Wicked. Had the chance to sit down with Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen, directors and writers of Metal: A Headbanger's Journey and the newest installment of their Metal franchise Global Metal which opens today in Toronto and Vancouver, then next Friday in Montreal and Calgary. We almost didn't make it. A slight error in miscommunication almost cost us the time but the guys were very gracious and accommodating.
Special thanks goes to Catherine Kustanczy and the gang at CIUT for letting me hang around the studio during her interview with them. Also thanks for Nancy for setting me up with the guys.
Me - So Headbanger’s is done, festivals, theatre, DVD and you’re preparing for Global. Is there anything that you guys wanted to do better this time around?
Scot - Story is always the same right? But its like that’s always going to be difficult. All the other things around it we wanted to make visually, use better cameras and concentrate more on trying to tell the story through visual means rather than through interviews or audio. And that’s always a real challenge. And it’s an ongoing challenge cause that’s where we try to be better next time, just tell the story more without having to say words.
Sam – I think it was a challenge to tell the story though the voice of people that no one knows. With Headbanger’s journey to some extent we could rely heavily quite heavily on the fact that we were interviewing celebrities and people that have done tones of interviews and project on camera and the challenge for us this time around was how do you take something that people know nothing about and make them interested about it is another sort of challenge than when we were talking with you know Tony Iommi, Bruce Dickinson, Dee Snider and Alice Cooper you know so I think that was a challenge in terms of the editing process and piecing together the stories from each countries and making it work and keeping people captivated.
Me – From my perspective, I’m maybe a part time metalhead, I don’t know. I grew up out in the Fraser Valley [outside of Vancouver, Sam grew up on Vancouver Island]. When you grew up in that age everybody is walking around with boom boxes. There’s KISS, Iron Maiden and Def Lepperd. So that is what I grew up with. So a lot of those faces are familiar but I wasn’t at the point where I needed that to ground me. Everything else was really interesting.
Talk about the filmmaking process. You’re setting up- [to Sam] we actually met on an airplane flying over to Calgary.
Sam - Oh right, that’s right.
Me - You were about halfway through at that point and that was Christmas of a couple years ago and you guys were setting up. How did the filmmaking happen? Where did you go? Where did you start? What did you do?
Scot – There’s this luxurious period of research where you can just be as open as possible, we hired researchers, let’s just be as expansive as possible before we start to, have to narrow it down to a story and end with production plans. That was several months, if not six months of research and writing. And then we went out and did our first leg of about seven weeks and we went to a bunch of countries like Japan Indonesia, Israel, and Poland – which didn’t end up in the film – and China. We came back and as we were gone everything was being digitized, put in the system, and transcribed and we had a chance to look at the stuff that we had brought in for about two months before we went out on the second leg which was to Brazil, Indian and Dubai. So it’s always good as a documentary, I’ve always learned, it to have a little space. You don’t try to block everything into a period so you have time to reflect on what you’re doing. The editing was happening simultaneously while we were out on the second leg. We edited for about six months. There was 350 hours of footage. And then post.
Sam - It was really challenging because these countries that we were going to, like Japan, Indonesia and China, we didn’t have to budget to go back. So, you know, there was a lot of preparation. I remember coming back from that first leg that we did and sort of still scratching our heads and wondering whether, ‘okay, did we get it? Did we get enough from China to build a story around it? Or, did we get enough from Indonesia to build a story around it’? I’m sure you’ve heard before a lot of documentary filmmaking comes out of the editing. The editing process was roughly six or seven months on Global Metal. And editors play a really big part on working through everything with us. It was still a big challenge knowing whether we had got it even after we had filmed it.
Me – You mentioned Poland as one of the countries that didn’t quite make the cut. Was there anywhere that you couldn’t go, that you really wanted to, or, was it just logistically not possible?
Scot – We kind of set early on in our research we decided that Iran was the place. And we put all of our eggs in that was going to be where we were going to head to so we tried to get in the proper way and at the last minute we just said Sam and I were going to go in as skiers, there’s really good skiing in Tehran. We thought, ‘okay well that will make sense, we coming in, we’re tourists, with skis, with a camera. We’ll meet everyone there and we’ll get our interviews’. But we couldn’t even get tourist visas at the last minute. And we knew about this Dubai Desert Rock Festival and that kind of worked that all the people that we had been in contact with were going and they met us there. That was a way to kind of tie in all the Middle East. Otherwise, we moved pretty stealthfully through the world with our knapsacks. We filmed Thiemann Square.
Sam - The cameras we used are small, we used SONY EX cameras, that camera that we uh…
Scot – Well we didn’t use it on that.
Sam – Oh right sorry. I’m already in Maiden Mode [laughter - Sam's next movie is an Iron Maiden doc] a better example would be the camera that Martin uses, it’s a tiny little 16mm camera. We don’t look like a news crew when we’re out there and I think that ends up being an advantage for us that we don’t look like your typical kind of news crew out there, you know.
Me – Guerilla Doc Making
Sam – Well, we look like somewhere between a film crew and tourists. So I think that’s intentional because we don’t like to draw a lot of attention to ourselves.
Me – Which you couldn’t avoid unfortunately when you were in Mumbai. For the whole segment when everybody was jumping in front of the camera.
Sam – Sometimes it does work to your advantage when everyone does notice you. There’s a bit of both, I guess.
Me – Culturally was there anything that you guys were surprised about, that you weren’t prepared for? Or maybe any misconceptions that may have been changed?
Sam – I was really struck by our experience in Israel actually and the degree to which the Metal that the Israeli kids listen to and perform has such a strong personal relevance for them. When I was growing up as a Metalhead, the lyrics were never necessarily reflecting something I was going through as a person. It was more like, Metal was sort of this portal into these other worlds, whether there was like dragons and swords, or it was like World War II, or Ancient Battles in Europe. But to go to Israel and talk with people that are living through a day to day reality of conflict and war. It was quite eye-opening for me and I realized that Metal can mean something very different to people depending on where you come from.
Scot – Overall, we came back with a very positive feeling about people. It wasn’t really what I had anticipated but people are pretty cool all over. They want similar things. Once you translate the language you realize they saying very similar, there’s just a, I don’t know, there was kind of a big positive- people have hope regardless of what shit they’re going though. There is still this driving hope.
Sam – And also a sense of togetherness, or brotherhood, that metalheads feel with one another. In the West we have all these micro-politics between the Black Metal kids and the Death Metal kids, and these people are these people, it’s sort of fraught with these little cliques. When we went to countries like India where there is one metal scene it isn’t fractured that way. When you meet people from other countries sort of all those differences begin to fall away. The unity through Metal is what matters most. I wasn’t expecting to that degree a sense of bonding that people felt. It did help that with Headbanger’s Journey I guess people did feel that they kind of knew us because they had seen the first film, either they got it on DVD or they got it off the internet, they downloaded it, regardless, we had an added advantage that people knew who we were but still there was a sense of bonding that was just really cool.
Me – I like the scene with Lars [Ulrich of Metallica], and to the greater extent, after I watched the movie I found Sigh, and I found [their album] ‘Hangmen’s Hymn’, so that’s on the iPod, and I will probably do a little more “searching”. There is an edit in that sequence when you talk to Lars about when you meet the fans in Dubai, from Saudi, from Egypt, from Iran and they talk about how they got the music, and they got the music through the internet, given their history [Metallica] with that obviously it’s a perfect question to ask, I mean, how could you not miss an opportunity. There’s an edit in there that suggested, maybe, he might have been caught a little off guard by it, or maybe a little uncomfortable with it.
Scot – The only thing that we edited, like, it’s the question we asked and it’s his response. But the only thing we edited was maybe to shorten the question that Sam was asking in a different way. It was long and Sam was not as direct in his questioning. His response was actually much longer and meandering so we tried to whittle it down. But the first thing he said, and his first reaction, is like true to what… exactly what happened at the time. And he was sort of uncomfortable; I think he was knowing- they know I am going to ask this. He can set it straight with the Metal community.
Sam – My sense was that he that he might have been a little caught off guard how the question was set up and realizing that we had just been to all these countries where we had met tones of kids in parts of the world that maybe he had never been to and didn’t even know that Metallica was big, that we had met with all these kids and that that was the only way that they could their music was through the internet. And so maybe he had a moment where he realized where he was like, how could I possibly deny the importance of the internet in this case?
Me – The transition of how we used the internet from Napster to now has been just incredible, to where the new bands are utilizing it… is Metallica a bit late to the game, or?
Scot – I just think that all of the music industry, whether it was people who embraced it early, or, didn’t have the foresight to see how it could… I don’t have the foresight to see how it is going to work in film but music, they have other ways to make money, they tour and touring is better than it’s ever been and it has democratized bands, like separated them from these big multi-nationals that deal on their own with their manager, and make money on merchandise. I don’t have the foresight to see how it’s going to work in film. Cause I don’t see any other ways to recoup the expense of making a film.
Sam – I’m just thinking a little bit more about the Metallica thing. I mean the great irony is that Metallica is now playing all those songs. Now they tour and they only play songs from their first three records. I got my first copy of Kill ‘Em All and Ride the Lightening through tape trading. So its like there is this irony that they’re trying to return back to an age when that’s when, that was exactly how people got a lot of their music was by sharing it, not by buying it in a record store. I think I eventually wanted to go and buy the vinyl cause I wanted my own copy like maybe a year later. The first time I got it was on like Maxell mix tape in ’85. There is a strange irony. People are wanting to return to sort of glory day, or a day when it felt honest and yet they’re also very anxious about that too. So it’s an interesting time.
Me – My first attempt at making a tape was an Iron Maiden one, back in Grade 7, and I was horrible it at cause I didn’t have dual-cassette, it was complete botch-up [laughter]. I fucked it up.
The film has already been screened a few times since October. What’s resonating for those who have seen it? What’s the fan reaction?
Scot – We’ve only been to… [they count festival screenings between themselves] I’ve been at five. It’s hard to know. One thing I will say is that in all those other places where English is not their first language where we showed the film there’s a lot of subtitles so people may… when they’re showing it in English with these subtitles, a lot people don’t read as fast as they speak English, it’s their second language. But here I felt it was real… it was positive.
Sam – What people are responding to, I mean, we’re finding two very interesting things of how people are responding to the film. We’ve had some Metalheads tell us that they feel that this film is more us, meaning us Metalheads, that Headbanger’s Journey sort of, that a lot of people already knew that stuff already. But on the other hand we’re also hearing that non-Metalheads are saying we feel that it is more for us too because it’s less about the music than Headbanger’s Journey. It’s more about people in their culture and what they’re going through. And I think on that note it’s more of a, conventional is the wrong word, but it’s more of a conventional documentary in that sense. So it’s an odd… we’re getting a good response I guess is the basic answer, from both camps.
Scot – Different people are responding to different countries for sure. We’re getting people who are saying, there are a lot of people who say that Japan is my favorite country…
Me - [Pointing to myself] Love that Japan bit.
Sam – We had an amazing response at the screening at The Royal for North by Northeast. There was a second person that stood up during the Q&A, was a girl from Iran, and she was in tears, and she basically thanked us for taking the time and the effort to represent that side of her culture because many of her friends in Iran were Metal fans and I guess she felt like she was watching people that she knew, on screen, and she just thanked us because Iran and a lot of countries in the Middle East tend to only get represented in one way, as a place of trouble, or a place of Fundamentalism, the Axis of Evil, all these kinds of ridiculous things. So, to have that kind of response was pretty powerful. For us, my background is in Anthropology, you try to practice the art of cultural relativism which is not basing the culture on your own assumptions, based on where you’re from, and so we like to be very mindful of how we’re portraying a different culture. And so when you get that kind of feedback from someone you feel like you’ve done something good.
Me – It’s very human this movie and I touched on that in my review. I said that there is something innately human about everyone that there is a need for expression. Sometimes the confines of culture, government and authority can’t hold that down. There is something innately human that is meant for expression, that’s meant for communication, and this is what, not only what the music is doing, but your movie is doing as well. It is going to create a lot of communication to a lot of people.
Sam – And that is something that we’re very interested in, and we don’t know yet, is how people in these countries that we filmed in are going to respond to the film. Not only the Metalheads but the broader public too. We’re excited and eager and also probably a bit nervous about how people are going to feel about what we portrayed so that’s the next step for us.
Me – I running out of time here and I have a couple more questions. If you had a Metal Sugar Daddy and they said, whoever you want to bring to Toronto, put up a concert, everything’s taken care of, who would you bring?
Sam – Oh my god. I’ve never been given that opportunity before. [laughs] I would love to put together a Global Metal showcase, where we could have four or five bands from all different corners of the World and really promote it and have it as a big event; a band from Israel, a band from Indonesia, a band from Iran, a band from Japan. That would be amazing. That would be so unique cause I think that’s kind of what we’ve done that’s different with this film is pushed it beyond what people assume what Metal is. That would be cool. Maybe we need to call Gene Simmons or someone.
Me – Best face melter! At one point you’re sitting there filming and suddenly you’re just like ‘Whaaaaaat’. What band just totally blew you out, you never saw it coming?
Sam – That we saw live? I really liked a lot of the Chinese Metal bands that we filmed at the one show in Beijing, and Ritual Day was a huge standout for me, a Beijing Black Metal Band…
Me – The one with the uh… [I make feeble hand gestures to imitate the Chinese two string fiddle]
Sam – No, it’s the other one, but that one’s cool too, uh, Voodoo Kungfu, they’re sort of the SlipKnot of China. Or something like that.
Scot – I think it was less a band and more when we got invited into that Mosque. It was sort of last minute we said can we get in with you guys and they’re like alright we’ll ask. Filming in the Mosque, that was amazing, that we could get that access.
Me – Finally, in reference to Voodoo Kungfu or Sepultura, we talked about cultural influences in their own music, that they take some of their own culture and infuse with their Metal. I’m thinking Sepultura with ‘Roots’ and Voodoo Kungfu with the violin and stuff. What would a Canadian band have to do? What would they have to introduce to make it uniquely Canadian?
Sam – Well, Aboriginal Canadian Metal I guess would be pretty cool, maybe there’s an opportunity. It’s funny. We’re just at CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation], we’re doing an interview, and the camera guy said he spent a lot of time in Aboriginal communities in Canada. He said when they go into these communities what the kids are listening too or playing if they have a guitar is Metal music. So maybe that would be what it would take to make it authentically Canadian.