Since their first recorded album in 1993, Metallica has been the most popular and influential heavy metal band in American history. Originally founded by James Hetfield (vocals and rhythm guitar) and Lars Ulrich (drums) in Los Angeles in 1981, Metallica added lead guitarist Kirk Hammett in 1983, and, after the tragic death of founding bassist Cliff Burton, went on to international popularity with new bass player Jason Newsted in the late 1980s and 1990s before moving to new and current bassist Robert Trujillo.
In the new feature film Metallica Through the Never, director Nimród Antal presents a multicamera 3D IMAX concert film combined with a hallucinogenic narrative nightmare, as experienced by a young roadie (Dane DeHaan starring as Trip), leading him on a bizarre journey which is intercut with succeeding concert footage.
When the finished film is released by Picturehouse in North America Sept. 27 exclusively in more than 300 IMAX 3D theaters, the project will combine an interpersonal live concert Metallica experience with Antal’s envisioned dramatic scenes.
To capture Metallica live, Antal used Arri Alexa cameras with the Cameron | Pace 3D rig which was developed and first used in Avatar. With the gear intact, the director shot four complete Canadian concerts front to back and a fifth concert for special onstage material. “At the end of the day, after two Edmonton concerts and three Vancouver concerts, we had 30 possible camera angles at any moment,” Antal explained. “It was awesome, but it was certainly a difficult process to sift through all of the material and find the right ones.”
To prepare for the concert shoots, Antal received schematics of Metallica’s custom stage for their Death Magnetic tour which canvassed the world in 2008 and 2009. From there, he planned shots for each song and began to place five to seven cameras in specific positions. “One camera was positioned for one song, which could not be there for the next song,” he explained of Metallica’s concert set-up, which included numerous pyrotechnic effects, metamorphosing stage elements and interchanging lighting rigs. “I saw those as limitations, but it ended up being a gift – each song had its visual style.”
After the “dry planning” stage, Antal and his camera teams went to Mexico City to observe eight concerts in a 22,000-seat hall, sold out every night. “We were able to see the stage and their movement on the stage,” he said. “Certain events transpire on the stage. Having seen those beforehand, we had foresight and gave me the ability to capture the moments. Their focus is now even more intense than it’s ever been.”
With multiple cameras capturing the concerts, entirely supervised by cinematographer Gyula Pados, Antal had a “plethora of good material” heading into eight months of postproduction, led by editor Joe Hutshing. “You sit with something for a long time and hope your taste is taking the right direction,” he explained. “Metallica’s way of working is we’re going to jump and figure out what to do on the way down. There was no point of reference to fall back upon. It was such an unusual [direction] that the band wanted to take.”
In addition to the 3D IMAX concert footage, Antal pitched the band on including an interwoven narrative that would cut in and out of the production numbers featured onstage. “They had this concept of the concert being married to the narrative, and I just tried my best to come up with some ideas that would work,” he said. “The night before I went to pitch to them, the idea that I had in mind wasn’t any good. When I arrived, I said that I have two ideas. One was more prepared, given that I had been working on it for a few weeks. I pitched that idea, but I could tell that they weren’t really digging it. The other idea, they really responded to. I went away with it and over the course of a few weeks, I worked alone and took the idea back to them and pitched it more. They had comments and thoughts. I saw how passionate their crew was for the band. These people put just as much energy and effort into it. That’s where the character of Trip was born.”
With a character of Trip and the idea of a surreal journey that he takes after he is sent on a mission from a working Metallica show, Antal engaged in 11 shooting days in Vancouver. “It was quite a challenge,” the director said. “I hate shooting stunts, but every film that I made has had stunts. No film is worth anybody getting hurt. It was a stressful time for me. We had quite a lot that we had to set up. We were shooting with 3D rigs, which can slow down the process. The people at Cameron | Pace were all phenomenal from the get go. We were doing 30 camera setups with 3D rigs and heavy stunts. None of them were throwaway shots. They were beautifully lit and well-performed shots – Alexas and Cameron-Pace 3D rigs and heavy stunts, crashed cars, burned people, rioters, horses. No animals or metal fans were harmed in the making of this film.”
In the end, viewers will be exposed to Metallica as most have never seen them before, in addition to the bold narrative elements of the film that the director realized. “I think we have done something unlike anything that you have seen before,” Antal said. “I think we attempted to match the band’s energy and power with the narrative, and I think that what the viewers can be in for is a completely original and powerful musical experience. This whole thing was a hell of a process and a super difficult film to make, but I am so proud of it and so honored that I had an opportunity to work with those guys. We did do something cool.”
In the DVD extras for Metallica Through the Never, there will be a concert-only version and a short film Trip-only version. “For that version, Lars said that we will find different songs, and we created a completely original new soundtrack for that short film, based on Metallica songs and instrumentals,” Antal revealed. Of note, Greg Fidelman produced all of the Metallica music in the theatrical film and for all of the DVD elements.
Metallica’s Kirk Hammett Talks New Movies and 30 Years of Music
San Francisco-based lead guitarist Kirk Hammett joined Metallica in 1983 and has been creating unforgettable heavy riffs and lightning-paced solos ever since. From the band’s first album Kill ‘Em All to their newest band effort, Death Magnetic, Metallica have been at the forefront of American heavy metal music, selling more albums than anyone else in the genre. On a publicity tour to promote the Sept. 27 opening of their new IMAX film Metallica Through the Never, Hammett spoke about the band’s unprecedented ascent over the past 30 years, including the making of the film.
Below the Line: Did you have any idea when you started out 30 years ago that you’d become as big as you got in the 1980s?
Kirk Hammett: No idea whatsoever. I thought that we would maybe sell enough albums to go to Europe and maybe make a second album and maybe that’s it. I never knew that we’d be making a movie. We knew we were doing something very unique and maybe only a handful of bands would be doing it. I knew that this type of music was very underground and weren’t very many people into this type of music. It was super exciting. We liked this type of music. We made the type of music that we wanted hear. We got bigger in Europe first which was kind of amazing. The bands, if they have any sort of career to speak of, European audiences pick up on it first. I think it’s because European people are more fanatical about it. They are more into the culture. We had no idea that our music would become that big. There’s not a lot of American bands who are big who are still around today. They are either not as big anymore or went somewhere else.
BTL: How are you feeling about the IMAX movie now that it’s ready to come out?
Hammett: I think it’s really exciting. I really think that we made a really cool different concert movie that’s unique and has something special to offer. I’m really happy about it. It’s the movie that we wanted to make from the outset. The last movie [the documentary, Some Kind of Monster], we didn’t even know we were making it while we were making it. A camera crew came in to film us recording an album. All of a sudden, it became something completely different. After all of the footage was shot, we decided to make a movie.
BTL: Why did you do this type of movie at this point in your career?
Hammett: We wanted to do an IMAX movie for a while, and it just seemed like at his point, it was the right time to do it. The stage we built incorporated all of the best aspects of our former tours. Everything kind of fell into place. We are really happy about it. The concept for the story aspect – that was something that Nimrod [Antal, the director] came up with. It was a concept that he created. We knew to make this different, we had to put a story in there. We were going to make a concert film and wanted a story. Nimrod’s treatment was the most Metallica-esque. We shaped and molded it so that it had more of a Metallica identity to it. It just worked out perfectly.
BTL: How did you conceive of the concert footage cutting into and out of the narrative story?
Hammett: It was really important for us that it was edited in a way there was a balance. It was important for us that the concert footage didn’t look like an MTV video as well. We went to great pains to make sure that it had the right look and the right balance. The transitions were where they should be. The editing was as we wanted it to be. It was very painstaking. There were 30 cameras, so it was all down to the editor. We didn’t want a preponderance of glory shots. We went for pacing and transitions and balance.
BTL: Why are you guys still as good as you were 30 years ago?
Hammett: Our music still means as much to us as ever. [Bassist] Robert Trujillo has injected fresh energy and enthusiasm. He fits in so perfectly chemistry-wise. We have a Cliff Burton-type of musician in the band again. Cliff was eccentric and had a sense of humor.
BTL: How does this movie hold up to your other career highlights in Metallica?
Hammett: I’m really really proud of this movie. I hope that everyone has a good experience seeing it and react to it the same way that I reacted to it. When you ask me to remember stuff, my memory is not so good. There are so many [career] highlights. Every time we get together after playing, that’s a triumph. We’re still into it. It’s incredible, and I hope that our next album can hold a flame.