This is a Visual History Recording
Visual History with Penelope Spheeris
Interviewed by: Mary Lambert
Penelope Spheeris spent her early years on the road with her father’s traveling carnival. Graduating from UCLA Film School with a Master of Fine Arts degree, she worked as a film editor and cinematographer before forming her own production company, Rock 'n' Reel, producing and directing music videos for bands like The Funkadelics, Fleetwood Mac, The Doobie Brothers, and Seals & Croft.
After producing short films for Saturday Night Live and Albert Brooks’ feature film, Real Life, Spheeris made the transition to directing with her critically acclaimed Punk Rock documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, followed by writing and directing the indie feature Rebel Streets (aka Suburbia), winner of the First Prize at the Chicago Film Festival.
Other films from this period include The Boys Next Door, Hollywood Vice Squad, Dudes, and The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. In the 1990s, Spheeris directed the studio box office hit Wayne’s World, and produced and directed other mainstream hits including The Beverly Hillbillies, The Little Rascals, Black Sheep, and Senseless.
In addition, she has directed several movies for television including UFO Abductions; Prison Stories: Women on the Inside; and The Crooked E: The Unshredded Truth about Enron. She has also continued to make music-themed documentaries like Thunder and Mud and The Decline of Western Civilization Part III, which won the Sundance Film Festival’s Freedom of Expression Award and was nominated for the festival’s Grand Jury Prize. Recent projects include her documentary about Ozzfest, We Sold Our Souls for Rock ‘n Roll, and the independent feature film, The Kid & I.
Penelope Spheeris is a longtime member of the DGA’s Independent Directors Committee. From 2002 to 2004, she served on DGA’s Western Directors Council. She has also served on the Guild’s Social Responsibility Task Force, as well as the DGA’s 1996 Negotiating Committee.