Studio 54 Co-Creator Ian Schrager Wants to ‘Set the Record Straight’

In the 1970s, Studio 54 was the epicenter of New York nightlife. With wildly theatrical sets, a guest list of celebs, and jet-setters that included everyone from Andy Warhol to Grace Jones, and a pulsating disco beat, the nightclub helped define the Me…

In the 1970s, Studio 54 was the epicenter of New York nightlife. With wildly theatrical sets, a guest list of celebs, and jet-setters that included everyone from Andy Warhol to Grace Jones, and a pulsating disco beat, the nightclub helped define the Me Decade. But its reign was short lived. In 1980, founders Steve Rubell […]

Of Studio 54, Michael Jackson, Cary Grant And A Hollywood “Pimp”: Director Matt Tyrnauer On His Two Awards-Contending Docs

Director Matt Tyrnauer finds himself in contention for awards this year with not one but two feature-length documentaries. Taken together, they offer a unique social and cultural history of America from the late 1940s into the 1980s.
Studio 54 centers …

Director Matt Tyrnauer finds himself in contention for awards this year with not one but two feature-length documentaries. Taken together, they offer a unique social and cultural history of America from the late 1940s into the 1980s. Studio 54 centers on the latter end of that time period, when entrepreneurs Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager transformed an old theater space in Manhattan into "the greatest nightclub of all time," as Tyrnauer and many others consider it. "You…

‘Studio 54’ Director Matt Tyrnauer Had Two Rules for His Documentary: No Disco, and No Celebrities

His acclaimed documentary recently played as part of the IDA screening series.

Except for the lucky few who entered the legendary nightclub on New York’s 54th Street, most people’s impressions of Studio 54 come from newspaper photographs and an extremely fictionalized 1998 movie. But director Matt Tyrnauer opens the doors to the general public with his new documentary, “Studio 54.”

Tyrnauer told the crowd after a showing of his film at the International Documentary Association’s annual screening series that “in a way, it’s the most-told story but it’s the least-told story.”

Studio 54 may have produced iconic pictures and made headlines for years (both during its ultra-exclusive heyday and after, when owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager went to prison for tax evasion), but few know the real story. Rubell died in 1989, and Schrager hadn’t spoken about it publicly — until Tyrnauer’s film.

The filmmaker, who is also a Vanity Fair correspondent, interviewed Schrager for a story about one of his hotels (Schrager and Rubell had begun working in hotels before the latter’s death). Years later, Schrager agreed to speak to him about his time at Studio 54. Tyrnauer interviewed him on and off for a year, and said he was “a dream as an interview subject.”

“I thought he was a superstar from day one,” Tyrnauer said. With Schrager involved — plus never-before-seen 16mm footage one of his producers tracked down that a group of NYU students had filmed for a project they never made — Tyrnauer knew he had the makings of a truly unique film.

“Studio 54”

Ian Schrager (r) and Steve Rubell outside Studio 54. Photo Credit: Photofest. STUDIO 54. A film by Matt Tyrnauer. A Zeitgeist Films release in association with Kino Lorber.

One thing he knew he didn’t want to include in it: too much disco music. The soundtrack is almost anti-disco, save for a few judicious uses of iconic disco tracks. (Tyrnauer got real playlists from the club so the only disco the film includes are songs actually played there.) The other rule: No celebrities.

“I didn’t want it to be the celebrity rap session, sex drugs and disco gloss film,” Tyrnauer said. “I made a resolution to myself — no celebrities — early on, which was controversial with the producer.”

He thought the stars would overshadow other remarkable scenes, like Jane Pauley interviewing Rubell when a young Michael Jackson walked in, and his other star, Schrager. “I had Ian Schrager. No one ever had Ian Schrager before, so I wanted him to be the star of the film in that way.”

While the film is a more comprehensive look at Studio 54 than ever seen before, Tyrnauer said that he actually views it as a buddy movie more than anything else.

“It’s a marriage movie, really. It’s about this unlikely couple,” he said — Schrager and Rubell. With the end of ’70s decadence and liberation and the beginning of the ’80s and the onset of the AIDS crisis, the story of Studio 54 is “one of the darkest tragedies imaginable.”

The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.

‘Studio 54’ And ‘Free Solo’: It’s Still All About The Parties – Specialty Box Office

Sundance doc Studio 54 played a solo New York engagement over the weekend, taking in $15K with sold out shows. The film is the second release for filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer who also had Scotty And The Secret History of Hollywood in theaters over the summe…

Sundance doc Studio 54 played a solo New York engagement over the weekend, taking in $15K with sold out shows. The film is the second release for filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer who also had Scotty And The Secret History of Hollywood in theaters over the summer. Racking up the big numbers, though, was Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin's Free Solo, topping a million over the weekend with a $590K three-day gross in 41 theaters. Cohen Media Group bowed fellow doc T…

Cuba Gooding Jr. Makes Directorial Debut with ‘Bayou Caviar’; ‘Studio 54’ Set To Boogie – Specialty B.O. Preview

The heavy roster of Specialties heading to theaters in the post-Labor Day period is ebbing a bit this weekend. Cuba Gooding, Jr. makes his debut as writer-director with thriller Bayou Caviar, in which he stars with Famke Janssen and Richard Dreyfuss in…

The heavy roster of Specialties heading to theaters in the post-Labor Day period is ebbing a bit this weekend. Cuba Gooding, Jr. makes his debut as writer-director with thriller Bayou Caviar, in which he stars with Famke Janssen and Richard Dreyfuss in a day and date bow this weekend via Gravitas Ventures. Sundance fest debut documentary Studio 54 is the second recent theatrical feature by Matt Tyrnauer, following this summer's Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood

‘Studio 54’ Film Review: Disco Doc Skims the Surface Like Club Owners Skimming Profits

The nightclub Studio 54 sought to be a disco paradise in the 1970s, a utopia made up of sex, drugs, dancing, and celebrity display. Many gay men of a certain age in Manhattan still claim to have been one of the shirtless waiters in tight shorts at Studio 54, and like so much else about that club, these claims are hard to verify.

Documentarian Matt Tyrnauer (“Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood”) sits down with the two surviving co-owners of the club, Ian Schrager and Jack Dushey (the latter functioned as a silent partner), and tries to get them to reveal the tale behind its rise and fall, but this often proves difficult for him. Steve Rubell, the exuberant public face of Studio 54, died of AIDS-related complications in 1989, and so he isn’t around to tell his part of the story. The feeling persists in “Studio 54” that we are very far from hearing what really happened there.

Tyrnauer centers his movie around interviews with Schrager, who is a very guarded guy. It comes out mid-way through the film that Schrager’s father was an associate of gangster Meyer Lansky who was nicknamed “Max the Jew,” and Schrager is cagy about how much he wants to reveal about himself and his background to Tyrnauer. The heterosexual Schrager was best friends from college on with Rubell, a gay guy who was closeted when he needed to be. At Rubell’s funeral, we are told that Rubell’s mother asked, “Why didn’t Steve ever get married?”

Watch Video: Director Matt Tyrnauer on the Untold Story of ‘Studio 54’

It was Rubell’s mother who did the bookkeeping for Studio 54, which self-destructed around three years after its flashy opening in 1977 when Feds discovered enormous amounts of money and some drugs hidden on the premises. As one federal agent says here, if you’re going to skim money off the top, you should do 10 percent, whereas the owners of Studio 54 were skimming closer to 80 percent. This thievery was so blatant that the word “skim” was actually found on their balance sheets.

“Studio 54” emphasizes the long and painful legal downfall of the club rather than the spirit of fun that it was advertising. We see only glimpses of celebrated hedonistic images like Bianca Jagger on a horse at the club on her birthday, and black-and-white stills mixed with some grainy color footage can only give us a suggestion of what Studio 54 was like.

Also Read: ‘This Ain’t No Disco’ Theater Review: Is Studio 54 Ready for Another 15 Minutes of Fame?

Schrager says they wanted to make the “ultimate nightclub” and “dent the universe,” and they did manage to do that. One of the former workers at Studio 54 says that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards didn’t have to pay to get in but the other Rolling Stones did. This was symptomatic of the hierarchy of the club, which bred resentment for all the people who were denied entry and forced to stare like “one of the damned trying to get into paradise,” as writer Anthony Haden-Guest puts it here.

We get the expected photos of Liza Minnelli and fashion designer Halston, and there’s a tantalizing shot of Minnelli dirty dancing with Mikhail Baryshnikov that is one of the few images in “Studio 54” that really catches the flavor of this milieu. Even old-time stars like Cary Grant and (surprisingly) Ginger Rogers are seen wanting to get a feel, so to speak, for what all the fuss was about.

It seems clear that the focus of “Studio 54” should have been on the unusual and very close relationship between Rubell and Schrager — who eventually went to prison together and remained so close after their release that they purchased a joint vacation home — but there are many unanswered questions here. Did Rubell ever express romantic feelings for Schrager at any point through the years? (After all, this was a very druggy “anything goes” period.) Was their relationship platonic from both sides, or just from Schrager’s side?

Also Read: Starz Acquires Matt Tyrnauer’s ‘Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood’ and 8 Other Docs

Maybe Tyrnauer did ask these questions but was unable to get satisfactory answers from Schrager, who does eventually confirm that both he and Rubell were stoolies in prison, ratting out other nightclub owners for skimming off the top as they did.

The most emotional moment in “Studio 54” comes when Schrager says that his father would not have been pleased that they incriminated others in order to get out of prison early. He and Rubell both went against the code of “honor among thieves,” but we don’t know if Rubell himself was as aware of this as Schrager is.

“Studio 54” is a case of a documentary attempting to tell a story that obviously cannot be fully or satisfyingly told at this juncture. As such, it has value only insofar as it suggests how much that era cannot quite be re-captured.



Related stories from TheWrap:

10 LGBT-Themed Movies We’re Dying to See This Fall, From ‘Colette’ to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (Photos)

‘Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood’ Review: Sex Abounded in Hollywood’s Golden Age

‘Hal’ Film Review: Engaging Documentary Celebrates 70s Maverick Director Hal Ashby

We Need a Movie About Jobriath, the Openly Gay ’70s Rocker Who Inspired Morrissey and Def Leppard (Podcast)

The nightclub Studio 54 sought to be a disco paradise in the 1970s, a utopia made up of sex, drugs, dancing, and celebrity display. Many gay men of a certain age in Manhattan still claim to have been one of the shirtless waiters in tight shorts at Studio 54, and like so much else about that club, these claims are hard to verify.

Documentarian Matt Tyrnauer (“Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood”) sits down with the two surviving co-owners of the club, Ian Schrager and Jack Dushey (the latter functioned as a silent partner), and tries to get them to reveal the tale behind its rise and fall, but this often proves difficult for him. Steve Rubell, the exuberant public face of Studio 54, died of AIDS-related complications in 1989, and so he isn’t around to tell his part of the story. The feeling persists in “Studio 54” that we are very far from hearing what really happened there.

Tyrnauer centers his movie around interviews with Schrager, who is a very guarded guy. It comes out mid-way through the film that Schrager’s father was an associate of gangster Meyer Lansky who was nicknamed “Max the Jew,” and Schrager is cagy about how much he wants to reveal about himself and his background to Tyrnauer. The heterosexual Schrager was best friends from college on with Rubell, a gay guy who was closeted when he needed to be. At Rubell’s funeral, we are told that Rubell’s mother asked, “Why didn’t Steve ever get married?”

It was Rubell’s mother who did the bookkeeping for Studio 54, which self-destructed around three years after its flashy opening in 1977 when Feds discovered enormous amounts of money and some drugs hidden on the premises. As one federal agent says here, if you’re going to skim money off the top, you should do 10 percent, whereas the owners of Studio 54 were skimming closer to 80 percent. This thievery was so blatant that the word “skim” was actually found on their balance sheets.

“Studio 54” emphasizes the long and painful legal downfall of the club rather than the spirit of fun that it was advertising. We see only glimpses of celebrated hedonistic images like Bianca Jagger on a horse at the club on her birthday, and black-and-white stills mixed with some grainy color footage can only give us a suggestion of what Studio 54 was like.

Schrager says they wanted to make the “ultimate nightclub” and “dent the universe,” and they did manage to do that. One of the former workers at Studio 54 says that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards didn’t have to pay to get in but the other Rolling Stones did. This was symptomatic of the hierarchy of the club, which bred resentment for all the people who were denied entry and forced to stare like “one of the damned trying to get into paradise,” as writer Anthony Haden-Guest puts it here.

We get the expected photos of Liza Minnelli and fashion designer Halston, and there’s a tantalizing shot of Minnelli dirty dancing with Mikhail Baryshnikov that is one of the few images in “Studio 54” that really catches the flavor of this milieu. Even old-time stars like Cary Grant and (surprisingly) Ginger Rogers are seen wanting to get a feel, so to speak, for what all the fuss was about.

It seems clear that the focus of “Studio 54” should have been on the unusual and very close relationship between Rubell and Schrager — who eventually went to prison together and remained so close after their release that they purchased a joint vacation home — but there are many unanswered questions here. Did Rubell ever express romantic feelings for Schrager at any point through the years? (After all, this was a very druggy “anything goes” period.) Was their relationship platonic from both sides, or just from Schrager’s side?

Maybe Tyrnauer did ask these questions but was unable to get satisfactory answers from Schrager, who does eventually confirm that both he and Rubell were stoolies in prison, ratting out other nightclub owners for skimming off the top as they did.

The most emotional moment in “Studio 54” comes when Schrager says that his father would not have been pleased that they incriminated others in order to get out of prison early. He and Rubell both went against the code of “honor among thieves,” but we don’t know if Rubell himself was as aware of this as Schrager is.

“Studio 54” is a case of a documentary attempting to tell a story that obviously cannot be fully or satisfyingly told at this juncture. As such, it has value only insofar as it suggests how much that era cannot quite be re-captured.

Related stories from TheWrap:

10 LGBT-Themed Movies We're Dying to See This Fall, From 'Colette' to 'Bohemian Rhapsody' (Photos)

'Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood' Review: Sex Abounded in Hollywood's Golden Age

'Hal' Film Review: Engaging Documentary Celebrates 70s Maverick Director Hal Ashby

We Need a Movie About Jobriath, the Openly Gay '70s Rocker Who Inspired Morrissey and Def Leppard (Podcast)

‘Studio 54’ Review: A Riveting and Intimate Look Back at the Greatest Nightclub in New York History

Finally, the movie that Studio 54 deserves.

You probably know the legend of Studio 54. Maybe you’re old enough to have been there for the midtown disco’s flash-in-the-pan heyday, and remember reading about all of the celebrities who passed through its blacked out doors (you might even have been one of the people in the curbside throngs, struggling to get the bouncer’s attention as Liza Minnelli swanned right through the crowd). Or maybe you’re barely old enough to remember the disastrous movie from the summer of 1998, in which Mike Myers played club co-founder Steve Rubell, and a shirtless Ryan Phillippe starred as a fictional bridge-and-tunnel bartender named Shane O’Shea. Either way, Studio 54 feels like a story that’s already been told — like a broad synonym for whatever kind of paradise New York City used to be.

And yet, Matt Tyrnauer’s riveting documentary manages to make it all seem new again — alive, as though it were happening for the first time at warp-speed before your eyes. A simple chronology that’s inflected with evocative archival footage and seasoned with modern-day interviews with some of the major players (many of whom have never really talked about the club on the record), “Studio 54” isn’t an especially clever or innovative film, but it taps into its namesake’s dormant spirit, and reclaims a famous piece of Manhattan folklore for the people who made it possible.

Like Studio 54 itself, Tyrnauer’s doc thrives on access. For the first time since he and his business partner (Rubell) were forced to sell the discoteque in 1980, former co-owner Ian Schrager has agreed to discuss the defining period of his life. Now gray, 72, and still a bit withdrawn, Schrager nevertheless reveals himself to be a more engaging narrator than you might expect from someone who always billed himself as the introvert of the operation. Of course, next to an outsized personality like Steve Rubell, even Russell Brand might seem small.

Schrager, whose clear memory is complicated by decades of perspective, talks through how he and Rubell both emerged from upwardly mobile Brooklyn families and became close friends during their time at Syracuse University. Schrager was handsome but shy, and born with a low-key genius for getting other people to give him their money; Rubbell was a closeted extrovert, who dreamed of creating a place where he could be himself. One was the brains, and the other was the heart and the magic and the face that popped up in all of the tabloids. These two men came together during the brief window between the invention of the pill and the advent of AIDS (to paraphrase one of the many key talking heads who Tyrnauer spoke to on camera), and they made the most of it.

As with any rise and fall story, the first part of “Studio 54” is a lot more fun. There’s a hazy, impressionistic quality to the 16mm footage that Tyrnauer uses to take us back in time, and it graces his film with the feel of a lucid dream. And it’s kind of amazing how much of it Tyrnauer has, even of the comparatively mundane business of building the club in a six-week stretch of “unbridled energy.” It’s more than enough to give us a sense of the times (a post-Watergate recession in which everyone was eager to forget about politics and obsess over celebrity), and provide a backdrop for all of the iconic music you’d expect to hear in a film like this. And, of course, Tyrnauer devotes plenty of time to all the spurned hopefuls who couldn’t get in: “Like the damned looking into paradise,” someone describes them.

“Studio 54”

Best of all are the snippets of the scene inside the club when Studio 54 was at the height of its heat, when Andy Warhol could always be counted on to roll through with some of the people from his factory, and a young Michael Jackson might be seen leaning against a wall in the back office and talking about how much he loved the place. Watching this stuff, you get the sense that everyone who worked there was like a cast member in a non-judgemental erotic revue. Even at the time, it must have felt too good to last. Then again, all of the best parties have a way of feeling like they might go on forever.

It’s understandable that Tyrnauer doesn’t want to dwell on what happened when things went downhill, but the speed at which he blitzes through the decline of Studio 54 — and the sudden arrest of its co-owners — makes it hard to grasp how it happened, or at least how it felt to those who had come to rely on the club as a beacon or a safe haven. The end feels almost as surreal for viewers, as it we’re told it did for Rubell and Schrager. At the same time, this part almost overplays its hand, as the appearance of Roy Cohn as Rubbell and Schrager’s lawyer instantly tells us everything we need to know about the next chapter of their lives.

But there’s still plenty of time left in the film by the time that happens. “Studio 54” may be a traditional rise and fall story, but this film has an unusual focus on the period of reflection that tends to follow. “We rose and fell together,” Schrager says, absent any of the animosity that you’ve come to expect from narratives like this one. Remembering the blow-out party the two friends threw at the club on the night before they went to jail, Schrager can only laugh: “When I look back at it now, it is so preposterous. What were we thinking?”

“Studio 54” is resonant because it offers such a reasonable and poignant answer to that question. Tyrnauer, in a roundabout way that never quite tips over into dull reverence, suggests that Rubbell and Schrager weren’t wrong to tilt at windmills and pursue a dream that could never survive the morning. Schrager says that “it was fun holding onto a lightning bolt,” and this film loves him for that. He and his late partner were only at the reins of Studio 54 for 33 months, but we’re still talking about what they did more than 33 years later. So, one imagines, maybe they were thinking that it would all be worth it in the end. And maybe they were right.

Grade: B+

Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber will release “Studio 54” in theaters on October 5.

‘Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood’ Exposes Star Myths, from Tracy & Hepburn to Cary Grant

Matt Tyrnauer captured the notorious gay matchmaker’s unique view of the stars.

At the opening-night party of Matt Tyrnauer’s hit documentaryScotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” at Tim Burton’s Chateau Marmont apartment, Scotty Bowers, the tousle-haired author of 2012 tell-all “Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars,” celebrated his 95th birthday.

“So how gay was Spencer Tracy?” I asked him.

“He got drunk and thanked the man beside him in the morning for taking care of him,” he said with a gap-toothed grin, taunting me with his next provocation: “He didn’t just suck cock, he crunched it!”

We laughed. “And how gay was Katharine Hepburn?”

“She loved one woman for 40 years who left her to marry a rich man,” he said. He claims to have arranged 150 get-togethers with women over five decades for Hepburn. That was his job — putting gay people together via a Hollywood gas station near George Cukor’s house for rendezvous with movie stars, from Charles Laughton to Walter Pidgeon.

In the film, the late Liz Smith goes on the record for the first time to confirm that Hepburn had lesbian relationships. With Tracy, “Scotty is a primary source,” said Tyrnauer. “As far as I know, he and Tracy were alone when these things happened.”

Actor Spencer Tracy is shown posing with longtime companion and co-star Katharine Hepburn during their heyday, date and film not knownTRACY HEPBURN, NEW YORK, USA

Actor Spencer Tracy is shown posing with longtime companion and co-star Katharine Hepburn

AP/REX/Shutterstock

Of course, Bowers wrote his Hollywood tell-all after the marquee names were all dead. He was not the first to write about Tracy and Hepburn’s bisexuality: William Mann’s “Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn” describes most of Hepburn’s supposed lovers that way. While many have gotten used to the idea that Cary Grant had sex with his roommate Randolph Scott, among others, there’s more resistance to the notion that Hepburn loved her companion Phyllis Wilbourn for decades and then encouraged her many biographers to perpetuate the myth of her romance with Tracy, from Garson Kanin and A. Scott Berg to Barbara Leaming. Most of us aren’t yet ready to give up on that Hollywood love story.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock (1544844a) Cary Grant , Randolph Scott, Cary Grant Film and Television

Randolph Scott, Cary Grant

Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

For his part, former Vanity Fair editor and contributor Tyrnauer has believed Bowers ever since Gore Vidal introduced them (Tyrnauer is the literary executor of Vidal’s estate). As Tyrnauer was shooting his documentary, he researched Bower’s claims. He found that for the most part, keeping in mind the faulty memory of a nonagenarian, many little specific details checked out.

“The more I was with Scotty, the more I believed,” he said. “Gore really was a historian, he didn’t lie about the record. That he endorsed Scotty was something I could take to the bank. As I interviewed Scotty, I started to cross-check and fact-check everything I could, almost in real time. Over and over all this evidence began to appear through reliable articles and other accounts that I found, by Googling. It was overwhelming: the crosschecking of facts points to his absolute believability.”

Schooled in the auteur theory at Crossroads and Wesleyan, Tyrnauer first explored documentaries with the intimate portrait, “Valentino: The Last Emperor.” When it was a success, he decided it was the perfect time to merge his two loves, movies and journalism, as a documentary filmmaker.

Scotty Bowers, second from right.

© Courtesy of Altimeter Films

When Vidal introduced Bowers and Tyrnauer, it was ahead of the publication of his book in 2012. Tyrnauer shot for two years, edited for one, and took the film around the festival circuit after its 2017 Toronto debut. “I find once people have seen the film, they aren’t questioning Scotty’s veracity that much,” he said. “In the film, you go to visit the guys who were among the male prostitutes at the gas station, you have physical evidence of them having done these tricks. One has an autographed Charles Laughton script; he used to help Laughton run lines during ‘Witness for the Prosecution.'”

In the movie, you see the former gay prostitute leaf through a little black book with names of gentlemen clients, phone numbers, and addresses, including designer Bill Blass. “It’s part of my mission and duty as a filmmaker and journalist to have this mostly cinema verite film unfold in a way that’s substantiating,” said Tyrnauer.

After growing up in Los Angeles with a father who wrote for “Columbo,” Tyrnauer became a writer at Spy and editor at Vanity Fair at age 23, putting his film career on hold for 25 years of observational journalism. “I was seriously influenced by the Maysles brothers’ ‘Grey Gardens,'” he said. “I let characters tell their own stories and use different perspectives to weave together the narrative. There’s a real relationship between a deep-dive 10,000-word magazine story and cinema verite documentaries. The impact you can have with a small film is exponentially greater than even the flashiest big magazine story.”

And he learned from Spy founder, documentary maker, and recently departed Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter. “He was a great gut player,” said Tyrnauer, “a good risk taker. He knew when to leave Spy. He was fearless.”

With designer Valentino, Tyrnauer saw a way to expand a long VF feature and coffee table book into a visual film about a gay union. “Their relationship was something special,” he said. “I wanted to make a movie about marriage and an unconventional family and took the leap.”

Tyrnauer learned on the fly. During the making of the private equity-financed film, he sought advice from old friend, hotelier Ian Schrager, who said: “If you do a good job with this film, you will be able to do anything you want. Make sure it comes out well at all costs; throw yourself into it.”

Toronto invited the film in 2008, where it scored solid reviews but no viable distribution offers. Tyrnauer released the movie himself to 20 cities via David Schultz’s Vitagraph Films. “It made a ton of money,” said Tyrnauer. “My assistant was feeding DCPs from my home. Rentrak box office was a tad over $2 million. It cost $1 million-ish. We stumbled into the split rights model emerging at the time, and sold to Showtime, streaming to Netflix. It keeps selling, we’re renewing territories.”

Schrager was right. After his two-year trial by fire and the Oscar shortlist, Tyrnauer was able to get financing for two more films. Urban planner biodoc “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City” (2016) was funded by foundations like Rockefeller. And “Scotty” was also funded by private equity.

Behind the scenes of shooting "Studio 54"

Behind the scenes of shooting “Studio 54

courtesy of filmmakers

“Studio 54”

Tyrnauer’s next feature, A&E’s “Studio 54,” debuted at Sundance 2018, opened Outfest, and hits theaters in October. It’s hard to believe the legendary mid-town disco only lasted for 33 months (April 1977 to January 1980), when its owners, straight Ian Schrager and gay Steve Rubell, went to jail. “It seems like it defined an era,” said Tyrnauer, who convinced his old friend and magazine subject Schrager to talk about the club for the first time as its 40th anniversary was looming.

While I’m an old enough New Yorker to have frequented Studio 54 in its Warhol/Jagger/Halston/Gere heyday, Tyrnauer, born in 1969, had “zero experience,” he said. “I was in third grade when all this was going down. It’s one of those stories everyone thinks they know but they don’t really know. The sex-drugs-disco story we’ve all heard before, with Diana Ross and Liza Minnelli, the stars of the period, mountains of cocaine and poppers, and sex in the balcony. All that’s valid, it’s going to get people in the door.”

Studio 54

Rubell and Schrager at “Studio 54”

Courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival

But research yielded yet another unconventional love story. “Schrager characterizes his relationship with Rubell as a marriage,” said Tyrnauer, who sees these ambitious outer-borough renegades as up-ending the old WASP establishment of New York. “It was on its last legs,” he said. “John Travolta’s Tony Manero was different from Ian and Steven, who were street-smart Jewish kids from lower middle-class families who had eyes on a different prize. Tony Manero wanted to go to Manhattan, while they wanted to take it over and run it for themselves. They opened the door for ambitious kids of that generation, who were the first of their families to go to college.”

And, Studio 54 represents the last gasp of the ‘60s volcanic sexual revolution, before the AIDS crisis, which started in 1980. Mainly Tyrnauer had to convince Schrager — who has rebuilt himself into a corporate hotel powerhouse — to open up. “If there’s no jail in the movie, there’s no movie,” Tyrnauer told him. Also, Schrager wasn’t the public face of Studio 54 as much as the late Rubell, who succumbed to AIDS in 1989. “Studio 54 has other deeply felt emotional resonances for him.”

Schrager is a fascinating character in the movie, who helps to unravel the complexity of the legal trouble Studio 54 got into — for one thing, these street-wise entrepreneurs were operating without a liquor license, and for another, everything around them was corrupt and they didn’t know which rules they could break. Being represented by power broker Roy Cohn didn’t help. It turns out, skimming millions in cash profits was not legal, and one of their partners turned state’s evidence, hastening their downfall. But man, it was fun while it lasted.

Next Up:

After years of development limbo after HBO won an initial bidding war, Vanity Fair’s “Once Upon a Time in Beverly Hills,” the story of Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show producer Freddy Cordova’s luxury-loving widow Janet, scripted by Jon Hoffman (“Looking,” “Grace and Frankie”), is finally getting made with Ted Hope at Amazon Studios.

Apple also is mounting non-fiction architecture series “Home,” ten episodes “focused on the creators and inhabitants of extraordinary cutting-edge domestic architecture around the world,” said Tyrnauer, who will stay behind the camera as an executive producer and director.

 

Off Broadway Review: ‘This Ain’t No Disco’

Here are lyrics from a song in the new musical “This Ain’t No Disco” that creatives Stephen Trask (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) and Peter Yanowitz hope will make us yearn for the golden age of disco, circa 1979-80, when everyone was flocking to after-h…

Here are lyrics from a song in the new musical “This Ain’t No Disco” that creatives Stephen Trask (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) and Peter Yanowitz hope will make us yearn for the golden age of disco, circa 1979-80, when everyone was flocking to after-hours clubs like Studio 54. Give a listen: “Rollerboy angels are […]

Molly Thompson Reigns Over A&E Documentaries and an Expanding Series Universe

As demand for documentaries grows, A&E is bringing quality filmmakers and production values to an expanding series universe.

Tonight, A&E IndieFilms’ latest documentary, Matt Tyrnauer’s “Studio 54,” opens Outfest in Los Angeles before hitting theaters via Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber in October. Unusually, A&E IndieFilms senior VP Molly Thompson believes in theatrical play for her documentaries as a way to build awareness before they hit the air.

With streaming, she said, “it’s harder for the films to stand out. Theatrical is good for films. You have a whole year to go out to festivals and theaters before they come to A&E. We’re the opposite of HBO and Netflix.”

Molly Thompson (Producer), Andrew RossiNew York Special Screening of "Author: The JT Leroy Story", New York, USA - 17 Aug 2016

Molly Thompson, Andrew Rossi

Marion Curtis/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock

All these funding and distribution options make it “a great time for documentary filmmakers,” she said. “Even seven years ago people were starving. It was a difficult time. We were a big whale for filmmakers. Now they have so many options, and people are able to pay their bills.”

Thompson’s first job was producing for public TV in New York, which led to directing hour-long biographies at the tender age of 24. “I loved it,” she said. Looking back, Thompson realizes she could have gone on to direct bigger things, but instead in 2005 the mother of a young son launched documentary division A&E IndieFilms. She and A&E programming president Rob Sharenow led a shift from reality television back to quality documentary filmmaking. Now, as sites like Netflix change the rules, Thompson is taking her deep relationships and documentary producing chops to series television.

“We were a little boutique inside a big department store,” she said. “We are now bringing our storytelling production values and relationships onto the big network with long-form documentary series. It’s exciting to pour resources into the documentaries. It’s a new challenge. There’s room for that kind of volume. People are looking for a way to engage more deeply with these kinds of stories.”

Werner Herzog teaches a MasterClass

Werner Herzog teaches a MasterClass

courtesy of MasterClass

“History 100”

Among them are “History 100,” a History Channel documentary series comprised of 100 films focused on compelling historical events of the last 100 years. Building on such History documentaries as Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” they’re directed by auteur filmmakers, from Charles Ferguson’s six-part “Watergate” (fall 2018) to Herzog’s sit-down interview with glastnost history-changer Mikhail Gorbachev, who is now reviled in Russia. “The idea is to be able to expand from the feature-length format,” Thompson said. “I just met with a filmmaker who said, ‘I can’t do this in 90 minutes, there’s too much material.’ It’s exciting for filmmakers to work with historical subjects on a broader canvas. This series intends to dive deep into the subject and different filmmaking styles.”

When A&E commissioned “Watergate,” everyone expected Hillary Clinton was going to be president. “We had no idea how timely it would be,” said Thompson. “That’s the way things played out. Watching a cut of the film feels like watching the nightly news.”

While Thompson is definitely taking “a premium approach,” she said, “the balance we need to strike is to make it as engaging as possible.”  Gorbachev was an attractive subject for Herzog because he “grew up in a divided Germany,” she said. “He looked up to Gorbachev, who brought the world back together.”

director Matt Tyrnauer

director Matt Tyrnauer

Daniel Bergeron

Feature Films

Matt Tyrnauer’s “Studio 54,”  which frames a history of the “greatest club of all time” with the story of Brooklyn pals Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, debuted at Sundance and played Tribeca before opening Outfest. Thompson’s long relationship paid off with veteran producer John Battsek (“Listen to Me, Marlon”). When she heard about the movie, she let him know she expected him to bring it to her first — which he did. “Matt is such a terrific filmmaker,” she said. “He discovered archival original 16 mm footage shot by NYU students inside Studio 54. He got stories from people who were there; he didn’t just go the celebrity route. He has classic values, which was perfect for a subject like ‘Studio 54.'”

Other IndieFilm features include Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s “Jesus Camp,” Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro’s “Murderball,” Matthew Heineman’s “Cartel Land,” and Roger Ross Williams’  “Life, Animated,” all of which received Oscar nominations. Emmy wins include Amir Bar-Lev’s “The Tillman Story,” while Alex Gibney earned PGA and DGA nominations for “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” and Bart Layton won the BAFTA for “The Imposter.” Thompson also supported Heineman’s portrait of Syrian journalists, “City of Ghosts,” as well as Jeff Feuerzig’s “Author: The JT Leroy Story.”

This year, A&E and The Sundance Institute partnered on a new grant initiative dubbed the Brave Storytellers Award, “to support and brainstorm new ideas and films, a fellowship for brave storytelling and new talent,” said Thompson, “to encourage people to take risks. A&E embraced it as a way to return to documentary storytelling with integrity and edge.”

With relatively low stakes, documentaries have always supported more women filmmakers than the rest of the film business. But Thompson feels strongly that with more pressure on Hollywood to hire women and minorities, the film and television industries must provide more opportunities for a diverse group of filmmakers early in their careers.

“I’m telling my colleagues they have to be prepared to take risks,”she said. “They are not always going to get Alex Gibney and Morgan Neville,” she said, praising Gibney’s Jigsaw Productions for bringing up women directors such as Alexis Blum and Blair Foster. “We have to fix it on the early end of people’s careers.”

‘Studio 54’ Acquired by Kino Lorber, Zeitgeist Films

Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber have acquired the U.S. rights to Matt Tyrnauer’s “Studio 54,” it was announced Monday.

The film premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and also recently played at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. The deal was finalized during the Cannes Film Festival with A&E IndieFilms.

Tyrnauer produced “Studio 54” with Altimeter Films partner Corey Reeser and Passion Pictures’ John Battsek. Executive producers are A&E’s Molly Thompson, Robert Sharenow and Elaine Frontain Bryant alongside Andrew Ruhemann at Passion Pictures.

Also Read: Director Matt Tyrnauer on the Untold Story of ‘Studio 54’ (Video)

The film tells the story of Studio 54, a nightclub that was only open for 33 months in the late 1970s in New York City. Using footage and stills, Tyrnauer takes audiences through the historic rise and fall of the club.

Tyrnauer previously directed “Valentino: The Last Emperor,” “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City,” and “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood.”

“I’m extremely pleased to be working with Zeitgeist and A&E IndieFilms on the release of ‘Studio 54.’ I’ve long admired their taste, and their discerning eye is perennially among the best in independent cinema today,” said Tyrnauer. “‘Studio 54’ and Zeitgeist are a perfect pair for this theatrical odyssey into the very different world, not that long ago, when a disco swept the world and changed the culture. I’m so pleased they are providing a platform for me to tell Ian and Steve’s remarkable story.”

Also Read: Aubrey Plaza’s ‘An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn’ Acquired by UPHE Content Group

The deal was negotiated by Richard Lorber, CEO of Kino Lorber, with Cinetic Media on behalf of A&E IndieFilms and Altimeter Films.

“Studio 54” will be released in theaters in the fall of 2018 followed by an awards campaign and VOD release.

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Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber have acquired the U.S. rights to Matt Tyrnauer’s “Studio 54,” it was announced Monday.

The film premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and also recently played at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. The deal was finalized during the Cannes Film Festival with A&E IndieFilms.

Tyrnauer produced “Studio 54” with Altimeter Films partner Corey Reeser and Passion Pictures’ John Battsek. Executive producers are A&E’s Molly Thompson, Robert Sharenow and Elaine Frontain Bryant alongside Andrew Ruhemann at Passion Pictures.

The film tells the story of Studio 54, a nightclub that was only open for 33 months in the late 1970s in New York City. Using footage and stills, Tyrnauer takes audiences through the historic rise and fall of the club.

Tyrnauer previously directed “Valentino: The Last Emperor,” “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City,” and “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood.”

“I’m extremely pleased to be working with Zeitgeist and A&E IndieFilms on the release of ‘Studio 54.’ I’ve long admired their taste, and their discerning eye is perennially among the best in independent cinema today,” said Tyrnauer. “‘Studio 54’ and Zeitgeist are a perfect pair for this theatrical odyssey into the very different world, not that long ago, when a disco swept the world and changed the culture. I’m so pleased they are providing a platform for me to tell Ian and Steve’s remarkable story.”

The deal was negotiated by Richard Lorber, CEO of Kino Lorber, with Cinetic Media on behalf of A&E IndieFilms and Altimeter Films.

“Studio 54” will be released in theaters in the fall of 2018 followed by an awards campaign and VOD release.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Sundance Award-Winning Doc 'Shirkers' Lands at Netflix

Jesse Peretz Sundance Hit 'Juliet, Naked' Goes to Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions

The Orchard Grabs Domestic Rights to Sundance Drama 'We The Animals'

‘Studio 54’ Sells to Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber (EXCLUSIVE)

Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber have picked up U.S. rights for Matt Tyrnauer’s “Studio 54,” a documentary about the club that was at the epicenter of New York city nightlife in the 1970s. The deal between Kino Lorber and A&E IndieFilms,…

Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber have picked up U.S. rights for Matt Tyrnauer’s “Studio 54,” a documentary about the club that was at the epicenter of New York city nightlife in the 1970s. The deal between Kino Lorber and A&E IndieFilms, the company that produced the film, was finalized during Cannes Film Festival. “Studio 54” […]

Director Matt Tyrnauer on the Untold Story of ‘Studio 54’ (Video)

“Studio 54” director Matt Tyrnauer dropped by TheWrap’s Sundance studio to discuss the untold story of the legendary New York City nightclub. “You would think Studio 54 is an over-told story but really it’s under-told, because the people that really know the story didn’t talk for 40 years,” Tyrnauer told TheWrap’s Matt Donnelly.

“It’s really a rise and fall and rise again story,” Tyrnauer added. “Ian Schrager, who is the surviving founder of Studio, really didn’t talk for a lot of years because Studio 54 flamed out. It was something almost too extraordinary to last in that kind of James Dean way. It’s sort of the James Dean of nightclubs.”

Also Read: ‘Generation Wealth’ Director on Why Kardashians, Trump Dominate Our Culture (Video)

“Studio 54” remains one of the most important and iconic nightclubs. Now, 39 years after its opening, a feature documentary tells the real story behind the greatest club of all time.

“What we found in the Ian Schrager-Steve Rubell story was kind of a platonic love story of two partners, outer borough guys from Brooklyn, one gay, one straight, who just complete each other basically,” added Tyrnauer about Schrager and Rubell.

Tyrnauer is also known for his fashion documentary on Valentino (“The Last Emperor”).

Watch the interview above.

Related stories from TheWrap:

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“Studio 54” director Matt Tyrnauer dropped by TheWrap’s Sundance studio to discuss the untold story of the legendary New York City nightclub. “You would think Studio 54 is an over-told story but really it’s under-told, because the people that really know the story didn’t talk for 40 years,” Tyrnauer told TheWrap’s Matt Donnelly.

“It’s really a rise and fall and rise again story,” Tyrnauer added. “Ian Schrager, who is the surviving founder of Studio, really didn’t talk for a lot of years because Studio 54 flamed out. It was something almost too extraordinary to last in that kind of James Dean way. It’s sort of the James Dean of nightclubs.”

“Studio 54” remains one of the most important and iconic nightclubs. Now, 39 years after its opening, a feature documentary tells the real story behind the greatest club of all time.

“What we found in the Ian Schrager-Steve Rubell story was kind of a platonic love story of two partners, outer borough guys from Brooklyn, one gay, one straight, who just complete each other basically,” added Tyrnauer about Schrager and Rubell.

Tyrnauer is also known for his fashion documentary on Valentino (“The Last Emperor”).

Watch the interview above.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Jesse Peretz Sundance Hit 'Juliet, Naked' Goes to Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions

The Orchard Grabs Domestic Rights to Sundance Drama 'We The Animals'

Watch the Terrifying Trailer for Sundance Horror Film 'Hereditary' (Video)

Sundance Doc Revisits ‘Studio 54’ With The Help Of Founder Ian Schrager – Sundance Studio

“I think it’s a piece of social history that is often mistaken for a story about nightclubs and disco” says director Matt Tyrnauer of the subject of his new documentary, Studio 54, which played Sundance this week. “there’s actually a whole other story—maybe many other stories. Starting to excavate through all of the material, in researching the film, there was a sense that this is really the story about the end of the 20th Century.”
His doc captures the famed Studio 54…

“I think it’s a piece of social history that is often mistaken for a story about nightclubs and disco” says director Matt Tyrnauer of the subject of his new documentary, Studio 54, which played Sundance this week. “there’s actually a whole other story—maybe many other stories. Starting to excavate through all of the material, in researching the film, there was a sense that this is really the story about the end of the 20th Century.” His doc captures the famed Studio 54…

Sundance Film Review: ‘Studio 54’

There’s a memorable moment in “Studio 54,” Matt Tyrnauer’s thrilling and definitive documentary about the fabled disco haven, in which the camera glides through the gilded lobby of the old theater the club was built in, approaching the doors, the beat throb-throb-throbbing in the muted distance. The camera then pushes through the doors and onto […]

There’s a memorable moment in “Studio 54,” Matt Tyrnauer’s thrilling and definitive documentary about the fabled disco haven, in which the camera glides through the gilded lobby of the old theater the club was built in, approaching the doors, the beat throb-throb-throbbing in the muted distance. The camera then pushes through the doors and onto […]

Sundance: ‘Studio 54’ Director Matt Tyrnauer on the Cultural Power of the Infamous Club

Decades after it closed its doors, Studio 54 is still synonymous with sex, drugs, and disco. The nightclub burned the candle at both ends, its heyday lasted a mere 33 months and was cut short by the imprisonment of founders Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell in a multi-million tax scam. Yet it remains in the […]

Decades after it closed its doors, Studio 54 is still synonymous with sex, drugs, and disco. The nightclub burned the candle at both ends, its heyday lasted a mere 33 months and was cut short by the imprisonment of founders Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell in a multi-million tax scam. Yet it remains in the […]

John Leguizamo’s ‘Latin History for Morons’ to Make Broadway Move

“Latin History for Morons,” the John Leguizamo solo show that played Off Broadway earlier this year, will move uptown for a Broadway run that begins in October at Studio 54. Nelle Nugent and Kenneth Teaton — producers of shows including “The Trip to Bountiful” and the upcoming revival of “M. Butterfly” starring Clive Owen —… Read more »

“Latin History for Morons,” the John Leguizamo solo show that played Off Broadway earlier this year, will move uptown for a Broadway run that begins in October at Studio 54. Nelle Nugent and Kenneth Teaton — producers of shows including “The Trip to Bountiful” and the upcoming revival of “M. Butterfly” starring Clive Owen —... Read more »