The iconic San Francisco-based band, Metallica, has been rocking the hell out of the music industry for over 30 years — and there is no end in sight. People might think that that their latest movie, Metallica: Through the Never is your basic run-of-the-mill concert movie, but after talking to the band, it's a different take on their music.
Director Nimrod Antal helped members James Hetfield (lead singer), Lars Ulrich (drums), Kirk Hammett (lead guitar), and Robert Trujillo (bass) concoct a narrative that featured a young roadie Trip (played by the talented Dane DeHaan) going on a special errand only to run into some danger of the rebellious variety that paralells perfectly with Metallica's music. The movie played at the Toronto International Film Festival, but the band decided to have the U.S. premiere in their home base of San Francisco. We had the chance to talk to all of them about the movie.
What made you want to do this kind of film?
Robert: It's all about challenge and, you know, from my first gig at San Quentin Prison to that gig last year when we played four shows at The Fillmore for our (30th Anniversary). I mean, we had like Ozzy (Osbourne) and Geezer (Butler) flown in. We also had Rob Halford and members Mercyful Fate with King Diamond. I mean, that's crazy. Nobody does that. Lars came up with that idea, and we're all going, "That's crazy…let's do it!" To me, the film is an extension of that. It's kind of madness in a way, but it's beautiful madness, and I think that's the key ingredient to what keeps Metallica fresh and exciting, and it's something that's just in us. That was the beautiful thing about Nimrod. He had that crazy desire and that look too. Not a lot of people have that, and not a lot of bands have that.
Nimrod, how did you approach the film?
Nimrod: Well, coming in, I had an opportunity to work with the band that's had, you know, a 30-year experience. They have a power and a passion, and I certainly felt that my role was really just to try to capture that as best as I could. Lars, James, Kirk, and Robert have been just really supportive from the get-go, and it was always a question of what's best for the film. When it came to the concert, I really wanted to just try to put lightning in a bottle and try to capture what these guys do so well.
Lars explained to me when I first met him what the intention was in trying to marry a story to the concert, and I found that to be just absolutely fascinating. The first was the challenge for me to come up with something that would work and that could be put in. My first concept had the seed of protest. (Metallica) always represented that kind of thing for me. So, protest was always present, but then it was really like meeting members of their crew and meeting the guys that work for them. As the band gives their fans everything, every time they play, there's this incredibly loyal and bad-ass crew of folks who put out as much energy as the guys do when they're up there, and I was taken back by the loyalty, and I understand that now.
Dane, what did you have to do for audition?
Dane: Oh, I didn't audition for the role. They just asked me to be in it.
James: We paid him to do it! (laughs)
Dane: I just felt really cool. It was an undeniably unique experience and something I knew I would never get an opportunity to do anything like this again. After reading the script and trying to wrap my mind around exactly what it was, and then meeting with Nimrod and seeing the passion that he had behind it and just the enthusiasm from all these guys to want me to do it.
Kirk: Nimrod just walked in one day and said, "Hey, this is the guy I want to play Trip." Then, we all saw Dan's picture, and I was instantly, "Yeah, I saw that guy in Chronicle." (He's) a really great bad guy. (laughs)
Were Metallica fans invited to be in the audience during all of the concert footage? Or were some of the hired actors?
Lars: We sort of found out along the way that if you invite people to come for free, a lot of times, they don't have a vested interest in showing up, so we charged people $5.00 — and people showed up. We donated the money to western Canadian food banks. I look at them really as extras at a movie shoot. There were a lot of members of the Metallica fan club that were invited for the pickup days where we were sort of moving the audience around. Everything was movie first and the fans were sort of extras in that experience.
What was it like seeing the film for the first time with an audience?
Kirk: Interesting. When we saw it for the first time with the audience in Toronto, I kept on looking around the theater to see what people's reactions were — if people were going to act like they usually do in a theater or were people going to act like they do at one of our shows. I think because it was a film festival, there was a bit of reservation. I think people were under the impression that, because it was a film festival, they have to keep it somewhat subdued. It was interesting just to watch people's reaction, and the looks on there face and how many heads were bopping along to the music, people's reaction to the narrative when it came in. It was interesting to watch.
Did you automatically know that you wanted to have the U.S. premiere in San Francisco?
Lars: It was always in my head, obviously that you know, we celebrate and champion San Francisco. We're proud of that, this is our home — of course, we were going to have something in San Francisco. I think SF is a really big part of Metallica because it's so open-minded. Metallica is open-minded. SF is a place with history and with a sense of curiosity. San Francisco is a big part of Metallica. There's something up here that gives us a sense of peace, a sense of connecting to something and rooting up here. I think it's just a really important part of what Metallica is — and 75% of the merchandise that Metallica sells says "Metallica San Francisco" on it and we don't take that lightly.
Why wasn't the song “Through the Never” in the movie?
Kirk: Good question (laughs). We decided on a set list and decided on a concept and shot the show, shot the narrative and got everything together, but at one point we still did not have a name for the movie. At one point, we were getting pretty desperate. After scouring the song titles and the lyrics and coming up with a few choices, it was narrowed down to three or four different things. I remember one of them was "Hit the Lights," which no one in the band really liked. "Through the Never" was a title that actually sounded good for what we were trying to do, and the title fit the feel of the concept and Trip's journey. We pretty much agreed on that, because it sounded good, and it fit the concept. The song, I don't know. It's a great song, wish it was in the movie, but it just didn't happen. It just didn't happen.
What was it like making this film versus your other movie, Some Kind of Monster?
James: Some Kind of Monster was really the documentary of the making of an album — and then life happened. We had a big plan for this. You don't really plan for your life and career falling apart. If you do, you don't call a film crew. This was more what do we need to capture after 30 years of the best of our stage, and it was well thought out. Some Kind of Monster, we are ourselves, and in this movie, we are our other selves as well. We're performers.
Metallica: Through the Never opens in theaters Friday, 9/27. Lead singer James Hetfield will make a special appearance at a special 10 p.m. screening of the movie at the AMC Metreon September 26th (that's tonight!). Purchase your tickets here.