Interview: Bruce Sinofsky, Joe Berlinger for "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster"

By Paul Fischer Friday July 9th 2004 11:34PM
Bruce Sinofsky, Joe Berlinger for "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster"

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.   Question: Right.   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   Joe: Yes   Question: But when did you know that it was going to be more that just purely promotional?   Joe: Well.   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. |They were originally were not paying the bills, but Electra kept getting very nervous you know, we kept telling him to have faith, this is really special, we can turn this into something more than standard promo B-role. When James alternative came back from rehab and the album started finally coming together and it looked like they could settle out and they started looking at out footage, they said you know you're right, we wanted another Ozzie, cause that show had just been successful first season, and this is another path along the way where we cant believe how the band has just stood up for us without any strings attached because as soon as the band heard that Electra wanted to turn us into a Ozzie thing, they said no way, because first of all, we are always the trail blazers, for us to do an Ozzie knockoff, would be ridiculous.   Bruce: It would be a regressive step..     Joe: Yeah it would be a terrible step for Metallica, and also you know this period is too precious to us, to be trivialised into that type of situation.   Question: What happened during that nine month interim?   Joe: Again to the bands credit event in its darkest hour you know we said look, lets us keep filming and they continued to let it happen, but Electra again was still paying and getting very nervous, but ultimately Metallica said to Electra we believe what you and Bruce are doing, we think that trivialising this material as a reality thing would is not the right thing for us, we also think that Electra's plan was that if the album release date is here, they would back it up six weeks and each week an episode will air, so the final episode will air so the final episode will air on the Album drop date and Metallica just felt correcting it so inadvertently to a commercial event like that.   It just cheapened the whole project, and so the only solution was Electra graciously bowed out, if they were to be reimbursed and Metallica wrote them a cheque for 2 Million dollars, and said thank you and without even looking at out footage they said here's 2 Million dollars, we believe in these guys,   Bruce: a thousand hours at that point.   Joe: Yes.   Bruce: They had only seen ten minutes of it.   Joe: Yea, and they told Electra , you know and Electra could, and I have to give Electra credit too because they could of made trouble, but they graciously were relieved quite frankly, but they graciously bowed out of the project, Metallica took on the responsibility, which ended up costing another 4.3 Mil dollars and didn't really see the film until the final rough cut screening in September of 2003, where we were three weeks away from locking the rough cut to submit to Sun Dance for submission. Which is mind boggling, and at the end of that screening, we had a very tense conversation, but at the rough cut screening we handed each Metallica guy a cassette saying that we don't expect you to give up, we fully assumed, after showing them a 3 ˝ hour rough cut, in advance of Sundance, that they had lots of notes that you cant say this, you cant do that, I mean.   Q; What was the intense conversation you were referring to?   Joe: We showed them a 3 ˝ hour rough cut in advance for Sundance, so we went back t to talk about it because this was the first time that they had ever seen their lives on film, since the process started, so it was pretty intense I think it took a little time to shock, and the two hour conversation that we had with the band and Management about the film. They had ultimately they let, by the end of the conversation, they said that they not giving us any notes, discussed the wisdom of being so honest about money, for example, about the million dollars to the base player, and $40,000 per months to the therapist, the multi-million dollar art auction, some Questions whether that should be seen, so it was discussed thoroughly, the structure of the film was discussed, the length of the film was discussed, but all like, we had final control and they were just giving their opinions, that was the amazing thing, particularly if you know anything about this man they are like noted control freaks. At the end of the screening I handed each guy a cassette and said, "You know we don't expect you to give us your notes, take the tape home show it to your wives discuss it, but you know, in the next week or two you will have to get back to us to because we have to lock the film by October 1st and send it to Sundance. James pushes the tape back, I don't want to see it again, if I was not, normally I don't watch films twice so I don't want to watch this again. I though that this was a funny comment, normally I am not a filmmaker, and I cant tell you how to take this and go from 3 ˝ hours to2 hours or whatever length you want it, good luck. He never watched the film until after Sundance when we watched the final print.   Q; How did they re-act to that?   Joe: The final film?   Question: Yes.   Bruce: Hell they loved it, they loved the film, and have been promoting it actively,   Joe: In fact the reason why we had that screening was actually after the Berlin Film Festival. One of the major studios offered us you know, almost $5 million,   Bruce: Offered them.   Joe: Yes offered them, almost $5 million for the film and but predicated cutting a half hour and we obviously felt an obligation in telling them that and to have a serious discussion, and we felt that a half hour would destroy the film. Five minutes could come out maybe 10 minutes if you pushing it . I you really wanted to trim some timeout of the film but you know its also $5million Dollars, its not our film, its not our investment, you know how easy would it be to take that $5 Million they would be fully recouped and if the file does no business at least they are getting the publicity value out of it. you know. So we put them in a screening room in San Fran Cisco and had a conversation about the shortening and basically their attitude was, do you guys want to shorten it, and we said no, we said exactly what we said to you we can take five minutes out, maybe ten, and they said then F** It we gonna turn it down and we don't think the film should be shorter either and Lars in particular said you this is not money for us this is about what people are going to think about this film in Five, Ten, Twenty years. What we gonna think about this film in Five, Ten Twenty years so don't take the money, walked away from it and not dealt with it. What that meant was it that we would then likely to go with IFC who we embraced very much in the service deal who would get us a piece of the action, but they would not actually own the film, and if this money would be made it would be Metallica who makes the money.   But they were willing to spend over $7 Million by the time the film is in the middle of its release.

Question: The documentary in cinema has changed a lot in the last few years and there is so much more personal perspective, we have seen films, I mean the recently, released Michael Moore movie which is getting so much more attention. Do films like that help commercially and the subject of this movie notwithstanding, do films like that and like Capturing the Friedmans which is another successful documentary enable "Some kind of Monster" to do well and gain broader acceptability?   Joe: I would not connect the personal aspect of it to your answer, I think that there is a golden age of documentaries in cinema right now and I don't think the style per say such as Michael Moore's personal style happens to be a popular, his personality and the subject matter is going to ensure that his film is going to do Gang Busters. I just happen to think that there is a golden age in the cinema right now of the horrible life on the American television landscape of reality TV which is really contrived, unscripted, new reality, has caused a lot of intelligent people to thirst and hunger for quality non-fiction,   Bruce: Driving people to the theatres.   Joe: More importantly, I think that the theatrically released, story telling driven, character driven documentary, has become the new art film in our generation, or in this time period because as the independent film movement has been co-opted by Hollywood and Miramax is making $50 to $60 million independent films and on a finer line the lower companies on the food chain are making $20 or $30 the Million dollar films, they all are under the same pressure that the $100 Million dollar Hollywood tent poles are under, which is you got to pop a number on the opening weekend, and therefore independent film makers become homogenised and I believe that ten years ago Miramax would have been happy to make a terrific million dollar that grossed $5M and they put a few million dollars in their pocket and most independent companies would have been happy with that. No that's a joke for these companies now, so what has stepped into that void are documentaries like ours, that cost $500 Million to $4 Million . I thought it would be a little more expensive in average, but if we gross $10M dollars at the box office we will be thrilled.   Question: So where do you go from here then, I mean,   Joe: Blair witch III!!   Question: I look forward to that.   Joe: No I'm just kidding, no believe me I would not touch that with a ten foot pole.   Bruce: A tent pole   Joe: Right, the thing I am most proud of, is with Blair With II is I killed the studio, I killed those mother fuckers, they Fucked me and I Fucked them back.   Question: You are so gracious. I'm very impressed with that. You are actually doing another documentary for HBO?   Joe: yes.   Bruce: Which we've done a little bit of filming on but we really have not got deep into it yet.   Question: What are the challenges in documentary cinema in the future and what challenges do you face as finding material and subject matter.   Joe: That's it right there, it's so much harder to find the story that under the radar, you can find it in the newspaper room, right now if a story came up, it would be like vultures on a dead cat, or a dead cow.   Question: But Metallica is not a particularly unreasonable subject matter.   Bruce: That's something that came to us that what we have always done on a daily basis that we looked through the new papers and magazines, for a story that is happening that will unfold on a certain level so that there will be a beginning, a middle, and an end, you know which is what we embrace and look for but it is so hard to find them. But I have to say that in the last 3 or 5 years that we have seen something that interested us, and we looked into it, there were ten others looking into is and it wasn't other film makers it was 20/20, it was 60 Minutes, it was every kind of cable show, and all of a sudden we were fighting for the space that used be ten years ago may be us and one other entity. That's the toughest thing to find that story that allows us the complete access alone.   Joe: Well I think the challenge too is finding stories that are authentic, because one of the themes of Blair Witch II frankly, was the danger of blurring lines between fiction and reality, because one day you wont know what the difference is and that is precisely the problem with reality TV and precisely the problem with our - show me culture with every nook and cranny of life has been poked and prodded and explored and its very hard for us to find an original authentic story ideas that will unfold like a feature film, we like to cover stories as they unfold in the present tense and that's become harder and harder.   Question: You clearly learned your lesson doing Blair Witch 2. Would you consider the two of you doing a narrative feature film?   Bruce: I think if we were to do narrative films they would be individual, that Joe would go off and do a film and I would go off and do a film...I think it is harder when you are dealing with actors and not dealing with say, 'real people' 'cos in the way we work if one of us connects with one of the subjects in our film, we may take a lead in the interview or the filming situation there, because we are more comfortable... one of us. The same way that Joe hit's it off with somebody we'll go back... I think when you are dealing with actors and you're (inaudible) wants performances and you've written the script...     Question: There are a lot of what they call 'couple' directors though who do manage successfully to direct films   Joe: I think we both feel like the fiction arena is an area that we wouldn't want to do as a team.   Question: So are you preparing to do fictional films individually?   Both: Yep   Joe: I actually have something that is hopefully going to go in January called "Education of a Felon". There is a guy named Eddie Bunker, who is a cult character actor, he was Mr Blue in Reservoir Dogs, but also more known as a cult novelist. He wrote "Little Boy Blue", "Animal Factory", "No Beasts

  • No Fears", which was turned into Straight Time by Dustin Hoffman and he wrote his own non fiction memoir called "Educational Felon", which is the story of his life; from how he went from being a rotten punk - youngest inmate in San Quentin, youngest... even before that, youngest inhabitant of various juvenile institutions..   Question: To an actor...   Joe: That's right. Into a famous writer and actor.. .and how he went from that into a famous writer and he became a famous writer because he befriended, when he was in his early 20's on a brief period of parole, the wife of Hal Wallace - the Hollywood producer.   Question: Yeah...   Joe: His wife was Louise Wallace, the famous silent movie actress. She was in her 50's. Hal was now ignoring her because she was no longer young and beautiful and was fucking other starlets, and Louise took on these various projects, and Eddie Bunker was one his projects. This kid who was only 20 and she taught him how to believe in himself and how to, you know, honour his intelligence and how to basically write. It's a fascinating... I call it Harold and Maude meets Reservoir Dogs, 'cos it's this relationship between the 20 year old and the 55 year old woman and she teaches him how to live and hopefully the script is written. We are starting to get some traction on it so hopefully that will happen in January.   Question: How hard will that film be to cast?   Joe: Well it is out to Ryan Gosling and Goldie Hawn right now, so we'll see what happens.     Question: NLet me ask you about the title of this. How did you come up with that title for this documentary?   Bruce: Well it was one of the first songs that they worked on in the studio and we actually were watching the process of how they came up with lyrics and James said it is like 'Frankenstein' it's some kind of Monster. There were so many other references to the 'beast' of Metallica the 'monster' that is Metallica that also monsters were clearly internalised with in each of them... they had so many monsters that they were battling. We, very early on started bonding   Question: Have they won that battle against their inner demons?   Joe: To a certain extent. I think to a certain extent nobody fully rids themselves of his demons. Even all the Demons I have about Blair Witch
  • You don't rid themselves, you learn how to deal with them, you learn how to put them in their place and function with them   Bruce: And we battled a little bit with it because we said if it was some kind of Monster, then people will think it is some kind of horror film, or it will send the wrong message, but we kept on putting together a list of other names and this is the one that stuck, it is the one that seemed...   Joe: Well quite naturally it was... the very first thing we edited was the song 'Coming Together', that was the first song they did in the studio, 'Some kind of Monster', you know and we liked the title but it didn't resonate that much for us yet. But people just kept referring to it and every time they referred to it we'd go "oh"   Bruce: I mean the challenge of this movie, the reason why I was, I had mixed feelings about the title, I loved it on the one hand but on the other hand I knew that the challenge of this film was this is not a 'fan love letter' I know fans will embrace this movie, how could you not spend 2 1/2 hours with your hero's especially a band that has been this guarded...   Question: But the challenges go beyond that right?   Bruce: It is obvious that fans will get this movie but we think this is a movie for people who hate Metallica too! That there's nothing... So the title to me is... confirms some stereotypes that one might have some of the baggage that one might have about this movie.   Question: It would be fair to say that if you were making this for Metallica fans, it wouldn't be as good a movie I would think. It certainly wouldn't... If it couldn't be accessible beyond the fan base....   Bruce: I think we would have made the same film   Joe: I think we would have made the same film , I just think the situation we were able to capture is worthy of other people... We don't make films one way or the other, I mean we make... this is the film we wanted to make   Question: Is there a central theme in the film you think would transcend beyond that fan base that...   Bruce: Yeah, that it is OK to seek help for you problems, that if these icons and macho aggression, who's very livelihood is wrapped up in that imagery of being tougher than tough can sit down and talk about their issues and admit that there is shit in their life that they must work on. And that the human wreckage that results from this culture of celebrity, if they can admit about that, then it is very refreshing to the regular person that has problems, and it's ok to go out and seek help.   Joe: Anybody can relate to this film. Like as Lars said himself, it's about relationships it's not about the music perse, that is certainly an excuse as to why we were there to make the film about recording their album, but it is very democratised, because these guys have the same issues that you have, I have, anybody who is approaching 40, who starts looking at life in a certain way, who has issues with their wives, issues with their kids, issues with their partnerships, creative issues. So I think anybody can relate to that. You don't have to be a metal head to appreciate that.