Writers go to many places for inspiration. Small, secluded mountain cabins come to mind, or winding, meditative nature trails. Some have even checked themselves into monasteries to summon the muse. But Richard Silverman found his on a night out in Vegas.
“I was sitting there one night, watching the DJ” says Silverman, the former CEO of the Grand Sierra hotel-casino in Reno, who has spent years frequenting spots such as XS and Marquee with friends and clients. “And I just thought to myself, this is becoming bigger than anyone understands.”
The “this” Silverman is referring to is EDM—electronic dance music. Behind the booming bass lines and dizzying drops, Silverman saw something much simpler and more profound: the coming-of-age of a generation.
“When I look back at the iconic films made over the past 50 years about music, they were really centered around a group of kids finding themselves in that era,” Silverman says. American Graffiti explored the rock and roll culture of the early ’60s. Saturday Night Fever nailed disco’s heyday. Both featured intimate stories of small groups of friends grappling with love, ambition, betrayal and loss.
Having watched the meteoric rise of EDM firsthand working in the casino business over the past decade, Silverman recognized its potential to serve as the musical backbone for the same type of seminal film. So in early 2013, he sat down at Sambalatte in Boca Park, and over the course of a few weeks, wrote a script about an aspiring young DJ struggling to make his mark. On August 28, We Are Your Friends—the movie based on that story, with a cast led by Zac Efron and Wes Bentley—opens nationwide.
Two years from page to screen is light-speed fast in Hollywood, but Silverman—who worked alongside Grammy-winning songwriter Diane Warren, did music supervising for the film industry, had a record deal with Disney and a production deal with Touchstone as well before finding his way to casino management—felt strongly that it was important to be the first on the scene with an EDM-centric feature [sorry, Vincent Chase—see sidebar below].
He found early support for We Are Your Friends from Liza Chasin and Johanna Byer of Working Title Films, who introduced him to the director Max Joseph; the two had lunch, and “within five seconds,” Silverman says, “I knew this was the guy.” Joseph knew the music, having recently made a documentary about the iconic electronica label DFA Records, and, through his hosting duties on MTV’s Catfish: The TV Show, had a built-in fan base made up of the same millennial audience Silverman had envisioned for the story. The greenlight was immediate, and by summer 2014, they were filming on location all around Los Angeles … and, of course, in Vegas.
“This movie has its roots in Vegas culture,” Silverman says. “Not that long ago, the big EDM superstars were relatively unknown. They were just these guys who pulled up in a car, pulled out a deck and blew up the room.” This is exactly the place—perched thrillingly but precariously on the lip of success—where Efron’s character, Cole (who is inspired in part by Travis Emmons and Daniel “Le Disko” Linton, a.k.a. LA Riots), finds himself in We Are Your Friends. His trajectory explores the interesting paradox of digital music—relatively cheap to produce, but infinitely harder to sell.
“[DJs] today are discovered in a viral way,” Silverman says. “Old-school record promotion doesn’t exist anymore, and breaking into the industry has become a lot tougher.” Unsurprisingly, there has been some skepticism about the movie in the EDM community (“some big-name DJs who haven’t seen it have been … less embracing,” Silverman says diplomatically), but Efron prepared for the role by training for months with L.A. DJ and producer Them Jeans (Jason Stewart). The film also features cameos by real DJs such as Alesso, Dirty South, and Dillon Francis.
“It’s a story based in the club,” Silverman says. “But it’s also a story about making hard choices, and finding what it takes to make your way in today’s world.”
Silverman himself could probably teach millennials a thing or two about that last part. After a hugely successful 30-year career (“Let’s leave something to the imagination,” he jokes when asked his age) spanning many different industries, he shows no signs of slowing down. He even has two more films in development, one based on the life story of an infamous Ecstasy dealer and another that he describes as “Rocky meets The Karate Kid.”
“I’m always looking for new challenges and adventures,” Silverman says, the energy in his voice never flagging. “I envy people who only do one thing for their whole lives, but then, if I had the chance to do just one thing—” he pauses for a split second before the beat kicks back in “—I would probably opt out.”
We Are Your Friends may be one of the first scripted EDM movies hitting theaters, but it probably won’t be the last.
OK, fine, it’s technically a film within a film, but Vincent Chase’s directorial debut, Hyde, is still one of the bright spots of Entourage. A Dr. Jekyll-inspired DJ with two personas, costarring Calvin Harris? Come on, that sounds better than a lot of real movies.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are producing this comedy about three American women on a trip to Spain in search of—what else?—a hot DJ.
Spinback (in limbo)
Bought in 2013 by Lionsgate/Summit and still presumably languishing in development hell, this then-hot script was pitched as an action thriller, in which a soldier returning from Afghanistan has to infiltrate the EDM world to avenge his DJ brother’s death. – UL