The Seattle Rock Scene: Interview with "Hype" Director
April 26, 2000
Hype! is the story of the rise of the Northwest rock scene, particularly for those who lived it. It's for everyone who remembers the days of the Metropolis, the Young Fresh Fellows' "Topsy Turvy" reviewed in Rolling Stone, the U-Men opening for the Cramps at the Golden Crown, the Popllama edition of the Posies' "Failure" on blue vinyl, the Sub Pop weekend at COCA, the International Pop Underground Convention in Olympia, Nirvana on Saturday Night Live. A before and after snapshot of "grunge" (whew, now that word's out of the way). Best of all, it's not told by some East Coast media drone who only hopped on the bandwagon because it looked like it would pay off. It comes straight from the mouths of those who were actually there. Ironically, the film's director, Doug Pray, was not one of those folks. Just prior to working on Hype!, Pray had graduated from film school in Los Angeles. But you can relax, for Pray's got all the right credentials. He was listening to the Fastbacks in '79. His first film company was called "Loser Enterprises." And he'd made music videos for both Flop and the Young Fresh Fellows (including "Picture Book," the only Fellows' video to air on MTV). So by the time the idea for Hype! germinated, Pray already had a few well-placed contacts in the NW music scene. "It was like, 'All right, your friends are the Young Fresh Fellows,'" he jokes. "'How could you be threatening?'" Hype! is the story of how the Seattle music scene was born, grew, and despite all expectations, became a nationwide media obsession. The big names are all represented via interviews or performance clips, alongside lesser-known acts that also played vital roles in the development of the scene. It's this aspect that gives the film its substance; it's not a picture book limited to detailing the lifestyles of the rich and famous. The laid-back, self-deprecating element of the scene is also prevalent in the interviews, providing a welcome contrast to the shallow glitziness that has always epitomized mainstream rock 'n' roll. The film's life began when producer Steve Helvey suggested that he and Pray make a documentary about the then-exploding Seattle music scene. It was the summer of 1992. "I had just graduated from film school [at UCLA] and was going crazy," says Pray. "The big thing that nobody realizes when you graduate from film school is that there are no jobs, at all. And there is nobody remotely interested in seeing your diddly little thesis film that you think is God's greatest work. So you spend a year or two going, 'God, what am I doing?'" Pray's film experience included not only music videos, but a stint working for a documentary filmmaker in San Francisco. Pray was initially hesitant to do a film about a scene under such intense media scrutiny, but Helvey convinced him they could "make something that's real." "So I called everybody and it was like a little phone tree," Pray explains. "One phone call led to three more, and then three more led to nine. And I would ask everybody, 'Look, we may not do this, but does it make any sense to try to do a different spin on this whole thing? It could be funny, it could have a lot of bands that have been completely missed, and tell the story from your point of view.' That was basically the gist of what we were saying. And how can you say no to that?" One person who could say no, at least initially, was Lisanne Dutton, whom Pray approached to be one of the film's producers. Dutton's background spans music and film (having produced and directed videos for "everyone from Queensryche to Sir Mix-A-Lot to the Posies"). In late '92, Pray tracked her down in Mexico. "He wanted to shoot in January and this is December," she remembers. "And I'm going, 'Now, who are you again? And what have you done before? And you have the money, right?' 'No, not really.' 'Uh-huh....' It sounded a little tenuous." But after meeting Pray that spring, Dutton changed her mind, and went onto be one of "Hype's" co-producers. At the time Dutton joined the team, Pray had shot some footage, but was having trouble gaining access to the region's newly-annointed "big names." "Investors, film distributors, and people in LA were constantly asking the one question: 'What's the deal with Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam?'" says Pray. "I had to answer, 'I don't really know. They're aware of the film, maybe someday something will happen.' "At the same time I would be thinking, 'Isn't there a way we can make a movie without them, and isn't that fine?'" he continues. "We did have ideas for the movie without those bands. But then it couldn't really have been called 'Hype.' It would've been like Hey, This Is Underground Seattle,or These Are Bands You've Never Heard Of, America. But America wouldn't have ever seen it." But Pray now had a strong ally in Dutton, who, among her other contacts,had roomed with Susan Silver in the early '80s, prior to her becoming manager for both Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. "Since I had friends that were connected to the big bands, I was able to help convince them to shoot with us," she says. "I just decided these people had to do interviews with us, whether they wanted to or not. And I pursued them around, and called them up and bugged them, and tried to convince them, and tried to hit them up at parties, get them drunk, make them promise to participate; 'You have to do this. You won't regret it.'" Through Dutton's efforts, Soundgarden's Kim Thayil and Pearl Jam's Mike McCready were the first to break the stonewall, and others soon followed;even media-shy Eddie Vedder puts in an appearance. Only Nirvana is notable by their absence, and not through lack of trying on the film team's part. "I swear, to find out how to reach Krist Novoselic is a matter of making 30 phone calls," says Dutton. "And these management people don't care about you, they've never heard of you, you're one in a long string of important people with important projects. It can be extremely frustrating. So we ended up talking about their experience, rather than to the people involved, which wasn't our first choice." "I think honestly Kurt wanted nothing to do with this documentary," adds Pray. "I can't speak for him. But it's just my theory that at that point, why would he want anything? It doesn't matter if it's cool or wrong or good or bad, he just didn't want anything like that." But while there is no interview footage, there is an electrifying sequence of the band performing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the first time, April 17, 1991, at the O.K. Hotel. "It's really cool that there is that video footage because he's so alive," Pray says. "Without it, before we had that Nirvana footage, it was a little sad, because we only had black and white shots of people talking about him and people mourning his loss, his death. It's cool to have something, even a minute or two, which is all it is, of him just playing." Filming concluded in the summer of 1994 with a frenzied shoot at a Soundgarden concert in Calgary, Canada. "We had a camera on a platform," remembers Dutton, "and the crowd was so intense, the platform was drifting five to six feet in either direction with the movement of the crowd." Post-production dragged out until just before the film's premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last January. "Right up to the day before Sundance there was not a single day that I could like let up one bit," says Pray. "I've never done such a grind in my whole life. And I will never do it again, because it just about killed me!" Following the five sold-out screenings at Sundance, the first Seattle screening was held in late February, primarily for people who had worked on the film. The film won an enthusiastic reception both in Seattle, and at Sundance, making it curious that Hype! has yet to find a distributor. Hype! is the definitive story of the NW music scene's season in the sun.