SXSW 2012: Chris Branca and Danielle McCarthy, 'Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me'


Lenny Kaye in 'Nothing Can Hurt Me'

Many people may never have heard of the early '70s band Big Star, and aren't aware that "In the Streets," the theme song for That 70s Show performed by my personal favorite band Cheap Trick, was actually penned by Big Star's Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens (correction: Chris Bell). Attendees of the 2010 South by Southwest Music Festival became more aware of the band's influence when Chilton died unexpectedly of a heart attack on March 17, only three days prior to a Big Star reunion show in Austin. That show turned into a tribute with many musical guests from near and far, with several other tribute moments throughout SXSW that year -- including several songs played in tribute by Cheap Trick as headliners at the Auditorium Shores outdoor stage.

In addition to the fans that have supported the band throughout the years, many musicians credit Big Star with inspiring their careers. More importantly, music critics who were often disillusioned with the rock "gods" of the early '70s were attracted to the heart and soul that Big Star gave to its music. One such rock writer is Lenny Kaye (pictured above), who wrote for several magazines including Creem and Rolling Stone. He is one of the interview subjects of an upcoming film, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, which will have a special sneak preview at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival.

I interviewed one of the film's producers, Danielle McCarthy, and editor Chris Branca, a native Texan, who are busy working on the final edits. Find out what they had to say about Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.

Slackerwood: Describe your film for us in a couple of sentences.

Danielle McCarthy: Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me is a feature-length documentary film about the dismal commercial failure, subsequent massive critical acclaim, and enduring legacy of pop music's greatest cult phenomenon, Big Star.

What’s one thing about the film that is going to make it impossible for people to resist seeing Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me?

McCarthy: I think if you're a Big Star fan you’re going to be blown away by all the archival materials we unearthed for the film and to see this completely untold story on the big screen I think will revelatory to the hard core fan base. That being said – even if you've never heard a note of Big Star's music I still think that the crazy trajectory of Big Star's career will fascinate anyone who loves music. It’s truly a universal story.

Is there anything the audience should know about the film before seeing it?

McCarthy: Mostly that we're presenting this event as a "special sneak preview." We hope to finish the film this summer for release later this year.

What are your Austin and Texas connections?

Chris Branca: I am a Texas native. Born and raised in San Antonio and lived in Austin for three years before moving to New York. I came on board as an editor for the film back in November.

Who from Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me will be in attendance?

McCarthy: The director, Drew DeNicola, will be there along with our producer Olivia Mori and myself, producer Danielle McCarthy. Our executive producer Gill Holland will also be there as well as Jody Stephens who is Big Star’s original drummer. Our editor Chris Branca will be there as well as some additional crew members.

Where can folks get more information about your film?

McCarthy: Folks can get more information from our website,

What has the reception been like for this film from fans, music industry, and the band themselves?

McCarthy: Well no one has actually seen the film yet, so we're eagerly anticipating the reaction, but the buzz around the film has been growing for awhile now and it's obvious that Big Star fans are very excited to see the film! We did a Kickstarter campaign back in 2010 and the reaction from fans all over the country was amazing. We raised our targeted goal in 24 hours and ended up making over double what we set out to. That really helped boost our production at the time we really needed it.

The music industry folks we’ve heard from have been as equally excited as the fans because of course they are music fans too! And we were lucky to interview Andy Hummel before he passed away in 2010 -- he was tremendously excited about the film. We were working on getting Alex to agree to appear in the film but he also passed away way too soon just before he was set to play a showcase at SXSW in 2010. But remaining member Jody Stephens has been hugely supportive as well as John Fry at Ardent and the entire Ardent team. This film would never have happened without John Fry's support.

What do you hope viewers take away from Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me?

McCarthy: I just hope that the people who have never heard of Big Star fall in love with their incredible music and that the super fans are pleased! The film really is a love letter to Big Star. One of the main reasons we set out to make this film is because we're fans first and foremost and we want to spread the gospel of Big Star worldwide.

Have you been to SXSW before, and in what context?

McCarthy:  Yes, I came for fun in 2005 and then again in 2010 to film the tribute show to Alex Chilton at Antone's.

Branca: I have been attending SXSW since the mid-90s as a musician. I have played in the music festival a number of times in different bands, but last year was the first time I was a part of the film festival. I was an editor on Page One: Inside the New York Times, which played in the Festival Favorite category.

See work-in-progress Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me at its SXSW screening on Thursday, March 15, 7 pm at The Paramount Theatre.

Big Star

Can't wait to see the documentary. I know John Fry (Big Star's mentor and engineer) was on board with this very early and many have put in much care and hard work to get it to this point. Thanks to Danielle and crew for having the idea and the drive to get it done. Check out Star & Micey Saturday night at Cedar Street Courtyard too!

Jody Stephens

P.S. Alex Chilton and Chris Bell wrote "In The Street." I wish I had helped.

Thanks Jody!

I appreciate you catching that error -- I knew that at the time I was drafting, but must've thought of you and typed the wrong name. See you at SXSW!