Stop Breaking Down: How the Jawbreaker Documentary Defied the Odds

Don’t Break Down looked like a movie that might never see the light of day. And then the Jawbreaker reunion happened.

There are many documentaries about bands, and many good ones at that. But not many have their own story in addition to the one they’re telling. It seems appropriate, then, given the convoluted and intricate history of Jawbreaker, their demise, and their recent reunion, that Don’t Break Down can boast its own narrative, too.

A decade in the making, the project was started by Tim Irwin and Keith Schieron—the pair behind We Jam Econo, the acclaimed 2005 documentary about Californian punk icons the Minutemen. The pair began work in 2007, eleven years after Jawbreaker broke up, but rumors about the documentary’s existence—and its unfinished state—were rife for years. The only thing that seemed less likely than the documentary being finished was the band reforming, even though the filmmakers had managed to get the three members together in a room back when they first started making it. There was, of course, no hint whatsoever that it would happen for real a decade later.

“The reunion of the band totally blindsided us,” says Irwin. “We didn’t know about it at all. The reason this took so long is that Keith and I were funding it out of our own pockets and life just kind of got in the way. But from our perspective, it never felt like it wasn’t going to get made.”

Tragically, Schieron was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2015 and passed away last December. It meant that the film was no longer just about Jawbreaker—it was also about one of its own creators. For Irwin, finishing it (with help from The Promise Ring’s Dan Didier) became a way to honor Schieron.

“Finding Dan was really miraculous,” Irwin says. “He was able to get some momentum behind it, and when Keith fell ill, Dan really stepped up in a way that helped push that thing to completion.”

“The reunion of the band totally blindsided us.” — Tim Irwin

“I’d heard about this documentary trying to be made for the last however-long,” adds Didier, “so to get the opportunity to finish [it] after all that time, I took as a pretty big challenge. When I started, I was just going to be the editorial supervisor and manage the post-production, but then Keith got sicker and sicker, so I stepped in as more of a producer. At the [first] screening, Keith’s wife, Sarah, was there, and she had the opportunity to watch the finished film. It was a really nice moment.”

That premiere took place on August 11, 2017 in San Francisco, and there was a Q&A with the band afterwards. As it turned out—and unbeknownst to either Irwin or Didier—that would be Jawbreaker singer/guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach’s first time watching the documentary, too.

“When we got into town,” laughs Didier, “I happened to see Blake and Adam [Pfahler, Jawbreaker’s drummer]. We were catching up and talking and I came to realize that Blake had never seen it. So I was like, ‘Oh shit. You’ve never seen this?!’ And he was like, ‘No—I never wanted to watch it alone.’ So afterwards I asked him what he thought, and he really liked it, so I was super stoked on that because it could have all gone horribly wrong!”

Thankfully, it didn’t. Whether you know everything or nothing about Jawbreaker, the film is a fascinating glimpse into both the magic and dysfunction of a band that Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong thought, as he says in the documentary, “was going to bridge the gap between Green Day and Nirvana.” That didn’t happen, but Don’t Break Down—thanks to the raw footage shot by the band at the time, interviews with key players in the scene, and the clumsy interviews from the studio “reunion”—provides a revealing and rewarding look at a brilliant group. It also serves as a beautiful tribute to Keith Schieron—without whom the film wouldn’t exist. FL

This article appears in FLOOD 7, along with our story going behind the scenes of the Jawbreaker reunion. You can download or purchase the magazine here.

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