For those who have read Lizzy Goodman’s “Meet Me in the Bathroom,” the book is an epic oral history spread out across 10 years of New York rock music beginning in the early 2000s. The book is unique for its carefully constructed conversations with dozens of voices who lived it. So a film adaptation of the book couldn’t just be any old music documentary.
“What we didn’t want to do was make a ‘Behind the Music’ type of documentary. We wanted to make something that lives and breathes and makes you feel like you had been dropped into that time,” co-director Dylan Southern said at TheWrap Sundance Studio. “We just wanted to do something that kept the spirit of the book, because when you’re reading the book it felt like a live conversation that’s happening, and with film we had the added bonus that we could drop people visually into that period, and we didn’t want to break that spell.”
“Meet Me in the Bathroom” is wholly constructed of archival material from the time and doesn’t include any talking head interviews or voices of people telling the story who weren’t actually there. So that means you get remarkable and rare footage of artists like The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol and TV on the Radio as they were just rising in the New York City rock scene.
The filmmakers had to do additional research beyond the extensive interviews Goodman cobbled together in the book in order to make it something that would be engaging for a visual medium.
“We definitely looked at it and thought, how do you make that into a film,” co-director Will Lovelace said.
“We had to find the pictures that go with those stories or tell new stories, and that involved new detective work,” Southern added. “We got LCD Soundsystem’s first show right at the 11th hour.”
The two directors found footage by scouring old message boards, by speaking with journalists who had untapped caches of audio or undeveloped film, and throughout the coronavirus pandemic, they managed to amass a rich archive of material that became “Meet Me in the Bathroom.”
“COVID really helped us out weirdly. We were going to come to New York and shoot some bits up first, but COVID allowed us to make it 100% archive,” Southern said. “It also meant that a lot of people who were stuck in their houses and willing to go up into their attic. They were much more amenable to be given a task than if their normal lives were going on. I’m not saying thank god for COVID or anything.”
When Goodman began writing “Meet Me in the Bathroom,” she had no idea that it one day could become a film, or even whether anyone would care about this era in music. She also faced challenges in the form of being able to tell her story visually or actually experience what fans of her book have enjoyed while reading it. So being able to sit back and let other professionals tell her story for a different medium turned out to be a “total fantasy” that captures the essential parts of the book in “a much fuller way than I could have ever hoped for.”
“In a way, the whole ‘Meet Me in the Bathroom’ of the story kind of eluded me in terms of the actual emotional impact of it. The joy that people have felt, which is amazing, reading it, I never had that. I never had that. ‘Oh my God this is our time,’ I never had that feeling coming back until we started working on this,” Goodman said. “I feel I actually understand that I was part of something really beautiful and meaningful, and I got to experience the viewer’s side of that.”
Listen to more from Lizzy Goodman, Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace discussing “Meet Me in the Bathroom” at Sundance above.
TheWrap’s Sundance Studio is presented by NFP and National Geographic Documentary Films.