Making a documentary about the last days of a beloved punk-rock dive is harder—and more meaningful—than anyone expected.
The news spread through the Seattle music underground last March like spilled beer across a barroom floor: Barring a miracle, the Funhouse would close by the end of the year, to make way for condos.
Technically speaking, there was no miracle. The Funhouse, a decade-old dive bar and come-as-you-are concert venue, hosted shows up until Halloween night 2012, then shut its doors for the last time. The condos are coming. But the momentum generated in the club’s final days was transmuted—miraculously?—into a creative endeavor worthy of the Funhouse’s goony, grassroots ethos.
“The Funhouse is all about being given an opportunity to display whatever it is you do,” says Ryan Worsley. So she’s making a movie—as a first-time director. Working title: The Funhouse Documentary.
Worsley had been shooting video and stills at the Funhouse for years; it was her way of interacting with her favorite bands amid the venue’s anything-goes atmosphere. Once the club’s impending demise was announced, she figured she could put her footage to use making a movie. Fans caught wind of her project through social media and soon bands of every stripe—plus delegates from several non-musical subcultures—started offering her video and photos to use.
“I could make five different movies with all the footage I have,” Worsley says. “The scope the Funhouse represents is enormous.”
By early March, she’d brought on a first-time producer (close friend Debbie Porter), an experienced story editor (boyfriend Kris Kristensen) and, most recently, a publicist, Nate Pinzon. Worsley’s shot more than 50 interviews and collected some 20 hours of footage. She’s featuring songs from 25 bands, raising $8,000 on Kickstarter to pay for their royalties as well as for sound mixing and color correcting.
“There’s five or six huge subcultures that feel like the Funhouse is their birthplace and their living room,” Pinzon says. Some of Seattle’s first burlesque-revival shows took place there, he says. Rat City Rollergirls held their earliest fundraisers there. Seattle Semi-Pro Wrestling started there. Punk mainstays like the Avengers, the Dwarves and Holly Golightly made it their Seattle venue of choice.
“How do you balance the legendary bands that have gone through there and the new bands that were there all the time keeping the place alive?” Pinzon asks. The production crew is taking that question very seriously, and in doing so, The Funhouse Documentary has grown from a simple punk-rock paean to something of much larger consequence.
It’s a common problem in making a documentary, where the creative process is more about paring down information to some objective truth than building a story from scratch.
“When you set out to do a narrative feature, you know you have 90 pages of script, so it’s gonna be 90 minutes of film,” says Kristensen, who’s produced concert films and reality TV. “The great thing about a documentary is you don’t know until you get in there and see what you have and play with it. You have to listen to what everyone’s saying. If you force your point of view on someone else’s concepts, it rings false.”
As with all things DIY, integrity is essential. The explicit endorsement of the Funhouse staff was a golden seal. And a sensible one—this is a self-made movie about a self-made venue that hosted self-made bands. More than that, it documents Seattle’s headlong rush into evolution and its equally powerful desire to maintain a legacy.
“The community the Funhouse built is incredible,” Porter says. “It’s addictive. Once we got the feel for it, we needed to bring it to the rest of the world. People need to know. The task is daunting but it needs to be done."
Pictured above: Warning! Danger performs at the Funhouse while shooting a toilet-paper gun. Photo by Dan Bennett.