Little did onetime PAPER columnist Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato realize when they were filming their cable-access show Flaunt It TV at the Limelight that, more than a decade later, the nightclub would play a major role in two feature films. They were then the Pop Tarts, a music group making their debut as TV producers. "We made the mistake of giving out our home phone number on camera," Bailey remembers of the show, which was inspired by, of all things, Sigue Sigue Sputnik.
Flash-forward to 2003: The team, today known as World of Wonder Productions, have established themselves as one of the leading TV production companies, working on everything from Totally Gay on VH1 and The Eyes of Tammy Faye to last year's HBO special on Monica Lewinsky. This month they're finally releasing Party Monster, the story of Michael Alig and his metamorphosis from nightlife sensation to convicted killer.
"We wanted to make a film about club kids from the beginning," Fenton says. "I'm talking 1991. We'd written endless proposals, and they were all completely rejected." Then came the rumors of the murder, and suddenly people were interested. First they made a documentary about Alig, also called Party Monster, in 1998. Then they hooked up with James St. James, a good friend of Alig's whose book Disco Bloodbath told the tale of the murder, and made another Party Monster, this one with Macaulay Culkin playing Alig. It was a hard sell to get financing for a movie with a less than sympathetic lead character, but Bailey didn't see it that way. "Unsympathetic characters make the best drama," he says. "Look at Joan Collins on Dynasty, Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard." They were afraid, however, that the outrageous story might seem too outrageous to be believed. Says Bailey: "It was a case of truth being stranger than fiction."
Macaulay Culkin was always their first and only choice to play the lead. "[At first] he wasn't responsive at all," Bailey says. Seth Green, who was on board from the beginning as St. James, is a friend of Culkin's and helped persuade him. Bailey and Barbato wanted ChloÃ« Sevigny as Gitsie but thought she wouldn't want to do it. She wanted to do it but thought they didn't want her. The visually stunning film has provoked very strong feelings. "Some people love it, some people hate it," Fenton says, "People feel the need to be quite vocal about it."
A DVD of the Party Monster documentary will be re-released later this fall, along with a documentary about Nelson Sullivan, a New York fixture who was constantly filming New York's downtown scene and died in 1989. World of Wonder is also working with producer Brian Grazer on a feature documentary about Deep Throat and the sexual revolution. It's easy for the boys to go back and forth from narrative film to TV to documentary. "To be honest," Bailey says, "it's all really storytelling."