David Chase has been known for years as the mastermind behind “The Sopranos,” one of television’s most celebrated dramas. Since the show’s end a few years back, Chase has been meticulously developing his return to the spotlight writing and directing the coming-of-age tale “Not Fade Away.” The huge difference in scope has him making his first movie and not a new television series which is welcome news to the auteur since he’s always wanted to make movies in the first place.
“Not Fade Away” centers on a group of young New Jersey friends in the 1960’s who get swallowed by the wave of rock and roll taking over the country and as a result try to start their own band. Music, love and experimentation inevitably follow and Chase uses many big sounds of the period to creative a hypnotic mood.
Chase recently visited San Francisco to promote “Not Fade Away” and the following is a transcription of our conversation with him.
Q: You’re obviously doing many of these interviews back to back. Is that something you enjoy doing or do you see it as part of the job?
David Chase: It’s part of the job but fortunately most of the time I enjoy it. I don’t think it’s contractually obligated but I think if there were big stars in this movie you wouldn’t be talking to me.
Q: You walk a fine line in this film between showing us the kinds of things we’ve seen in other coming-of-age stories and bringing something fresh at the same time. How did you manage that?
Chase: That’s not something I can speak to because I don’t do it consciously. I just write in my style of the way I think a screenplay should be going. I think I do have an instinctive feeling for what’s mainstream and what’s not but it’s not something I think about or sketch out a great deal.
Q: How were you able to maintain your budget for the movie?
Chase: It’s different for every story. There’s not much of a usual for me because this is my first film. I come from television and always wanted to be in the movies and not in television but because “The Sopranos” was so successful I got my chance to be in movies. Because I worked with Brad Grey on “The Sopranos” who later went on to become the head of Paramount studios he figured I could come up with something that wouldn’t embarrass him.
Q: What was it specifically about this story that made you want to do this as your debut feature?
Chase: I love that music and it’s very important to me. There’s a conundrum in that rock and roll is the music of the youth but once it became adult it became a music that formed how I grew up. You can make the case that Bob Dylan is literature. A song like “Gimme Shelter” isn’t a pop song. Even the sound of it is very scary.
Q: The music is obviously a huge piece of what drives this film forward. How hard was it to clear all of that seminal music for the film on your modest budget?
Chase: Steven van Zandt worked with me on this. He was responsible for producing the soundtrack and creating the band out of nothing.
Q: Obviously the third piece of this “Sopranos” puzzle (after producers Brad Grey and Steven van Zandt) is James Gandolfini. Was it a no-brainer to go to him for the role of the tough father?
Chase: He wanted to do it. At a certain point when I was writing the screenplay I was having trouble with it so I quit. Then I thought what if the father was like Jim Gandolfini and then it all clicked for me. In a way it was written for him to a certain extent.
Q: That brings up a good point, when you find yourself stuck and unable to write, how do you get yourself out of that?
Chase: If I knew I’d be doing it now because I’m in a big deep rut.
Q: Coming from television, where there any big differences in terms of putting a feature film together?
Chase: I guess I wasn’t prepared that the marketing and selling of the film was so different than television. All the thought that has to go into it, you have less of an ability to tease in movies than you do on television. In movies they want to know what they’re getting from the trailer.
“Not Fade Away” is now playing in limited release.