There are bands, and then there is Metallica. When Nimrod Antal was directing the metal leviathan's new concert movie, Metallica: Through the Never, he had to keep his inner headbanger in check. He said, "Every once in a while you go, 'Oh, shit, that's Metallica,' and then you get back into what you're doing."
Like the band itself, the film is larger than life. Shot in IMAX 3-D, it combines two components: a concert film of the 30-year veterans, shot over four nights of their 2012 Canadian tour, and a deranged, hallucinatory tale of a young roadie (Dane DeHaan, The Place Beyond the Pines) crossing a riot-torn city to recover a mysterious bag for the band.
Metallica famously hit the big screen with 2004's endlessly controversial musical documentary Some Kind of Monster, about the troubled recording of St. Anger, the exit of bassist Jason Newsted, and the band's discovery of a new lease on life. After that arduous experience, why on Earth would they want to make another movie? I sat down with Antal, Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett, and bassist Robert Trujillo after the movie's Texas debut at Fantastic Fest to talk about the genesis of the project, putting the shadow of Some Kind of Monster behind them, and the future for Metallica.
Kirk Hammett: The idea of making an IMAX movie has been around since the '90s, and it came up again around Some Kind of Monster, but by that time we'd been a bit over-saturated with the word "film." So we put it on the back burner again. This time our managers, particularly Peter Mensch, came to us with this idea that he totally sold us on, of building a stage with every trick in the book, as far as our past tours. All the production stuff that we had, and putting it onto one huge stage. It's like a fucking aircraft carrier, with video screens that we run around on. And, on top of that, let's film it in IMAX 3D. And we thought, "Yeah, that sounds pretty good."
Nimrod Antal: It was about three years ago when I got a phone call and someone said, "Hey, would a Metallica concert film interest you?" I'd been trying to get my own stories made, and I wanted to stop making studio films. This seemed like this incredible opportunity to try something I'd never tried before, work with different elements, working with a band who I was a fan of. When I met [founding member and drummer Lars Ulrich, he explained what the concept was, and it was so fucking weird. I thought, why not? As they phrase it, you jump out out of the plane, and as you're going down, you go, "Where are we going? And did someone bring a parachute?"
According to Trujillo, who joined the band during the filming of Some Kind of Monster, that's just how the Metallica camp operates.
Robert Trujillo: When Lars said, "We want you to be in Metallica," I was blown away. Obviously, it was a amazing moment for me, but at the same time I was like, "But I just accepted this tour with Ozzy Osbourne yesterday." He said, "I respect your commitment, but the train is moving. In Metallica, the train moves, you've got to jump on board because it's going to move fast and it doesn't stop." He was so right.
So now the band had a director for their project. The next question was the big one: What kind of film was this going to be? The Last Waltz? Depeche Mode 101? Or Some Kind of Monster II? Antal was very clear what kind of film he didn't want it to be.
Nimrod Antal: I watched The Clash, Rude Boy. Very different, but I remember watching that and saying to myself, "I can't watch any more of these, because things are going to start to flow in that I'd rather not have." Everything that we were trying to do for this was to have it be different.
Kirk Hammett: There was this point of trying to work out what to do with this movie. Was it just going to be concert footage, was it going to be a docu-concert thing, or are we going to approach it like we do everything else, and try to put our own identity on it? We decided among ourselves that there should be a storyline in there, and once we decided to do that, we solicited some ideas from some directors. That's where Nimrod came in. His treatment stood out. Most of what we got, most of them were science fiction treatments, and then there's Nimrod's. For me, it was really obvious that we should go with him. His concept was so, so completely Metallica.
According to Hammett, the idea was to always have the band in the background, and avoid any echoes of the embarrassing fantasy sequences of Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same. This still left the film without a central protagonist. It was almost by pure accident that Antal met the inspiration for Trip.
Nimrod Antal: They have a guy who works for the band, Dan Braun. We sat down and just started talking about what he does. I wasn't there to get inspiration for the story. I was there to understand the logistics of the stage and the concert itself. But as he spoke to me, he had such a passion and such a loyalty. In this egocentric age, to see someone so selfless for a bigger entity, it was just, fuck, that's cool. This is something that business people can't seem to understand, the corporation mentality for some reason can't seem to embrace. When you're given an opportunity to work with people you're fond of, and those people look at you and say, "Don't fuck it up," that makes you work way more than you ever would have otherwise.
But the shadow of Some Kind of Monster undoubtedly loomed long over the production, and over any potential reception to the movie.
Kirk Hammett: Some Kind of Monster is the film we didn't know we were making. Ostensibly, the film crew turned up to film us writing and recording the next Metallica album, but all of a sudden things started to just fucking fall apart. The cameras kept on rolling, and we tried to get it together, get the band back together so that our relationships were where they should be. That's what Some Kind of Monster is: a movie about a band trying to be a band.
Robert Trujillo: It was really a film about relationships. What I have learned about Metallica is that it's all about taking chances and challenges. Even in writing songs. There's a challenge in that for us, because there's a multitude of riffs. Most bands don't have that problem, that there's just too much music, and you have to go through a process of elimination. I'm sitting there with Lars and [guitarist James Hetfield], thinking, "I can't believe we got rid of this. That would be another band's best riff, and it's the worst one." Some Kind of Monster is a challenge, and Through the Never is an extension of that. Even the album we made with Lou Reed, it was a challenge. Some of is were very familiar with Lou's stuff, and some of us weren't, but it seemed like a really fun experience.
One of the biggest gripes that fans had with the band's last movie was that it was a little too warts-and-all. They still wanted the band to retain some of their mystique. In many ways, Through the Never restores that mythic quality. In the opening sequence, the Everyman character of Trip walks through the backstage area, past a larger-than-life version of Metallica, complete with bleeding guitars and ear-wrecking rehearsals that literally shake the arena.
Nimrod Antal: Some Kind of Monster definitely deconstructs [the myth], and we certainly tried to build it back up. They're very bold in that regard, and they're not worried of taking risks.
Robjert Trujillo: Nimrod embraced all these things within the band. Obviously Kirk's love for horror film is felt in his little cameo segment. The scene you're talking about, there is a jam room, and I'm usually the one that spends the most time in there. I can be stretching out, getting low, or crouching over with my instrument on. At the same time, I might be working on new ideas or I'm warming up with a song or two we might be playing that same night. So Nimrod took that and he rolled with it and he created something from it. I remember, he'd told me he wanted to do this and, I don't remember how many takes we took, but I had to come up with an improv groove, so I was going to create some thunder. I love how he captured it and brought it to life.
Kirk Hammett: With those scenes, you get the feeling that we have left the Some Kind of Monster era and we have become something completely different, something whole and vital in a completely different way. Those scenes establish that this is not going to be another Some Kind of Monster. Neither is this going to be just another concert footage movie. It's a cinematic omen for things to come.
Robert Trujillo: I like the scene with Lars and Dane. They cross paths and make eye contact, and Lars has that Lars Ulrich glare, the "It's not OK" glare. I'm proud to say I haven't seen it too many times.
With the story idea in place, and the band on board, Antal faced the real challenge: shooting the concert half of the movie in the middle of a Metallica gig, complete with full audience, fireballs, Tesla coils, flaming stuntmen, and collapsing scenery.
Nimrod Antal: My director of photography, Gyula Pados, super talented guy, we sat down together with a schematic of the stage and a schematic of the arena – this'll take away any illusions anyone ever had – we started sticking Post-it notes, going "Day one, here's a camera. How many cameras do we have? OK, here's another one." We started laying them out. Then the next day we wanted to change up those positions, so we had more and more opportunities in the edit room, so we started mixing it There was eight shows in Mexico City, and we had a chance to go see those beforehand, and any nuances I hadn't anticipated, I was able to see there and then.
Still, there was only so much planning to be done. Even with a band of the scale of Metallica, whose effects-heavy shows are run with almost military discipline, Antal needed all 30 cameras to catch everything he needed – and then much of the best material came through blind luck.
Nimrod Antal: We'd have a steadicam operator, and he could be onstage for one song and he couldn't be there for the next, because the next song was "Fuel" and there were 50-foot balls of fire. But there were so many happy accidents. There's that one epic profile shot of Robert, There's a big spot shining, and he keeps slamming his head and it keeps going in and out of the light. I remember there was one great moment during "One" with my one steadicam operator, Henry [Tirl], I said, "Turn around," because he was facing the stage. He said, "I can't, it's all dark. I can't see shit." That very second, boom, the entire audience's face is illuminated.
So what's next?
Nimrod Antal: For those who were at the concert and missed certain songs, there will be a DVD extra concert film with no narrative, and you can watch all the songs. (Hammett also confirmed during a Q&A at Fantastic Fest that there will be a cut on the the disc featuring only the Trip story, with a special new soundtrack composed by Metallica.)
Robert Trujillo: The idea is that we eventually can take this out onstage and share it with the world, if there's the demand. The most important thing for us its to continue with the writing process and get a new album together.
Metallica: Through the Never is out now. Read our review and check for listings here.
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