SXSW 2016: Interview with Wendy Schneider for “The Smart Studios Story”

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The only interview I did at SXSW, other than my red carpet stuff (which that coverage will be up sometime tomorrow), was with Wendy Schneider, the director of The Smart Studios Story, a really well done documentary on the titular studio in Madison, Wisconsin that was founded by Butch Vig and Steve Marker of Garbage, and helped jumpstart the careers of bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, Death Cab for Cutie, Nirvana, and many more. I really enjoyed the film, and was looking forward to my chat with Schneider about it. Before we started the interview, we both talked about the growing and evolving the cities that were both Austin and Madison (this was the first time she’s been in Austin). After talking about our respected cities to break the ice, we begun the interview, and the following is as transcribed. Enjoy.

 

I first asked her if she had any anxiety about showing the world the film tonight, since it’s the world premiere.

Schneider: It’s all to me. I think I would be anxious if people didn’t like the film. It’s a retrospect, I’m not making any crazy discoveries with the film that people are going to debate. It’s a celebration about a period of time with a shit-load of bands, and anybody who’s got an experience being in a band or enjoys music recorded by bands is gonna have a connection to this film. 

I then asked about how she got into documentary filmmaking, and if music was a first love of hers since she began working at Smart Studios as a paid intern in college.

Yeah. It was always music for me. I started playing the piano when I was 4 or 5. My mother is a musician, my grandparents were musicians. When I graduated from high school, I lived about twenty minutes from Manhattan, and I just started working at a production company that was using music as an element in the world that they did. I wasn’t creating music, but I was working in the libraries of this music production company for eight years, and using that music to score and enhance visuals for that company. It was a big part of who I was, that was my media training. When I went out to Wisconsin, it was to get away from all of that and the lifestyle of New York in the 80s, and started at the University [of Wisconsin] and started working at Smart very soon after being in Madison, and this whole world opened up for me that was a combination of everything I had done up to that, production, working with musicians, and Smart was a place where you had the keys to the studio very early into your internship and you could start recording bands when they came in at night and you could learn how to make records. 

I asked if the closure of Smart Studios in 2010 was shocking to anybody, or could it be seen.

The business model for recording studios like Smart was becoming a risky model the last 10 years. When the digital age came into play, I think it really affected the accessibility of musicians had to record their own music, they had their own studios. So Smart began to feel a little bit of a pinch because other people had other means to make records, so they weren’t choosing Smart anymore, they were choosing their basements. It was a struggle, but I don’t think anyone ever thought Smart was going to close. It was one of those institutions that you felt was always going to be there. The writing was on the wall when you looked at the books. The studio hadn’t been making any money for a long time, so at some point you have to close. 

I then followed up asking Wendy if Butch and Steve were cool with the idea of a documentary about the famed studio.

No, they loved the idea of just gathering some stories about the closing, that’s all I really wanted to do at first. I didn’t set out to make a documentary, I just wanted to get people’s impressions on this very pivotal moment for them. When Smart announced its closure, it sent out shock waves through the music community. Nobody really thought they were going to lose Smart, so I felt that was important to document. 

I asked if financing was tough to get for a film like this, since she’s been working on The Smart Studios Story for 5-6 years now.

I did a crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter to finance the editing of the film, and that was really challenging. It took a huge effort to raise $120,000. But at the same time, the film wasn’t going to get done any other way, I wasn’t pursuing grants or private investors. We really wanted to raise our own money, and fund the film ourselves. 

I reiterate (once again for some reason) about this being the world premiere.

Now you’re making me nervous!! 

(laughing on both ends ensue).

I ask if there’s any other festivals that The Smart Studios Story will be playing in.

Its having its premiere at the Wisconsin Film Festival and at Cimmfest in Chicago and that’s it for right now. We’re doing a couple of private screenings, and if you go to our website, smartstudiosdocumentary.com, you can see the events and screenings listed. 

And that was the end of our conversation. Thank you to Wendy Schneider for sitting down with me and being a really fun/interesting person to talk to. I also want to thank Matt Johnstone of Matt Johnstone Publicity for helping me get everything I needed for coverage on the film. The Smart Studios Story makes its world premiere at 5:30 tonight at the Paramount Theater, and I highly recommend you go check that one out if you’re still in town.

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