I recently spoke with Dave Palamaro, the director of In Heaven There Is No Beer, a music documentary that chronicles the Kiss or Kill music scene of LA. We discussed his inspirations, making a film about a subject he was so closely connected to, and the journey of film making from inception through distribution and seeing the finished work. To find out more about the film, visit www.inheaventhereisnobeermovie.com

Bethany Rose: What connections did you have to Kiss or Kill and what inspired you to create a documentary about it?

Dave Palamaro:  Well, I was inspired to make a documentary about Kiss or Kill because I play music and I was in one of the Kiss or Kill bands. I was there when it started and was blown away. It was about community. All the bands supported the bands, and I just got swept up into it. I was inspired to do a film about it all before it fell apart. I went to film school, and hadn’t done any movies after, but this music scene lit a fire under my butt.

BR: You went to film school at SIUC, and I went to SIUE.

DP: No way! It’s a small world. My friends and I were total film geeks. We were super into underground films and horror films. We would watch films like The Warriors. I did a bunch of films with my friends. I did a documentary about my grandfather that got nominated for a student Academy Award. I moved to LA and actually got away from the film scene until I got caught up with Kiss or Kill. I just started interviewing everyone involved with the film scene and had over 200 hours of interview stuff.

BR: I noticed too that the end of your film includes a dedication to Neil Lisk, and you called him a fellow “Saluki” (the mascot of SIUC). Who was he?

DP: Neil and I went to school together at SIUC and we showed films together at the same Senior Showcase while there. He helped me with the documentary about my grandfather. I was doing work on the film and in the fall of 2010 I heard that he passed away.  He was a former marathon runner, and his death was a shock. He was such a nice guy.

BR: I loved the honesty of everyone interviewed in this film. How did you decide who to interview?

DP: Well, I actually interviewed almost 200 people, and it quickly occurred to me that I wasn’t going to be able to fit all 200 in the show. I had interviews, 800 hours of live footage, photos. I was completely overwhelmed. When it came to the interviews, I had to have all 200 hours transcribed. There was no way that I could fit all that stuff in my head. If you have 4 interviews you can select what you like. I had to work with transcripts. I knew certain people that wanted in the film to touch on certain subjects, but it really came down to whatever was said best by whoever said it for each specific subject we touched on.

I came up with an outline and everything in the outline had a number. I would go through the outline and the transcripts of each different subject and start editing it down on paper. My friends and a lot of people would ask me when I would get the movie done. There were times when I would sit with piles of transcripts and think “This is too much!” I knew I had to get it done, even if it turned out pretty horrible. I have a lot more respect for documentary filmmakers now.

BR: Did speaking with so many people integral to Kiss or Kill’s success induce a heavy wave of nostalgia for you?

DP:  During the interviews not as much because Kiss or Kill was technically still around when I started. In the 5 years making it and the 3 years after, it definitely did. Towards the end when I started to look at it as a whole thing that’s when it kind of hit me and there’s been times when I watched it and I would get teary eyed. A couple people told me they felt that way, especially about the camaraderie. One of the sections of the film talking about friendship, watching it I got emotional. As a filmmaker it is strange to take a moment in time and stretch it out for 8 years. You kind of have to move on. I think at this point I’ve put it in perspective, but it was little bit strange watching the film come together. I’ve never been a part of an intense scene like that. At the time it felt like it was our whole world and would go on forever.

BR: The documentary chronicles the highs and lows of Kiss or Kill. Was it difficult, particularly since you were part of the scene, to interview everyone for the segments about the fall of Kiss or Kill and some of the animosity and hurt feelings that occurred during this time?

DP: It was. I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted from that part. The first half of the film is about how awesome and great it is. I think maybe objectively I needed a little conflict in the first part. You could have 100 different people who were part of the scene make a film and you’d have 100 different films, but this is how I felt. I felt the scene changed. I felt some of the conflict I included in the film exemplified that, like the conflict between the Dollyrots and Bang Sugar Bang. The bands were ambitious and trying to get out there, but once that happened things changed. I didn’t really understand the details of the Dollyrots thing. It took me awhile to understand. Once it was explained by both sides I kind of understood it better. It didn’t really matter why it happened, but that it did happen. It couldn’t go back to what it was at that point because it changed.

BR: The last Kiss or Kill show was December 2007. Was it around that time that you decided to make the film?

DP: [Laughs] You mean when did I decide to put myself through torture? I was on tour with Get Set Go, summer of 2006, and I had been talking about this for awhile. I worked freelance, so I had some free time, and I had a “tour hangover.” I said, now what? Screw it, I’m gonna do it. I’d been out of film making for so long I didn’t even know what camera to buy. I know that somewhere I still have a copy of a schedule I made with 2 or 3 interviews a day for like 2 or 3 months. And after I had the interviews I thought, now what do I do?  I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t have set questions for people. I knew I wanted to talk about the history of the scene with each person. It made the interviews conversational, which was great, but it probably also made them overly long.

BR: Were a lot of people surprised you decided to document Kiss or Kill by making a feature-length documentary?

DP: No. My friend Mike Schnee actually shot a lot of the live footage. He ended up playing in the band Pu$$y-Cow from the film. He had an idea to do a documentary. He did a phenomenal job with the sound and the live stuff, but it kind of stalled out. And that was when it really happened. Once I saw it stalled out, I wanted to do it to, so I started talking to people in the scene about it. A lot of people saw me as a guy who played drums in one of the Kiss or Kill bands, but in LA a lot of people work on a lot of things, music, writing, movies, all that. But I think there was a little, honestly, I think, a few people in the scene who didn’t know me that well and didn’t know what to expect. When we had a Cast and Crew screening in 2011 a lot of people were like, “Oh, that’s not terrible” [Laughs].

BR: What is something from the film that you think will surprise viewers who weren’t familiar with Kiss or Kill prior to watching?

DP: Obviously I don’t have an objective viewpoint for that answer, but what I think they might be surprised by, and what I hope they might be surprised by, is the community of a music scene. What made it unique is the intertwining of the fans and the band; it wasn’t like they were separate and the bands were higher up. They were friends. We had parties during the week. You’d see people 4 or 5 or 6 times a week. The other thing, maybe, I see these females involved in the scene. At the time it was not quite 50/50 but it seemed like it. It seemed gender blind. The Randies were our buddies. We just hung out. At the time it seemed like a really cool thing. Kelly from the Dollyrots said that when they went on national tours they were surprised there weren’t a lot of female rock bands touring. But I think that’s changed since then. It is not as unusual now.

BR: Those two subjects definitely stood out to me, too, especially one of the birthday parties that was described.

DP: That get-together meant a lot to me. That was one of my favorite moments. It really exemplified the community. That was when it was still at its peak, but that personally for me was sort of the beginning of the end. It was never really that great as far as the community aspect after that moment.

BR: And I definitely appreciated all the female artists.

DP: Cooper [of Bang Sugar Bang] was one of the people that ran the scene. She was one of the head people. That was a cool thing. The women weren’t dolled up. They were just chicks that wore t-shirts and jeans and Chucks and afterwords they would just have drinks. Everyone was just sort of the same. It was that vibe. I’ve read a lot about CBGB. There were females, yeah, but you don’t see a ton of that, as big of a female presence.

BR: The framing of the film’s beginning and end is interesting. It opens with the Kurt Cobain quote “All scenes are relevant …. But they all eventually phase into nothing,” and then it ends with a series of “outtakes” or lighter moments from the interviews as the credits roll. What was the significance of each decision?

DP: There wasn’t a lot of deep thought about it. The quote I just stumbled upon. I was a big Nirvana fan and I would watch a lot of YouTube interviews with Nirvana. It seemed relevant to the film. The scene before the credits was shot by a Kiss or Kill fan. He would get drunk and hold the camera on his head and walk through the crowd, so his footage was always shaky but had a lot of energy, so when I saw that clip of his footage I knew I wanted to use it at the end.

There are a lot of credits because there is a lot of music in the film. I figured you can either just watch the screen with the credits roll or you can watch some fun clips at the same time. I wish there was a deeper meaning into these things but there isn’t. I just wanted to make it a little entertaining for people. There are like 100 songs in the film and all the Kiss or Kill bands were really nice to let me  use there stuff for gratis. There’s usually a lot of licenses, and so much to go through. It can get very complex. It was great to get the support of the bands. I had a great advantage.

BR: How did the film get distribution?

DP: I started shooting in 2006, finished in 2011. I have 3 distributors: one for DVD, one for digital, and Modern Distributors who are involved with both. Sean Spillane was in the bands Midway and  Arlo. After the music scene ended, Sean started composing music for horror films. He did the music for The Woman (2011) and Jug Face (2013). The producer of those films, Andrew van den Houten, creator of Modern Distributors, also produced films like The Girl Next Door (2007) and All Cheerleaders Die (2014). Sean was so excited about the documentary, so he showed it to Andrew and Andrew loved it. The first thing we did was get the DVD done. He hooked me up with MVD. They specialize in a lot of music related films and music documentaries . They released the DVD in August of 2013 and then Andrew connected me with GoDigital that gets things out to places like iTunes and Google Play, and they just released the film digitally on March 25. Finding distribution is really complicated and complex and I was really lucky to have someone like Andrew to help me out.

BR: The film recently had a release screening in Austin. What was that like?

DP: That was great. In August 2013 we did a Kiss or Kill reunion show that was great. For the digital release we decided to show it in Austin, Texas, at one of the Alamo Drafthouses. Me and one of my co- producers Debi Beck and a couple other people went and put up some flyers and we really liked it. It really had been 8 years, so quite a journey.

BR:  I noticed on the film’s Facebook page that you are a fan of True Detective. What are some of your artistic influences?

DP: I love great stories. I feel like that void of good, adult, well-told stories is being told by cable television like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. True Detective just sucked me in. It is well-written and directed and the acting is through the roof. I remember back when I first saw Silence of the Lambs, and I thought it wouldn’t make any money or get any recognition because it was too good. In the independent world, there’s a lot of great indies. Ti West is super talented. I love House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. Jug Face, a horror film produced by Andrew van den Houten, is by a first-time feature director. There’s still money to be had in quality entertainment. There’s great stuff out there. You can find it. Things change so much, so who knows what’s next.

In general I have a lot of filmmakers I love that aren’t related to the documentary genre. I love Star Wars, Stanley Kubrick films, Sam Raimi films. There is a skateboarding documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys that was really great. They made a narrative version called Lords of Dogtown. The documentary is really well made. The editing and look was really influential to me. Dig! is an amazing music documentary. It really is a compare and contrast film that’s about the groups The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols. It is a tremendous documentary. It follows the two bands and it is just really great. Those two films for sure. There’s been some great recent ones. Capturing the Friedmans. Dear Zachary, but I don’t want to spoil what that’s about.

BR: Now that this film has been released, have you considered making another one?

DP: I do actually. I know you’re a horror fan. I’m actually working on a script. I’ve been really influenced by what Ti West is doing. I’ve been working with a writer.  I wanted to do a collaboration.  Suju Vijayan recently made a movie called The Playback Singer (2013), and I was friends with her prior to that. When I had an idea for a horror film I asked her if she wanted to collaborate on it and she did. I also want to work with Andrew and that’s what his company does. It has been inspiring going to film festivals and meeting other filmmakers. When you see other people doing what they love, it really is inspiring, which might be cliched but it’s true.

Interview by Entertainment Writer and Film Critic, Bethany Rose