‘Metal Evolution’ Series Director Sam Dunn Talks Campaign for Extreme Metal Episode
Canadian film director Sam Dunn was the guest on Full Metal Jackie’s radio show this past weekend. Dunn, who put together and starred in the ‘Metal Evolution’ series on VH1 Classic and is the co-founder of Banger Films, talked all about his effort to raise money in order to film the 'missing' episode of the ‘Metal Evolution Series’ which covers a sub-genre very near and dear to him, extreme metal. If you missed Jackie’s show, read the full interview with Sam Dunn:
You’ve been very busy with Banger Films which you are the co-founder of -- Grammy nominated and ‘Juno’ award winning Banger Films. Congratulations.
Thank you, yeah it’s been a busy few years since we last talked, so we got to catch up.
Last year Banger films released the biggest ever series on the history of metal and hard rock. It was called ‘Metal Evolution’ and featured over forty years of metal history from early metal and shock rock to thrash and nu-metal. The series followed Sam on an amazing journey, over 30 countries, four continents and you interview 300 of metal’s most respected musicians including the likes of Lars [Ulrich] from Metallica, Alice Cooper, Van Halen, Lamb of God, Slash, Bruce Dickinson who typically is not down for doing interviews so props to you on that and so many more. It’s a huge success on VH1 Classic and it broadcasts all over the world. Despite the success, we the metal fans and Sam, as well, all felt that there was definitely a series that was missing and that is extreme metal. Since the ‘Metal Evolution’ series was pretty comprehensive about the sub-genres of metal, what factors prevented there from being an exteme metal episode?
When we initially approached VH1 Classic about doing ‘Metal Evolution,’ they were really excited about the series. They’ve always been supportive of us, three of our four featured documentaries have aired on the network so they’ve always been really good to us. When we pitched the initial series we did have the extreme metal episode in our initial proposal but I guess for their audience I guess they perceived their audience as being more geared towards the older stuff and not necessarily towards the heavier end of the spectrums. So Slash was as heavy as we could go and that was tough for us because we are fans of extreme metal but we were thankful that they could do 11 episodes on metal at all, no one else would really do that these days.
So we did the series as you said and it did really well and it even went to number one on VH1 Classic and on Much More here in Canada but we always had this nagging feeling in the back of our brains that’s like, “We really should have done that extreme metal episode.” As it turns out we got hundreds of messages from fans saying, “We wished it was there, too,” so we decided to do something about that and launch this Indiegogo campaign.
Anthropologically speaking, how important is extreme metal to heavy metal as a whole, more than some of its other sub-genres.
It’s a great question, I think the popular conception is that extreme metal is kind of in this dark, obscure corner that is an irrelevant minority within the history of heavy metal music but that’s just not true. Extreme metal is the sub-genre within metal over the last 20, 30 years now that’s really pushed the genre in new direction. It’s kind of like the kamikaze guy out on the front of the battalion making sure its safe to go over the hill and looking around every corner to see where the genre could go. So we just think when we’re talking about a series that’s about the evolution of metal it seems crazy not to include that genre which really has pushed it forward. More recently I love Keith Kahn-Harris’s phrase; he’s a well-respected academic and writer in metal fan in the UK, he uses the phrase “Motor of Innovation” and I just think that totally captures it. It’s not an obscurity, it’s a style of metal that young fans, frankly are most excited about because metal is all about pushing things to the next level.
What an amazing experience it must have been for you to travel the world and interview all the bands that you’ve loved. Did you ever in a million years imagine you would be able to do something like the ‘Metal Evolution’ Series?
For Scot [McFadyen] and I -- we produced and directed the series together – it was an amazing experience. I think with all the movies we’ve made, we’ve had a lot of success so far and we’ve always felt the comprehensive history of metal needed to be done and back when we did ‘Headbanger’s Journey’ in 2005 and we put together out heavy metal family tree – ever since then we’ve got this amazing response from fans saying, “Can I get a copy of the tree?” or even people critiquing the tree which we actually like which is all a part of the heavy metal culture.
To go out and now explore the full history of metal was an amazing experience and I got to meet some incredible musicians that I didn’t get to meet making our previous movie. We’re really proud of it, we hope it stands the test of time as the definitive library of metal until someone – 15, 25 years from now should come around and do another one. [Laughs] But until then I’m happy to have this one out there for everyone.
Sam, with several films and a television mini-series under your belt, how has what you envisioned for yourself as a filmmaker and Banger Films as a production company changed since your first film back in 2005?
When we started out on the road to make the first film, we really just wanted to make the first in-depth, intelligent film about heavy metal, that was our goal and we were lucky. The film did really well, we realized that there were thousands of people out there whether they were metal fans or just general music fans that felt the same way. So since then we’ve had the opportunity to go on and do ‘Iron Maiden: Flight 666’ and ‘Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage’ and now ‘Metal Evolution’ so it’s been a great experience.
I think what we’ve learned at the end of the day is that what’s most important is to tell great stories and now we’ve moved on to a new film we’re working on – the story of Alice Cooper’s career from the beginning of his life right up to his big comeback in the '80s. I think there is a pretty remarkable story unfolding there, revealing some stuff about Alice and his life that people don’t really know about. We’re also doing a documentary on the cultural history of the Devil – looking at why the Devil has been such a pervasive character in film, literature, TV, music and popular culture over the last several decades.
I think that’s a really interesting question that hopefully will get some interest. The Devil has always been kind to us so we’re trying to keep that going – I think what we’ve learned is we start out to make a film about metal and then realize that there’s still a lot of great stories out there to be told not only about hard rock and metal music but maybe some of the darker subject matters of our culture that tends to get ignored.
We’re talking about the extreme metal episode that Sam is trying to put together for the continuation of the ‘Metal Evolution’ series, calling it the lost episode. Go to fullmetaljackie.com, I’ve got a link for you to check out the video where Sam is looking to raise funds. I’ll tell you what If there’s one thing metal fans are good at it’s getting together and doing the right thing and anytime anything has come about whether it’s Randy [Blythe] from Lamb of God or any topics – I feel like no matter which sub-genre anybody thinks is better or any opinions they have – metal fans unite.
Yeah this is the first time we’ve tried something like this, we’ve always gone the traditional route where we’ve got broadcasters and distributors to finance our work but because our usual sources aren’t really going to get behind this – we’re having to do it a different way. I think that we’ve got a long way to go, it’s a lot of money to raise, we don’t cut any corners. We pride ourselves to taking people to all the important places that are part of metal history, to going to the source, to meeting the people who are part of the story not flying ten people into a room and claiming that’s the comprehensive history of extreme metal. So we’ve got a long way to go but because we’ve had such a great response from the fans, we’re hopeful we can do this all together for the first time.
Like you mentioned, this is a sub-genre of metal that means a lot to us as fans and story tellers about heavy metal, not just the folks out there that have watched our movies and supported our work. We’re hoping we can all get together on this one and actually make it happen.
The ‘Metal Evolution’ series aired on VH1 classic, super thorough 11 episodes including pre-history of heavy metal and shock rock to grunge and the greatest episode, the thrash metal episode – did you get a lot of compliments on that one? That one I feel like I heard the most chatter – it was not only entertaining but educational.
[Laughs] Good, well like yourself, thrash is really close to my heart. That along with the extreme metal stuff that we’re trying to do now was really what excited me when I discovered metal as a teenager and still to this day is what excited me. To go to the Bay area and go to the rehearsal rooms where Exodus and Death Angel and Testament have played for all of these years and get to meet all of these bands it was a great experience. I think thrash is that important mix of the energy and attitude and speed of punk along with the real virtuosity and musicianship that came from bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest in the UK and there’s also some interesting turns in that story.
An album like ‘The Black Album’ obviously catapulted Metallica into a totally different sphere and you could argue or question rather “Were they still a thrash metal band at that point?” and we wanted to tackle that because I’ll be honest I love those guys and they’re friends of mine but ‘Enter Sandman’ was not my thing. [Laughs] When I turned up at high school and all of a sudden everyone that hated Metallica had Metallica shirts on, it was tough to take but from the perspective at looking at the history of this that was a real important turning point because I think it put a lot of pressure on the other thrash metal bands to produce a song like ‘Nothing Else Matters’ to produce a big hit like ‘Enter Sandman.’ It was great that guys like Gary Holt and Chuck Billy and the guys from Death Angel could really open up about that. We think that the thrash episode probably dug a little deeper than what people expected and that’s what we wanted the series to do.
Sam, first and foremost like all of us, you’re a fan and metal fans are intense to say the least. Is it difficult to maintain professionalism when meeting some of your biggest musical heroes?
[Laughs] Yeah, ever since I met Bruce Dickinson on the stage at the Hammersmith when we did ‘Headbanger’s Journey’ that was back in 2004 when we shot that interview – that was the beginning of a pretty exciting road. Guys like Dickinson and others were my heroes, they were my idols and they created music that made a huge impact on me and excited me and was music it was challenged by as a musician and it felt like it had so much more depth to it than so much of the other music that was going on back in the '80s when I was a teenager. It’s been a fantastic experience and I think what’s even more exciting is that most of these guys are very respectful of what we do, know what we do and recognize that I think, we’ve brought a lot to metal and to the vitality of this music.
It’s a little easier now to keep my professionalism in tact when I get to meet some of these musicians but I’m still meeting people I’ve always wanted to meet a guy like Arthur Brown in the shock rock episode in ‘Metal Evolution.’ A lot of people don’t know that he was really an early architect of combining spectacle and really over the top performance with rock music long before Alice Cooper and Kiss were doing it. Believe me I’ve had worse jobs, I’ve been a dish pig so I’m loving what we’re doing.
Full Metal Jackie will welcome Machine Head guitarist Phil Demmel to her show this coming weekend. Full Metal Jackie can be heard on radio stations around the country — for a full list of stations, go to fullmetaljackieradio.com.