On the surface, the documentary My Way looks like a promotional tool for an all-female rock band, but to dismiss it as such would be completely unfair. While the movie follows two aspiring rock musicians on their road trip from rural Pennsylvania to Los Angeles, California, it also looks at how a hard working woman’s efforts in the corporate world are undone by the fact that it’s a male dominated world.
The main focus of My Way is Rebekah Snyder-Starr, lead singer of the Rebekah Starr Band whose band members include Estonian tambourine player Annika and Holly Bacci. We come to see early on that Rebekah is quite the savvy business woman, having received a B.A. from Smith College and an M.A. from Carnegie Melon University. After working on Wall Street for a time, she returned to her home state of Pennsylvania where she served as the manager of and an instructor for a flight training school, became the youngest woman to run as a candidate for State Representative for Pennsylvania’s General Assembly, and she later worked with her family’s company, Snyder Associated, in the natural resources industry.
But despite her many accomplishments, Rebekah felt continually stifled by the corporate work environment, and her work and efforts were constantly downgraded because she was a woman and for no other real reason. What kept her going was her intense love of music and performing, so she decided to throw caution to wind and goes on a long car ride with Annika to Los Angeles where they intend to make a music video out of one of their songs. In the process they come to discover the sacrifices they need to make, and conflicts between the two threaten to tear their friendship and their dreams apart. In short, My Way serves as an inspirational tale for people trapped in a working environment that keeps them from pursuing what they love in life.
I very much enjoyed talking with Rebekah Snyder-Starr over the phone about My Way which has been described by some as a cross between the documentary Anvil and Thelma and Louise. Rebekah talked at length about the challenges she and Annika faced on the road and in Los Angeles, and she also gave me some updates of what has happened since this documentary’s release and of what Annika is currently up to.
Check out the interview below.
My Way doesn’t just say a lot about rock ‘n roll, but also about life in general. But the documentary really touches on is the frustration of working in the corporate world in that you can feel trapped and it’s never easy to escape it. Your desire to escape it is very understandable.
Rebekah Snyder-Starr: Yeah. An underlying theme was equality in the workplace too, but everybody feels frustration when they work in a corporation for sure. There are just so many rules that apply to you.
How much control did you have over the documentary? How open were you to letting the directors, Dominique Mollee and Vinny Sisson, film your life on the road and in Los Angeles?
Rebekah Snyder-Starr: Well Vinny actually started filming after we got to Los Angeles, so he was part of the camera crew in Los Angeles and then he later became the director. But from the outset we didn’t know what we would have at the end, but we wanted to get as much as we could of what we knew would be story of an adventure of putting ourselves outside our comfort zone and going after this goal. So we had a couple of camera guys that came with us for the first half of the trip, and they got some good footage. Then we parted ways with them halfway through and went and got a camera, and Annika and I filmed it ourselves until we got to Los Angeles. So then we got another sort of angle and another set of experiences were possible, and then we got to Los Angeles where Vinny came in as the camera guy and he and Dominique put in the arc of the story. They both directed it and were working together closely at the time, and they even named it. I think they are the ones that kind of pulled out the subplots from the material and the main plot and put it together in what would be the arc that everyone is so familiar with in 90 minute films.
When your original camera people left and you and Annika film the footage yourselves, what kind of challenges did that present to you two?
Rebekah Snyder-Starr: Well it was actually a lot of fun (laughs). It was challenging because one person always has to be holding the camera unless you get the people you are around who, in our case, you just met on board and get them to hold the camera and say, “Hey, film what we’re doing.” Also it opened up a whole other realm of possibilities because there was just two of us and the things we could do, and the adventures that could happen were greater because there was just two of us. We could take more risks and we were less limited, so we were really excited when we got the camera in our own hands and we had never done anything like that before and it was a lot of fun. Annika really enjoyed it and just documented everything. She really got into it. It was just fun.
Was it hard to get people you just met to hold the camera for you?
Rebekah Snyder-Starr: Not for us. We brought our enthusiasm with us everywhere we went and it was contagious.
It is contagious. You two are intent on not just making it to Los Angeles but also getting your music out any which way you can. It’s great to see that moment where the CDs are disappearing from the box that holds them.
Rebekah Snyder-Starr: Yes. You remember that shot.
Oh yes. My Way is divided into two halves. One half is about the long road trip you take to Los Angeles, and the other half is about when you are in Los Angeles. After arriving at your final destination, tensions start arising between you and Annika that threatens to tear your friendship apart. What did those conflicts teach you about friendship and survival?
Rebekah Snyder-Starr: I think they teach you to hang in there. It will pass. When you are under stress that’s when tensions and conflicts will arise. So if you’re gonna put yourself outside your comfort zone and take chances and go through difficulties with other people, you’re gonna have problems and you just got to keep your eye on the prize at the end. Push through, hang in there, and we were so happy at the end for what we saw on film and so pleased that we had pushed through and got to our goal and finished our music video and proud of ourselves. That’s probably what it teaches you, and anybody that watches the film, if they have had similar experiences, will see that too. But in the moments when the controversies were going on you don’t know what to do. It’s like the world’s going to end. It’s a very real fear.
A lot of people told me before I moved to Los Angeles that it is a “hellhole” where people will take advantage of you before you even realize it. However, you seem to have a good support system set up for you before you came to Los Angeles.
Rebekah Snyder-Starr: Yeah, we were lucky.
How is life been for you since you’ve moved to LA and since you’ve made this documentary?
Rebekah Snyder-Starr: Well since that time we went on and made another music video. We just went out and started socializing all around Hollywood. Annika is back in Estonia now, but she was a permanent fixture I think at The Rainbow for six months. You just meet a lot of people in Hollywood and we met Ron Jeremy one night and we asked him, “Hey will you be in our next music video?” So we made this music video where we all dressed up like studio wrestlers and we sort of beat up this mystery guy in this old wrestling style video, and then at the end there was this reveal and it was Ron, and he did that for free. And then we went on to meet more people like Stephen Adler who is in our film, and he was touring with his band Adler’s Appetite so we went on tour with them all over the US which was great. It was another great experience where it’s like halfway through we’re like, “Are we gonna make it?” And then we were so proud of ourselves when we finished. We met some radio people and we were able to chart one of the songs on our CD onto alternative radio Billboard 100, and that was exciting. Then after we got the movie finished we had it in film festivals for about a year, and me more than the rest of the band would go perform at film festivals when they asked so there was that support. Also Holly got pregnant with her second baby, and then I also got pregnant with a baby so we are both moms at the moment. We had to curtail some of our wild endeavors. But you know how music is; you come with it, you go with it and you can’t get away with it if it runs in your blood.
That’s very true. You mentioned that Annika moved back to Estonia. How is she doing these days?
Rebekah Snyder-Starr: Annika was here only on a visitor’s visa, so she extended it an extended it and eventually she had to go back to Estonia. She’s there right now and she’s doing great. I keep in touch with her through email and Skype sometimes. She went to beauty school and she went back and told everybody her story of what she did in America and they just couldn’t believe what she did (laughs). She goes to America for a year and her stories were not the usual fare. The other day she told me that she’s got some kind of amazing thing going on and soon she will tell me all. I don’t know what that is right now. She’s doing good.
What surprised you most in the process of making this documentary?
Rebekah Snyder-Starr: How long it took. I thought this was going to be like a one-month project (laughs), but everything takes longer. Once we got to editing we met some people who we were going to work with in post-production and then they turned out not to get the vibe, and Vinny completely got the vibe, took it and made it what it is, him and Dominique Mollee his co-director. Then we got the interviews after and we put those together. The film festivals take longer, so everything just took a lot longer than we thought. That’s probably the only surprise, but I think almost all film makers probably learn that.
We also have appearances in My Way from Steve Adler, Rikki Rocket and Chip Z’Nuff throughout, and the perspective they give to situations rock bands experience are fascinating. What have they taught you about the music business?
Rebekah Snyder-Starr: One of Steve Adler’s favorite things to say is success is the best revenge because he had band breakups in the past, and one of the great things Rikki Rocket says is there is no “I” in the word “band.” It’s all about knowing that you are on a team and that it’s not all about you. Those are two really smart things. I think Ricky actually says that in the documentary. Steve Adler said that in private when he was talking about his experiences.
You mentioned Ron Jeremy and his appearance in the film and he seems like a very cool, down to earth guy. What was it like working with him?
Rebekah Snyder-Starr: He became our good friend and he’s great except for that he’s always late. If he had any sort of thing like events going on he would invite us along and introduced us to people who could help us anytime they could. He’s just a really generous person and a very intelligent person. He’s not what people I guess would expect. I know I didn’t, so he’s just a surprisingly great, down to earth, generous and intelligent human being. They call him the hardest working man in Hollywood in some things I’ve read (laughs).
Looking over your resume, you achieved a number of notable things before moving out to Los Angeles like in politics and business. Is that something you might consider going back to at some point, or is it all about rock ‘n roll right now?
Rebekah Snyder-Starr: Well actually right now it’s probably about being a mommy for a little bit, but I think actually, hopefully I brought what I learned in business school and my real life experience of business to the film making process funding it. There’s bookkeeping to be done and there’s ways to streamline your expenses so that they are expenses rather than losses against your income. So hopefully I brought all that along to the entertainment endeavors. I never knew that was how it was going to work in my life because of not why I tried to learn business in the first place, but what do you know? It comes in handy.
Was there anything you wanted to include in the documentary but were not able to for one reason or another?
Rebekah Snyder-Starr: I can’t really think of anything. I think we really got to the core of what we wanted to say.
This documentary employs a different number of formats as well. Was it ever hard to balance out which format to use whether it was on your way to Los Angeles or when you are in Los Angeles with the filmmakers?
Rebekah Snyder-Starr: Honestly, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing and actually I just trusted the camera guys. I think mistakes were made along the way and we did our best in post-production to bring everything to the best resolution possible and the highest quality film possible. Then he spent a lot of time because we started off on film, and right about the time that we were making it is when it was affordable to buy a high definition camera at Best Buy which wasn’t possible before. We did our best in post to upgrade everything, and I don’t even understand all of it.
Outside of being a mother, what are you future plans?
Rebekah Snyder-Starr: I don’t know. I’m really focused on that right now. I’m singing more children songs actually than rock lately. You never know where the inspiration is gonna come from so I’m just being open to inspiration and taking care of my duties right now. We’re supporting the film too and everything. Theatrically it’s opening up in Los Angeles and eventually in New York soon.
I want to thank Rebekah Snyder-Starr for taking the time to talk with me. My Way is now playing at the Arena Cinema in Los Angeles. Be sure to check it out!