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It’s All About Struggle – Andrew Horn on “Twisted F*cking Sister”

This time we have a cool Indiegogo project to feature: a film about the early Twisted Sister years in New York by Andrew Horn. Thanks to Sabine for interviewing him. Published January 15 2014.

  by Sabine

“I love you!” This is what most people say when they meet Dee Snider. But – what does it mean? Maybe “Twisted F*cking Sister” could help to answer this: The so called Iron Men of Rock’n’Roll are about to celebrate their 40th birthday. And – maybe as a kind of a gift – film maker Andrew Horn made a documentary about their first ten years of club life from the early Seventies to the early Eighties. I talked to Andrew about his soft spot for painted people, the fact that having no money but time can be good for making movies and how similar the band history is to his own story of making this film.

50K MUSIC: What did you know about Twisted Sister before you started the project? Did they mean anything to you?
Andy: My connection to Twisted Sister came from my previous film, “The Nomi Song” about the New Wave singer Klaus Nomi. Twisted weren’t really on my radar at all but I must have known enough about them to automatically think that the idea of Klaus Nomi opening for them was a recipe for a spectacular disaster. Which it was.

So I met Dee Snider and Jay Jay French while researching that story for the movie and Jay Jay then appeared in the film describing the wild scene that erupted when Nomi, a German operatic counter-tenor and performance artist, was booked to open for Twisted in a club in suburban New Jersey. After the film was completed, Jay Jay and I spent an afternoon together where he started filling my head with stories about Twisted’s own wild shows in the bars. Jay Jay’s description of what he called “bar band shtick”, which is the various ploys they used to engage their crowd in the bars, sounded to me like its own kind of performance art – just for a whole other type of crowd. And the kinds of things they would come up with, seemed to me to be pretty surreal. This sounded interesting and the more I followed up on it, the more I realized there was a real story there. And it was engaging on a human level, but sometimes it could get just as surreal as the atmosphere of the shows.

50K MUSIC: What made you finally come out with the project right now?
Andy: It’s only that it took me till now to get to this point, mostly because it’s been so hard to finance. When one tries to make a movie with limited resources, things move very slowly. That being said, I think I have been able to use that time to really think about what I was doing and to find or create things that I needed, So, despite the frustration, the film has benefitted. If you don’t have money, time can definitely work to your advantage – but it’s a very difficult way to work.

50K MUSIC: How long have you been working on the documentary?
Andy: Years. But let’s just say the film was shot in summer and fall of 2010.

50K MUSIC: What was difficult, what was easy to do?
Andy: Making a movie is never easy. That’s not to say it’s not interesting, challenging and many times even fun. But it’s sort of like fighting a war. It’s all about advance and retreat and things blowing up in your face and constantly changing tactics while trying to maintain a hold on your ultimate goals. I will say, however, that a lot of times, things that go wrong can result in changes in the film that are often better than what was intended. And being open to that is always extremely helpful and useful.

Jay Jay, in one of the clips says that the story of Twisted in those 10 years was all about making order out of chaos and making this film – or any film – is just like that. I think in end I could really draw a parallel from my story making the film to the band’s story in the film. It’s all about struggle really. So while I would definitely call it an adventure, in the best sense, I don’t think “easy” really comes into it.

50K MUSIC: What fascinates you about Twisted Sister? Do you have a favorite song (now)?
Andy: I didn’t come to this project as a fan. I came to it first from hearing Jay’s stories about the band and then from interviews with a progressively wider circle of people. So I really came to it from the idea of a story: Their story as people, rather than a fan’s interest in a band. As for a favorite song, maybe “Rock ‘n Roll Saviors” or “I’ll Never Grow Up Now”. Actually these might be the sort of first steps leading to their more anthem-like songs.

But I have to say, it wasn’t until quite late in the process of producing the movie that I actually listened to any of the records so I’m not very familiar with their more famous recorded material. My experience of them came from watching the old tapes of their club shows and then seeing them a couple of times live in the last few years. And their performances are pretty great. I should also point out for those who don’t know them from the early days that they were also an amazing cover band. I think my favorite cover might be “Sin After Sin” by AC/DC. I couldn’t afford to put too much of that in the movie because of rights costs but we do have them covering Bowie, Lou Reed and Judas Priest.

50K MUSIC: Dee complains that most people think that the band started in 1984. Why did you choose the first 10 years of the Twisted Sister history for your film?
Andy: Well, most of the world got to know them from “Stay Hungry”, but as Jay Jay likes to say, that was like seeing the tip of the iceberg. You just know that tip, but there’s all that history underneath. I was really interested in all the things they went through to get to that point. And if you weren’t actually there in the clubs in those days, you wouldn’t know about it. So it’s an untold story waiting to be told. Plus, in general I think the road to success makes for a much more interesting story. The history of Rock is too full of stories of the crash and dissolution of a successful band – that’s what we have shows like “Behind The Music” for. I am more interested in the process of getting there and Twisted is a particularly unique example of that kind of story.

50K MUSIC: Describe Twisted Sister in three words.
Andy: Twisted Fucking Sister! I think that pretty much says it. If you’ve ever seen them live, or when you see the movie, you’ll see it.

50K MUSIC: Describe the documentary in one sentence.
Andy: It’s hard because I think there’s a lot going on in the story. But if I had to boil it down I would say it’s about a band becoming a band. Which in itself is not as simple as it sounds. I’ve also called it “a 10 year odyssey to overnight success”.

50K MUSIC: What is your favorite scene in the documentary?
Andy: I don’t know if I have one. For me, every scene works as a piece of the puzzle and they all sort of function to create the whole. Some days I might particularly think of one scene and some days another, but I can’t name a favorite.

I do have favorite interviews: Aside from the band – because that’s the reason I did the film in the first place – I particularly liked the two club owners that appear, Bobby Jordan and George Parente. They aren’t in the film all that much but they are both incredible characters. I also like Jason Flom who is a pretty big record executive today, but, as a kid just starting out, was trying desperately to sign Twisted and was put down time after time by the record company. Even though you only see him in the film as an adult man, telling the story, he really becomes that kid again. For me all the people in the movie are almost like performers, rather than interviews.

50K MUSIC: Dee’s wife called the band "ugly monsters" and Klaus Nomi was a dazzling personality as well. What do you like about these exceptional personalities?
Andy: For me both Twisted and Klaus have similar stories in that they are both about the struggle to find yourself as a performer and then working out the way to put yourself out there. In both cases they were able to keep moving forward, not only despite various failures, but sometimes because of them. Not just learning from a mistake, but being continually forced to find a better way. I think there is a lesson there in the importance of failures and setbacks in the process of achieving something. Another connection for me is that they both were exceptions to the people around them, but yet both of their stories give you an insight in to their particular scenes.

50K MUSIC: Is this your first crowdfunding project? Are you satisfied with how the campaign is working so far?
Andy: This is my first and it’s a lot of work. I knew it would be hard, but I have to say it’s much harder than I thought. I did however enjoy all the preparation I had to do in terms of building an audience through the Facebook page and making all the clips I’m putting up to generate interest. And I enjoy a lot of the interaction I have with everybody. Sorry to be pushing myself, but I hope everyone who reads this will check in and help support the film. We’ve still got a lot to do and everything will be a help!

50K MUSIC: When is the film going to be released?
Andy: At the moment I have no fixed date. I’m still working to get it finished. The good thing is that I am generating a lot of interest and anticipation for the movie, but that really has to be translated now into actual money. The more people who step up to support it in the crowdfunding campaign, the sooner it will be ready to present to all of you.