Punks Vs. Suits

A copyright dispute spices up Sunday's world premiere of the Cuckoo's Nest film 'We Were Feared'

It seemed as if the whole world was against the Cuckoo’s Nest, so why should it be any different for a new documentary on the seminal hardcore-punk-rock club that reigned from 1977 to 1981 on Costa Mesa’s industrial side?

We Were Feared, which documents the struggle to keep the tiny sweat palace open, makes its world premiere Sunday as part of the 2010 Newport Beach Film Festival.

But Paul Young, the director of the 1981 documentary Urban Struggle: The Battle of the Cuckoo’s Nest, says his film was rolled into We Were Feared without his permission. He has retained a copyright lawyer and is threatening to sue, have police confiscate the film and have the producers arrested at the screening.

Cuckoo's Nest owner Jerry Roach today
John Gilhooley
Cuckoo's Nest owner Jerry Roach today

As with just about every other dispute that dogged the Cuckoo’s Nest, Jerry Roach is in the middle of it. He’s the irascible owner of the club that was the proving ground for Orange County punk bands and local showcase for regional and national touring acts. Roach—who had a tumultuous relationship with cops, city leaders and neighboring businesses—also clashed with bands who accused him of screwing them over. Some dubbed the club “The Roach Motel.”

We Were Feared, which was produced by actor/pro snowboarder York Shackleton, recounts these disputes. But, by the end of the flick, local punk legends such as D.I.’s Casey Royer, the Adolescents’ Steve Soto, the Vandals’ Joe Escalante, skater-turned-vocalist Duane Peters, and TSOL’s Mike Roche and Greg Kuehn praise Roach for having stuck up for them back in the day.

“I was a punk-rock martyr,” Roach chuckled into his cell phone from his son’s home in Santa Ana.

Roach also claimed to have bankrolled Urban Struggle, whose end credits list him as co-producer and Young as director, producer, writer and editor.

“I was the director more than he was,” Roach said. “The only thing he directed was a re-enacted scene. But I didn’t want any credit. It would have been all me: directed by me, produced by me, starring me. That’s why I didn’t mind heaping all the credit on him.”

Roach said he wanted someone to film police harassment at his club, so he went to Orange Coast College and talked with the director of the film program. Young, a student then, was enlisted to show up at the Nest with a camera in exchange for class credit, according to Roach. When cops didn’t show, the club owner had the fledgling filmmaker turn his lens on the musicians and punks who called the Nest home before deciding to make a documentary out of the footage Roach claims he purchased.

Young, who is now a Los Angeles-based writer and curator, called Roach’s recollection “a lie.” He claimed he was already in the Nest shooting the Weirdos when Roach saw a kid with a camera and suggested they make a documentary together. Young called the shooting-for-credit claim “absurd.”

Both agreed that Young was given total access to the club and that he did all the editing and post-production while enrolled at USC, where he transferred after OCC. Young sent the Weekly a yellowing, Nov. 18, 1983, Daily Trojan article that reports Urban Struggle “was financed entirely by Young and producer John [sic] Roach, the owner of the club, at a cost of several thousand dollars.”

But the director told the Weekly his parents actually paid for everything—and that he has the receipts to prove it. “He never paid for anything,” Young said of Roach, who received a co-producer credit and print of the film in exchange for the access the filmmaker was granted.

Urban Struggle footage has since turned up in the 2006 documentary American Hardcore and four MTV programs, according to Roach, who said the music-television network paid him for it. He wonders why Young never sued MTV, the American Hardcore producers or record stores that hawk crude Urban Struggle bootlegs.

Young, meanwhile, wonders why he is in sole possession of the Urban Struggle negative if Roach owns the film. “If he believes it is his,” Young asked, “why has he not come after me to get it? He does not have a case.”

Caught in the middle are Endurance Pictures, We Were Feared’s director and the film festival. “Truthfully, I feel victimized right now,” said Jonathan W.C. Mills, who signed on to direct We Were Feared after being assured Endurance Pictures owned the rights to Urban Struggle. “I spent two years working on this, not Jerry, York or Ivan.”

Ivan is Ivan Correa, the president of Endurance and executive producer of We Were Feared. He, Roach and Shackleton view the documentary like Dogtown and Z-Boys, which launched the feature film Lords of Dogtown. A Cuckoo’s Nest feature film is in development with Correa as the producer and Shackleton as the writer/director.

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