basement dungeon starring himself as her new romantic lead. It’s pretty out there, but I think it’s going to be funny. That one should be done in the next couple of months.
BRIAN: Thanks for sharing! I definitely need to check that documentary out ASAP and look forward to seeing Director’s Cut too. So this next question is a loaded one that I always ask everyone I interview as I never get tired of hearing what motivates people, like yourself, to rise above the normalcy of the rest and do/accomplish grand things in life. What makes Adam Rifkin tick? And by that I mean what does Adam Rifkin like to do outside of filmmaking and writing? Do you have hobbies? What motivates you to achieve what you do in life?
ADAM: I’m all about movies. I like to watch movies. I like to make movies. I like to read about movies. I like to talk about movies, it’s all about movies. But that’s the way I’ve always been. From as early a time as I can remember all I wanted to do was make movies. I spent my whole childhood making movies with my friends using my dad’s super-8 camera. I don’t have hobbies. I probably should. I’m sure I’d be a much more well-rounded person if I did. But instead, I just like to use all of my free time focused on what I love the most, which is movie stuff.
BRIAN: Hmmm…great answer! Maybe that’s the key to your success. I need to lose some hobbies! Well, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us today about the exciting Blu-ray release, finally, of Detroit Rock City and whatnot. I look forward to catching up with you sometime soon and I’ll be keeping a watchful eye on your future projects. Best of luck with everything! Have a great day, Adam!
ADAM: Thank you sir! And thanks to everybody who’s reading this who has helped to make Detroit Rock City withstand the test of time and turned it into a cult classic. I appreciate it more than you can possibly imagine!
Detroit Rock City rocks out and flexes its HD muscles when it releases on the Blu-ray format today! Check out our Blu-ray review of everything you’ll find with the catalog release here and if you haven’t done so already, please make sure to order your copy today!
Everybody’s Going to Move Their Feet
Everybody’s Going to Leave Their Seat
You Gotta Lose Your Mind In…
DETROIT ROCK CITY
On Blu-ray TODAY!