Rock School: An Interview with Director Don Argott, Producer Sheena m. Joyce, Founder and director Paul Green, and student C.J Tywoniak
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By Wilson Morales
How has your life changed since you did the film?
C.J: My hair has grown and my influences of music have changed as well.
How old are you now?
How old were when you did the film?
C.J: In the film, I was 12.
Paul Green: I was 24 when we started this, and now I'm 26.
Don Argott: I was 30, and now I'm 32.
Sheena: I'm Sheena Joyce and I'm not telling my age.
Don, how did you come into contact with the Rock School? How did this start for you?
Don: At the time, there was only school in Philadelphia, and the way he advertised the school was with these bright colorful posters. There's a local Philadelphia artist who does all the posters and there are really vibrant and there are all rock based. There was one poster in particular that kept catching my eye and it was Paul Green School of Rock with the faces of The Who on it. I decided to call him one day to find out about it because it sounded like it could make a great film even though I knew nothing about school. I ended getting in touch with Paul soon after that and we went to one of his shows and they were doing a Zappa show that particular night when I called him and he said to come check him out and see what we (he and the kids) are all about. A couple of songs in, it was C.J who playing a song that I didn't think could be played and thought that this would be good for a documentary. The next day I met up with Paul and °¶..
Sheena: He had called me earlier. Don had a production company with another partner for seven years and then the partnership split up. He was looking to be creative and do another project and Don and I are also a couple and so we decided not to move to Los Angeles and move the company and do something here, I wanted to support him and whatever creative endeavor he wanted to do and we started 16 different projects. One day I was at my old job and he called and said, "Don't kill me, but I think we are going to do a documentary and we have to go and see this band tonight. I was like, "Christ! Here we go again." Like Don said, we went to go see Zappa that night and three songs in, C.J was on the stage and I looked at Don and said, "Sold. Done. I'm." A few weeks later, I quit my job and we joined together and this has been our life for the past 3 ®– years.
Did you ever consider the length of time it would take to film this documentary?
Don: No. I had been involved with other documentaries before that I had started and they didn't go anywhere because of the subject and other reasons. It was one of those things where there was very little thinking that went into it and when I met Paul, it just seemed that it was all going to work out. We just showed up with the camera sort of four days after the initial courtship and were there for nine months. It was something that we did and it started to get bigger and bigger as we were shooting because the Germany thing just cropped up and we had to go to Germany.
Sheena: Suddenly you have 120 hours of footage and you are doing this at night and on the weekends or whenever there was spare time. Then you have all this material and start wondering when do you start to edit and how are we going to put this together, and is there going to be a story. It took about a year to edit.
You did an amazing job if it only took you nine months to edit.
Don: We were lucky that the Germany thing did happen otherwise we might have turned in something different.
Paul, would you have been able to tolerate them hanging around you for seven years?
Paul, how did you go from teaching guitar to taking this idea of taking rock and everything you know about it and basically institutionizing it?
Paul: Well, I was just sort of teaching out of my living room and then this great movie with Jack Black came out. (Laughs). I said, "What a great idea. I should try that."(Laughs). Really, like all great ideas, it just came by accident. I was teaching in my living room as soon as I started teaching, I started having a real enjoyment and connection with my students, and on one Saturday, I had a few of my advance students come to my practice spots, which at the time was a broken-down building and had the kids jamming. They were God awful. They really stunk. I was like, "What's wrong with you guys? I thought I had been teaching you really well. Let's do this every Saturday." So Saturdays is a little thing we call rock school. I also could charge these students for an extra lesson a month. I then started charging tuition fee each month instead of lesson fee. We were doing this for a while and I notice the exact opposite. The kids I was bringing were getting really good. I was amazed at what a little rehearsal and playing each week would do. A friend of mine was having an art opening in November of '98 and said "Why don't you have your kids play?" I said, "Great" and we started getting ready for the show and then I could see the enthusiasm of what they were getting ready to do. Three days before the show, he called me and said that he was making flyers and what should we call your thing. I would have used "rock school" but there was a Herbie Hancock TV show of that name at the time I was a very minor local celebrity. People would know my name because I played in a band. I then called it The Paul Green School of Rock Music. We then had a logo which was on that flyer with the guitar. Music is such an important word in that because I wanted to emphasize rock music, not just rock. We did the show and 150 people showed up. It was amazing and Philly magazine did this big spread on us and I had a waiting list and a year and a half later, we opened the school. We took out a lease, ran up all my credit cards and went for it.
So, do you own the building now?
Paul: Nope. In fact, we are getting kicked out at the building from the movie because we are right in the footstep of the convention center's expansion project. They didn't even do background checks on me. They just let me come right on in. At the time, they thought I would only be there for a year and here we are at this crazy fixed rate of rent, 5 years later.
Were you prepared to handle as many students as you got?
Paul: Yeah. Once we got into the building, I hired a drum teacher and we steadily grew from 30 to 60 to 120 when we did the film and now we have 1000 students at 9 different locations.
Where are the locations?
Paul: San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, New York, and then 5 suburban locations, 4 around Philly and one around New York.
Are you still teaching and how do you find time to administer 9 locations?
Paul: I eventually hired a CEO, for lack of a better term, to administrate. My guarantee to my school, myself, and my partners is that 3 days a week, I will always be kids, running shows. I don't do individual lessons anymore. That gets a little weird. I'm still running shows. I just did one in New York.
C.J, what kind of music were you listening to before you joined the school? Were you into Santana, Zappa, or Led Zeppelin?
C.J: Some of those bands I had heard of before. I had never heard of Zappa before I came to the school. I had heard of Santana, I was just never listening to it. I was listening more to punk and new metal type of music. Today I'm into Pink Floyd and neo-classical metal.
Do you ever think of forming a band again?
Paul: No. I still jam all the time. We play with the kids and I have a great staff and we play music a lot. It's fun.
Do you think the film is fare? Do you like what Don did?
Paul: Don screwed me. (Laughs) Don took the 2 or 3 times I lost my temper over nine months and stretched them out. What are you going to do? (Laughs)
Don, how much do you think Paul was playing up to the camera?
Don: It's funny because I got to know Paul and his teaching style through shooting. At times I thought he was playing up to the camera but then he would be the same way when the camera was off.
Has your persona steered away parents from bringing their kids to you?
Paul: Oddly enough, not really. The first time we saw the movie, we saw it with seven parents in LA and they were like, "That's just Paul." It's always been leniency that's gotten me in trouble with parents. Never has been about being direct or pushing the kids too much. One parent would call and say, "Jimmy's not practicing enough. Are you making him do his lessons?" They like me when I'm the drill sergeant and not the buddy-buddy.
For the record, what came first, Rock School or the Jack Black film, School of Rock?
Paul: I have an article from a Philadelphia magazine from June 1999 and the website has been active since 2001.
Have you ever spoken to Jack Black?
What did you learn about yourself from the movie?
Paul: Of all the scenes in the movie, there's only one that bothers me and that's when I'm leaning on a truck and I'm talking to this girl and it seems like I'm laying it on thick, calm, but probably more than I needed to. For the other scenes, I always remembered what immediately preceded it.
Will there be a soundtrack to go with this film?
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