By Joel Dryden
CALGARY — Sometimes, you just get lucky.
Brendan Toller, a 20-year-old budding filmmaker, was hard at work on his first film, I Need That Record – a 2008 documentary surrounding the mass closing of independent record stores in the United States – when his girlfriend at that time, photographer Ariel Rosenbloom, suggested a meet with a distant relative of hers.
“Her grandmother as it was, it’s funny, it’s like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon – (Rosenbloom) was distantly related to Kevin Bacon. She said I needed to meet this guy Danny Fields,” Toller says. “I sort of nervously met him and he was everything and beyond you’d want those manager types to be: so witty and fun and sarcastic and revealing and nice and generous.
“We had a great time and I thought that was it, this one interview with him and then we just became friends. Anytime I was in New York, I would hang out with him.”
Fields, well known as having managed The Ramones and Iggy and the Stooges, is an industry legend—one of the most influential figures in punk music in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Toller, understandably, was anxious about how to handle their fledgling relationship; something his initial interactions with Fields did nothing to quell.
“He was super smart. In our emails, he had sort of reprimanded my grammar and use of commas and misspelling. Obviously, he’s from that very professional, ‘you better be on the ball,’ super-bright, super-intelligent world,” Toller says. “He was at [the University of Pennsylvania] at age 15, he dropped out of Harvard Law at age 20. [But] he used his brilliance to change the course of rock and roll and popular culture as we know it.”
Toller and Fields quickly bonded over a “baseline love of rock and roll,” even though Fields frequently claimed the thing he hated most in the world was music.
“I think we have a similar sense of humour and I guess it was a two-way street for sure but for me, I couldn’t believe I was in the presence of somebody who was furthering my intellect and furthering who I could be in the world,” he says. “He would use the words Auntie Mame [to describe me], which was a famous movie he loved so dearly. He was opening the doors I never dreamed existed.”
Years after meeting, Toller asked Fields if he would consider being filmed for a documentary, to which Fields assented.
“I had the keys to his apartment, I slept on his couch as so many have: Iggy Pop, Joey Ramone, Jann Wenner are all in that great pantheon of people who have crashed at Danny’s pad,” Toller says. “But yeah, it was a lot of hanging out at his place and scanning his archives and negatives and digitizing audio tapes that he had.”
Five years later, Toller ended up with over 250 hours of primary source material, not including archival footage. He made notes and transcribed the footage, and from that made a working script to assemble a linear narrative of Danny Fields’s life.
“A lot of this was finding out about all different periods of his life,” he says.
Now 28 years old, Toller is set to release Danny Says to film festivals and determine methods of distribution. The film, which premiered at SXSW, was named one of Variety’s 13 breakout movies at the festival and is drawing rave reviews. The film is set play to at Sled Island and Fields may be in attendance.
“He’s sort of trepidacious, he’s kinda unpredictable, I don’t know what [screenings] he’ll go to and which ones he won’t,” Toller says. “But since it’s our first foreign screening officially and it’s Calgary, a place he’s never been to, I think he’s going to come out.”
UPDATE: Sled Island has announced that director Brendan Toller and star Danny Fields will not be attending the festival.
Danny Says screens at the HiFi Club at 6:30 p.m. on June 23rd as part of Sled Island Film.
Both Toller and Fields will be attending. Also see our briefs for the rest of this year’s line-up.