Few documentaries have received the kind of initial acclaim and interest, outside of Michael Moore, than the compelling and surprisingly intricate Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. A hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the film reunites collaborators and friends Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger, whose previous credits include 1992’s Brother’s Keeper and the first two Paradise Lost films [with a third ready to go].
Individually, Berlinger certainly left his mark as the ill-fated director of the critically maligned Blair Witch 2. After a falling out, and following the disaster of the Blair Witch project, the pair of directors are back, older but wiser, with a unique, warts and all look, at one of the most successful Heavy Metal bands in music history. In a candid conversation, the directors spoke to our Paul Fischer.
Question: Well how did this all come about?
Joe: Well I, did this little movie, [Blair Witch 2] which most people hated and the reason that was so distressing, is that in fact the movie that was released was not the movie that I had pitched and shot and directed, I had pitched them on an edgy adult satire that had made fun of the whole phenomenon and while some of that was retained in the movie you know that on the 12th hour, August 2000, two and a half months before this movie was expected to open 3600 screens in 6 countries simultaneously, the new Marketing Director said “what is this edgy adult satire” we need the “teen slasher movie” and they took my movie and put it into the blender, despite the press round table, I tried to put on a happy face despite as I was not sure where this was going. But, my cut of the movie was very different. You may recall in that movie that there was for example; inter-cutting of the interrogation sequences – I know you have seen 8 million movies since then, but that was one final 8 minute scene at the end of the movie and that the fact that the kids that went on the Blair Witch tour were actually the killers that were being arrested. That was supposed to be the final reveal at the end of the movie.
Bruce: All that gore that was inter-cut, I fought for two weeks not to put that into the film. That was an after thought by this marketing person, my whole philosophy was Blair Witch one’s work about it was the violence on the screen and why we loading up with cheesy gore on the second. In any event, then they cut out scene’s. I mean this woman just hacked the movie to death in the twelfth hour. I was going to walk off the film and all my advisors said. You walk off your first studio feature you’ll never work again, so don’t do that. So cut to of the 9,000 reviews, four of them were good,
Question: Did you read them?
Bruce: You look google-eyed .as they translate them for you.
Joe: I Did, and I speak a couple of different languages, the movie opened on my birthday, at the office at home by the machine, I insisted that all the publicists were around me because that’s the way I am, I need to know the good news and need to know the bad news.
Bruce: It was mostly bad news.
Joe: And it was 99% bad news. So I sat and it was devastating. The reason why I took it so personally is, you know, to go from an experience where you felt really great about the product you created, that we felt we really now that then have then changed that you fought against were also highly criticised, and also the criticism was very personal directed towards me. You know “you noted documentarian, how dare you sell out into this crash commercial garbage, you have shit in your pants and will never recover.” And that was the tone. And I mean it’s one thing to give the film a bad review, fine I can live with that but the film was flawed, but it was so vicious, it was a hate feast, for someone who had, you know, got great reviews. The lesson to learn is to neither believe them when they saying good things or they saying bad things because I was so wrapped up with the reviews that I had got for “Brothers Keeper, Paradise Lost, apparently that we had gotten for this film
So I had spent two months on the floor in my office, in a foetal position literally thinking that my career was over, I mean honestly, I mustered enough energy to get up and buy some clothes, nicer clothes than what I was wearing because I felt that I was going to go back into advertising, which is from where I came.
My good friend here, even though he had a reason to gloat, because we were in a dark period ourselves in our relationship, and our collaboration. One of the reasons that I went off to do the film is that we weren’t getting along and we wanted separation from each other.
So he could of been gloating about it and a part of him was being a really good friend making sure I was ok, I was really depressed and I was taking it really hard personally, and my wife was also very concerned, and they kept kicking me, “get off the floor” you know, blah, blah, blah, and just to remind myself that we have made some good films together and to re-capture something, I popped in “Paradise Lost”.
It’s about three teens accused o these murders, and one of the big pieces of evidence was that they listened to Metallica and the opening title sequence of Metallica. You know, one of the opening titles sequence of the movie has Metallica music, and we had a year before talked to Metallica about possibly doing some sort of historical clips driven film because Metallica was going to go into hiatus and they wanted something to sell albums, almost like a info commercial. A project that we were sort of interested in but sort of were not, but we would be interested in if we could nudge it into a more personal direction.
So I called up Bruce and I said to Bruce, Bruce “:I need to work” cause I am a single family, a single income family, my wife does not work and I was literally getting worried, that I had not career anymore. So I called Bruce and told him to get this Metallica thing going, what do you think, and he said “sure”, so I called Metallica up and I got the thing going. You know, I said “Hey, you know that clips driven film you wanted to do a year ago, we ready to do it. You want to do it?, and Loris interestingly said , “you know well, we are starting this album, Jason look like he is leaving the band, why don’t you come out to San Francisco and start making, start documenting us, making this album, maybe we will use this for promotional purposes. That’s the long winded story of…..
Question: But it obviously became much more that that and
Question: But when did you know that it was going to be more that just purely promotional?
Bruce: Pure Metallica?
Joe: Well , you kind of had a sense of that when you walked into your first filming day and you had the biggest metal band in the world sitting down in a hotel, with a therapist, going through group therapy, that had never been captured before, as far as we knew, and the fact that we were allowing the cameras in, we did not sense that there was any performance or anything, it was very, very natural, even from the beginning, you know we looked at each other, you know like saying, this is something, this is your ?……. lets get our foot in the door, and if we can push the door wider and wider until its wide open, and we can really make something rather pure. But what was happening is that we were going from therapy sessions where they were creating music. And we said that this is not enough, its good but not enough and it was really when James got into a fight with Lars, and storms out and slams the door and we sensed that if he came back, and, obviously, we did know that he would be gone for nine months, we took a bath financially, because we turned down a lot of work. Commercials will come up with a short film, somebody would want us to do a short film about Robert Blake, you know, for USA television, and that didn’t work out but we turned down these jobs cause we had this blind faith that if he came back, if he gave us the access we had before, in a dynamic, we knew that all things would change after therapy ten months, could the band, go back and recover , because it was he who went through that kind of therapy, while Kirk, Lars, and Bob Rock their producer, went was still continuing with Phil, it wasn’t the same kind of intensity that James was going through. So when you see that scene that Joe and I were in the scene, and we talked the night before, we said look, let’s be honest with them, we’ve waited but if we getting in the way of the process of them recording their album, we should tell them we are willing to leave, and Joe’s thought was also, if you are gonna give us the access we had before then we are gonna leave, cause we feel that unless we have it, then we are not really be able to create the work that we feel we should be doing.
Joe: Go for it or, we cut bait now.
Bruce: Yes we cut bait and leave, and we had that conversation and smartly we showed ten or fifteen minutes of the film, you know, we brought a tape, and one of the scenes they showed was the fight they had, and him walking and storming out, a light went off in his head like, Wow, now I see what you guys are doing. There was a depth to it and honesty to it that think maybe scared him a little bit but also intrigued him and he said that if we are going to continue with this, with the idea that we would, it has to be deep, it has to be honest, you have to just keep going. Which is what we wanted to do especially him, who was the most reticent of the group was willing to let us just go as far as we wanted to go.
Joe: And get unlimited access
Bruce: They never asked us to leave the room they never said shut the camera off, not once,
Joe: Or conversely never told us not to film something that they ever wanted us to film. We had more creative freedom on this project than anything we have ever done believe it or not, even though they were paying the bills.