The gestation of THE PERFECT AGE OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL began seven years ago when writer/director/producer Scott Rosenbaum found himself straddling the demands of a high intensity career on Wall Street with the challenges of evolving into an emerging ﬁlmmaker. “Giving up on my dreams was not an option,” says Rosenbaum.
With a passion for the arts that began during his formative years playing drums around New York, the triple hyphenate ﬁlmmaker says those interests took a back seat when he entered college. While attending George Washington University where he majored in Journalism, serving as a White House Intern in the Communications and Media Relations Department. Rosenbaum shifted his focus to a career on Wall Street immediately following graduation. His deep-seated ambitions of ﬁlmmaking were shelved.
After the catastrophic events of 9/11, Rosenbaum, like so many Americans, made a decision to dedicate himself to a pursuit he truly loved – for him it was the art of ﬁlmmaking. “I decided once and for all to do it as a commitment to myself,” says the married father of two. For Rosenbaum, this was a promise on many levels requiring him to divide his time between his career, home life and creative endeavors. Determined to make it all work, Rosenbaum’s screenwriting office became a Manhattan diner located in the Wall Street area where he wrote in the wee hours of the morning. “There were usually food deliveries to the restaurant early in the morning,” Rosenbaum recalls. “The door would be wide open and it would be 15 degrees inside the place. My fingers would freeze and I couldn’t type,” he says laughing. He ﬁnished the screenplay and it became the gateway for his exploration into the world of cinema.
For Rosenbaum, the personal commitment was the ﬁrst step. But it was a subsequent internship with award-winning director Spike Lee during the production of Lee’s World War II drama, “Miracle at St. Anna,” that led to his relationship with a handful of ﬁlmmakers who would later help to facilitate the production of “The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” In particular, the director’s meaningful collaboration with producers Mike Ellis and Joe White that would help bring the production to light.
From the very beginning, Rosenbaum and his fellow ﬁlmmakers wanted “The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll” to pay homage to the blues greats who originated the art form, and to the young artists who brought it to the world’s stage. In casting the ﬁlm, it was important to the ﬁlmmakers to adhere closely to this vision.
In doing so, they had the good fortune of bringing big screen icons Ruby Dee, Peter Fonda and Billy Dee Williams together with blues greats such as Pinetop Perkins and Hubert Sumlin, along with up-and-coming actors such as Kevin Zegers, Jason Ritter and Taryn Manning. This mix of accomplished and emerging talent created electrifying energy both on and off screen. “We had such an embarrassment of riches,” says director Rosenbaum, referring to the impressive group of artists assembled. Producer White calls Peter Fonda’s participation invaluable: “He opened our eyes to the material in a way we hadn’t seen before… He was a seat of wisdom for everyone. The ﬁrst thing he said to me was ‘don’t worry, the ﬁlm Gods are smiling on us. You guys are going to be ﬁne.’” It was that vote of conﬁdence that powered the production forward through the ﬁve-week shoot.
“To have assembled so many blues legends and to hear them play together in our ﬁlm was deﬁnitely one of the high points of shooting this picture,” says director Rosenbaum. The rare treat of ﬁlming a music scene featuring a band of blues greats added an unforgettable, larger than life and realistic element of cool that no one is soon to forget.
As fate would have it, the director’s casting choices were inﬂuenced by the pre- existing off camera friendship between the two actors, Kevin Zegers and Jason Ritter. “Jason’s audition was so unexpected, it blew me away,” recalls Rosenbaum, “After I saw and then met with Kevin and learned that they were friends, I knew I was looking at my two leads.”
The ﬁlm revolves around the central relationship between Ritter’s unassuming character, Eric, and Kevin Zegers’ ﬂamboyant, and in-your-face lead singer, Spyder. The two portray childhood friends turned rock ‘n’ roll bandmates who become estranged and then reunite on a cross-country musical road trip. When the ﬁlm picks up, these friends are on the road together, still struggling with many of the same issues that led to their dismantling in the ﬁrst place.
To prepare for their scenes together, Ritter and Zegers spent several weeks hanging out in Los Angeles prior to principal photography, seeing movies, hitting bars together and getting a crash course in rock star 101 from Billy Morrison (The Cult, Camp Freddy, Billy Idol). “We got to know each other pretty well,” Ritter recalls, “It helped us mesh. After a while, we could be pretty harsh to each other which was ﬁne because we have a love/hate relationship in the ﬁlm.”
The emotional tug-of-war between these friends was evident on the set as well. “Jason’s the nicest human being I’ve ever met,” says his co-star Zegers. “He blushes if you say anything off color…so I would tell him about my old sexual conquests just to see his cheeks get red,” he says laughing. Ritter, who has been with his real-life love for ten years, says it was all in good fun, even acknowledging his sex scene with co-star Taryn Manning: “We talked about it and ﬁgured out our boundaries, what was comfortable for us and made it work. It was all in a day’s work.”
Zegers says the role presented a number of challenges. “The musical performances required a large physical investment,” he shares, “It was something I hadn’t experienced before.” The Los Angeles-based actor frequented a number of rock shows to observe the nuances and energy required to create realistic on-stage dynamism. Portraying a talented but self-destructive artist was an extremely attractive role to Zegers, who says it presented him the opportunity to explore the dark recesses of his artistry and a chance to come out on the other side. “I’ve been through periods when I haven’t felt good about my success either,” he shares, “It feels like you’re competing against yourself. When I completed the ﬁlm, I felt like I could move on, like I was done.”
Portraying Eric, the talented but somewhat disillusioned songwriter in a band trying to make a comeback, Ritter (son of the late John Ritter) says he referenced real-life fallen bands and the few that remain together to help shape the story of he and his best friend’s struggles as fellow bandmates. It’s an age-old story of destruction with a very relatable side. “People are either destroyed by their egos because they think they’re the greatest people in the world and they ﬂy too close to the sun, or because they think they’re a fraud and they self-destruct for that reason,” says Ritter, “With bands, especially when people start believing their own hype, they forget they need each other. Lots of times they try to put out a solo album and they can’t capture the magic that made them great in the ﬁrst place. U2 realized that once you ﬁnd that magic spark, you’d better hold onto it.”
Without question, the most challenging scenes to shoot for Ritter were those ﬁlmed opposite a band of blues greats including 96-year old veteran Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sulmin, Sugar Blue and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, all veteran members of the great Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf Bands. While shooting a scene in a backwoods blues bar where Ritter is invited to jam with a band of blues greats, he recalls summoning all the conﬁdence he could to get on that stage and play guitar: “They insisted on playing everything live, which was terrifying for me because I had to play with them, blend in, and not stand out. It was very challenging, but one of the best days.”
Ritter’s collaboration with fellow actor/singer/songwriter Taryn Manning, who stars as Rose Atropos, was a smooth and easy transition on screen. As the band manager of The Lost Soulz, Manning struggles to keep the group aﬂoat while juggling her intricate relationships with two men in the band. Now on the road traveling in intimate quarters, she searches for clarity amidst the ambiguity of their smokescreen haze. Growing up on the East Coast in the world of rock music, Manning began her music career early and deeply understands the dynamics amongst members of rock bands. “My dad was the lead singer of a band,” says Manning, “and I’m in a band now, so I know how you become very emotionally connected,” she explains, “The problem is when money, drugs and alcohol are involved, things get really skewed and that’s what happens to Rose. She gets caught in the middle of the two men and can’t make it right.”
Affectionately referred to as “princess” during production, the ﬁlmmakers gave Manning big kudos for holding her own in the midst of so much testosterone. “She was the only girl in the main cast and she really knew how to handle all of the tomfoolery that got dished out from the boys,” White recalls, “Taryn did a great job bringing reality to the role. She will be the ﬁrst to tell you that she loves rock ‘n’ roll.”
“Rock ‘n’ roll never goes out of style,” says producer White, who believes there’s a huge market for this movie. What started out as a modest 50-person crew snowballed into 200-plus members during the 33 days of shooting. “It’s very humbling when people donate their time and services and money to be a part of something that’s so personal,” says Rosenbaum, who calls the ﬁlm “a labor of love.”
Production began on location in New Jersey and Pennsylvania with Rosenbaum and White traveling cross-country together in an RV, shooting the ﬁlm’s second unit scenes in the dry desert. Many of their ﬁlm’s shooting locations were chosen in line with the ﬁlmmakers’ desire to pay homage to rock ‘n’ roll history with the story, music, and any other relevant aspects of the production.
“We felt like we were re-marking historic steps,” says White, referring to the folklore surrounding a number of shooting locations in the ﬁlm. Among these locations are Bob Dylan’s infamous hideout during the early 1970’s, and Electric Lady Studios, a New York-based recording studio created by Jimi Hendrix and where a who’s who of legendary rock stars have recorded their albums. These and other locations provided the ﬁlmmakers with inspiration while lending authenticity to the sets.
In Los Angeles, a skeleton crew ﬁlmed additional scenes, including the ﬁlm’s climatic ending at a mansion in the hills of Los Feliz. “It was a stroke of luck being able to shoot there,” says White. With Gothic lighting that created a haunting ambiance, White says they transformed the former monastery into a genuine den of rock ‘n’ roll iniquity: “You could feel the weight and power in that place.”
In the end, Rosenbaum hopes the ﬁlm reinvigorates the public’s curiosity about the history of rock ‘n’ roll and reminds us of the genius that is this art form.