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 Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster

We never expected to make a film about Metallica. We thought this was going to be a little straight-to-video promo about the making of Metallica’s new album. Three years and 1,600 hours of footage later, we realized we had something entirely different on our hands.

We first met Metallica when we started editing Paradise Lost, our film about the 1993 killings of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. In that story, three innocent teenagers were targeted by police and wrongfully convicted of the murders, partly because they listened to Metallica and other heavy metal bands. We thought it would be interesting to use this music as the soundtrack to our film, since heavy metal was implicitly being put on trial along with these kids (the lyrics to “Sanitarium” were actually introduced as “evidence” in the case). Metallica had never allowed their music to be used in a film before, but we figured it couldn't hurt to ask—the worst that could happen is they'd tell us to take a hike. So we faxed a letter to their management company Q Prime, and were completely shocked when the phone rang an hour later. Metallica’s manager Cliff Burnstein told us that the band had enjoyed our film Brother’s Keeper, truly felt for everyone involved in the West Memphis case, and would like to help us out. We were thrilled (and surprised that they had even heard of Brother’s Keeper, much less seen it), but still apprehensive because we figured it would cost us our entire post-production budget to pay for the songs. Then they said we could have the songs for free. Who were these guys?

Fast-forward six years. We’d kept in touch with Metallica, and had vaguely discussed doing something together a few times. We shot them for a VH-1 show (and they gave us more music for Revelations: Paradise Lost 2), but a larger project never materialized. We talked about making a documentary about them, but only if they were willing to give us total access to their private world. They understood, but that wasn’t something they were prepared to do. Then in early 2001, Lars Ulrich (Metallica’s drummer) said, “Maybe we’re ready to do something now.”

Their bass player Jason Newsted had just left the band, but they were about to record a new album, so Elektra Records (Metallica’s label) commissioned a short promo film to document the sessions. When we started shooting, it became clear that the band members were not getting along very well. The band began group therapy with a performance enhancement coach, Phil Towle, in an effort to facilitate communication. To our surprise, they agreed to our request to film the sessions.

A few months into shooting, James Hetfield (Metallica’s lead singer) checked himself into rehab and didn’t come back for almost a year. No one knew if he was going to come back, or if this was the end of Metallica, and nobody really knew what to do. Lars and Kirk Hammett (Metallica’s lead guitarist) didn’t know, Q Prime didn’t know, and Elektra didn’t know. Neither did we, so we just kept on shooting.

What had started out as a little promo was becoming a whole lot more. The band was going through monumental personal and professional changes. We were, too. After shooting Metallica’s intense therapy sessions, we often found ourselves back at the hotel, hashing out our own fifteen-year relationship.

When Metallica was finally getting ready to finish and release the album they’d spent over two years making (and we’d spent over two years documenting), Elektra decided they wanted us to turn our footage into a multi-part series for television. By now though, we knew we had a movie.

We showed the band some scenes we’d cut, and they agreed. Elektra graciously allowed Metallica to take over the film, and the band bought out the project with their own money. Metallica gave us the dough to finish shooting and editing, and left us to our own devices. It was pretty unbelievable—the biggest hard rock band of all time had bared their souls to each other and our cameras for two and a half of the most intense years of their lives, and they gave us final cut! All they said was, “We trust you. Do what you want, just be truthful.” A lot of this movie isn’t pretty, but we think we we’re truthful. Every film we’ve made has taken us to unexpected places, but Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, has been a truly amazing journey.

—New York City

 

Acclaimed documentary filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Paradise Lost, Brother's Keeper) provide an in-depth portrait of Metallica, one of the most successful heavy metal bands of all time. Berlinger and Sinofsky film the band's members as they confront their creative and personal demons, relationships to one another and the ever-changing record industry. This behind-the-scenes perspective reveals the band's reinvention of their creative process, as well as their struggles to balance their personal lives with the demand of sustaining the multi-billion dollar business they've spent twenty years building.