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SXSW '06 Interview: 'Metal: A Headbanger's Journey' Directors Sam Dunn & Scot McFadyen

by Scott Weinberg

The 'Metal: A Headbanger's Journey' Pitch: Shot on location in the UK, Germany, Norway, Canada and the US, Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, is an exploration into a long-misunderstood art form and a window for the outsider into a culture that has been consistently stereotyped, widely dismissed and condemned and yet is so passionately loved by its millions of fans. The film examines heavy metal's obsession with some of life's most provocative subjects - sexuality, religion, violence and death - and reveals some things about the culture that prove difficult to defend.

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
A documentary following a metal fan turned anthropologist into the world of Heavy Metal.

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you’re a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
We have been invited to over 30 film festivals so far with this film. We premiered in Toronto to a supportive hometown crowd. In my opinion a good festival has a perfect blend of audience support and good parties. So far Toronto, Bergen and Rotterdam have had the biggest audiences. Toronto and Stockholm have had the best parties. We have a feeling that SXSW might be a strong contender.

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be “When I grow up I want to be a …” what?
Scot: A Pilot
Sam: Pro soccer player.

Not including your backyard and your Dad’s Handycam, how did you get your real “start” in filmmaking?
Scot: Working my way up as an assistant director on Hollywood films shooting up in Canada. I learned very quickly that if I kept working as an AD I would have every last bit of creativity sucked out my body. Then I made the shift to music supervising films and at the same time developing this documentary.
Sam: Working with Scot as a music supervisor and soundtrack producer on the film FUBAR.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it’s on “the festival circuit?”
The festival circuit is important to us because we wanted to open our film up to not just metal fans or music fans. We wanted to show it to audiences that might not go and see a film about Heavy Metal. Now that we have been to all these festivals I feel more confident of its broad appeal.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
Scot: Last night at the In Flames show in Quebec City Sam and I were given these balcony seats away from the crowd. I felt like one of the old guys that sits up in the balcony yelling out obscenities at Miss Piggy. I liked the cynical sense of humour.
Sam: A cross between Animal and Kermit. Lovable yet potentially volatile.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
One of our biggest goals early on was to get into both the Toronto Film Festival and SXSW (NO Joke!). We also always thought forward to audience reaction and had many test screenings during the editing process. You learn so much in those screenings.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
Sam came to Toronto to do his graduate degree in anthropology. I was working in film as a music supervisor. We were good friends and used to go to concerts together. Sam thought about writing a book on Heavy Metal and I convinced him to make it a documentary. It took us 3 years to get financing and then 2 years to write, shoot and edit the film. In the writing phase I suggested to Sam that we tell the story through his eyes as a fan of the music. Sam reluctantly agreed and this is what transformed the film from a TV special into a theatrical documentary. After editing for 7 months we on-lined it to HD and blew it up to 35mm. By showing earlier cuts we managed to make a sale to Seville Films who pulled in Warner Bros. in the US to pre-buy the film before we premiered it in Toronto. In Toronto we sold it to almost 20 other countries. Since September we have been tying up the paper delivery, traveling to film festivals, cutting together our epic DVD and doing a mountain of press. Last night we did press in Quebec City and had a sneak preview of our film to metal fans before the In Flames show. And then drank with the band until the wee hours.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
Be persistent, learn from your mistakes and don’t take no for an answer.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition? Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
Not really. We were more motivated about what we DIDN”T want to do. We didn’t want to make another VH1-type music special about metal. We wanted to tell a story that was interesting and compelling for both metal fans and non-metal fans.

Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.
I think the priest who’s church was burned down by Black Metallers in Norway gave an Oscar worthy performance. I’m not sure he is destined for the big time though.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d almost definitely be...
Scot: ...fetching grilled cheese sandwiches for some shitty actor.
Sam: ...unemployed.

Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with? (Don’t worry; nobody would know.)
There are a few that I would like to see be killed by small dogs.

Have you “made it” yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say “Yes, wow. I have totally made it!”
Sam: Massive wealth and God-like status as a filmmaker.
Scot: It would be nice to have investors just ask ‘What do you want to do next and how much do you need?”

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
Sam: I think they’re very important. They shape people’s perspectives on films and therefore have a strong impact effects on box office and DVD sales.
Scot: There are a few I would like to see be killed by small dogs.

You’re told that your next movie must have one “product placement” on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
Apple. So we could all get new laptops.

What’s your take on the whole “a film by DIRECTOR” issue? Do you feel it’s tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film – or do you think it’s cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
We thought long and hard about this and decided not to take it. But next time I think I will take it. Especially on a documentary when you do so much more than just direct. If you are just hired on a project to direct I don’t think it’s warranted.

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
I think if you’re a music fan you will like our film. Even if you just interested in exploring a culture you know nothing about our film is an enjoyable ride….And…well…if you’re a metal fan… pretty much just have to see it or we will turn a pack of small dogs on you.


Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, featuring Sam Dunn, Tony Iommi, Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper, Dee Snider, and Vince Neil will premiere at the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for festival information, and be sure to check out the official Metal website.

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originally posted: 02/25/06 06:09:08
last updated: 02/25/06 08:58:16
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