Melbourne Documentary Film Festival: Matt Conboy on the story behind Goodnight Brooklyn: Death by Audio

Music doco Goodnight Brooklyn: Death by Audio is headlining this year’s Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. We spoke to director Matt Conboy about the film’s origins and the process of bringing the final hours of one of New York’s most beloved DIY venues.

Why ‘Death By Audio’? What initial connection, if any, did you have to their story?

The film is somewhat auto-biographical. I am one of the owners of Death By Audio Effects, and have worked building pedals for many years. I started the music venue Death By Audio with Jason Amos in 2007 and ran it with Edan Wilber until it closed in 2014. I’ve always wanted to make films and have made several short narrative and documentary films over the past 8 years. When we found out that we would have to move out my producer Amanda Schultz immediately convinced me that we needed to start filming.

It feels like studio-focused music documentaries are becoming more and more common these days with The Smart Studios Story and Sonic Highways. What do you make of this trend?

I think it shows how many people are interested in these stories, behind the scenes in music culture etc. I like parts of Sonic Highways and am a fan of Dave Grohl, but I felt like that series was a bit of a missed opportunity. I know he was just out to make a record and document music culture along the way, but I think there are a lot of untold stories hiding in the cracks of those places. That’s just my opinion though, I’m just psyched to be making things.

How long did the whole project take to complete?

That’s a tough question to answer. Technically, as of now it’s taken 2
years. But I’ve been filming little things here and there and thinking
about the story of Death By Audio off-and-on since 2005/2006. It’s the kind of thing where I was able to forgo doing research because I just lived it.

When it came time to start filming, I had a good idea of what we should focus on. And of course, like any documentary, so much of it came down to chance. I never would have imagined Vice would flood us or be so hostile. That sucked for me personally, but was great for the film.

Structurally, did you know what the documentary was going to be going in? Or was it all very organic?

I had a pretty good idea about what I wanted the film to be. But you never know what it’s actually going to be like until you get into the edit. Fortunately we have an amazing editor (Andrew Ratzlaff). He really went through the footage more than even myself. And when it came time to put the pieces together we could really collaborate and take the structure I laid out on a chalkboard and start actually turning that into an edit. That’s an oversimplification, and the structure was really refined into an actual film with Andrew, myself and our producer Amanda going over everything at length.

Were there any personalities or developments that surprised you over the course of filming?

As I hinted at earlier, the movie I had in my head didn’t really have a
villain. We were thinking of making some punk rock combination of The Last Waltz and Woodstock meets Decline of Western Civilization. I do remember thinking that if Vice or their minions started harassing us it would be great for the film, but I think it was more of a fear than a hope. We had a lot of bad surprises on that front, and the stress and emotions aren’t even fully documented in the film. It was a real nightmare at times, so that was a surprise for sure.

What’s next? Any new projects on the horizon?

We’re working on a few ideas. I’ve written a pilot for a dark comedy series about being in bands in NYC. We’re working on some ideas for documentary series things that explore artists in the city. I have one or two feature film scripts I would like to make. I just want to keep making movies. It’s hard work, but well worth the effort!

Goodnight Brooklyn: Death by Audio is screening at this year’s Melbourne Documentary Film Festival.