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Sam Dunn Interview

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Sam Dunn

Sam Dunn

Banger Films
Updated October 27, 2012
The VH-1 Classic series Metal Evolution spotlighted several different genres of hard rock and heavy metal. Sam Dunn, the creator and narrator of the series, wanted to do an extreme metal episode, but the network would not allow it. So now the filmmaker behind Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, Global Metal, Iron Maiden: Flight 666 and other music documentaries decided to film an extreme metal episode of Metal Evolution on their own. They are seeking help from fans via IndieGoGo to fund the episode.

Chad Bowar: Your previous documentaries aired on VH-1, and they had plenty of extreme metal content. How come the network objected to doing an extreme metal episode of Metal Evolution?
Sam Dunn: For VH-1 Classic, their audience is primarily geared toward the ‘70s and ‘80s classic metal; bands like Kiss, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Metallica. Those are the bands in their sweet spot. They were open to doing a thrash metal episode, but they felt extreme metal was just a little too out on the edge for them.

Initially we were disappointed because we wanted to do an episode on extreme metal. We think it’s important to the story. But at the same time, we were pretty pleased that they would do 11 hours on metal. There aren’t a lot of networks that would do that in the first place.

What was behind the decision to do that extreme metal episode now after the series has aired?
The main motivation was the fact that we think it’s important to the story, but also that we got a lot of response from fans to Metal Evolution who liked the series, but felt that extreme metal was missing. For younger fans especially, extreme metal IS metal. It’s what they are most excited about. It’s the bulk of what they listen to. For them it’s a glaring gap. From our perspective, given that it is a show about evolution, it is odd not to have that one genre that today is primarily responsible for breaking new ground in metal music. It felt that the story was incomplete.

So now you’re giving fans a chance to put their money where their mouth is, as it were.
It’s the first time we’ve done a crowd funding campaign, so it’s new for us. But the response so far has been positive. We’ve got some pretty amazing perks as part of the campaign, everything from a pre-order digital download up through signed copies of Peter Beste’s famous black metal book to days on the set with us and a whole bunch of stuff in between.

One thing we do know is that nothing with extreme metal has ever been easy. Anyone who has been part of this genre has had to fight tooth and nail to make it happen. We’re going to keep pounding away and adding some new perks soon to give us a bump in the contributions. (You can contribute to the campaign here: www.indiegogo.com/extrememetal.

Have you figured out where you want to go and who you want to interview for the extreme metal episode?
The main architects of extreme metal have been the Florida death metal bands like Death, Obituary and Morbid Angel. They took what thrash did and made it even heavier, adding more double bass, lower vocals, even delving deeper into dark subject matter. Then there are the grindcore bands in the U.K. like Napalm Death, who brought a different spin to it by adding more socially conscious lyrics. They pioneered the blast beat. The Norwegian black metal scene was obviously very important. It added a primitive, DIY movement, and then exploded into a more theatrical style. There’s an interesting story in just the Norwegian stuff alone. We’re going to find a way to cram all that into an hour.

How will it be distributed, and will you be able to make this episode longer than the TV episodes?
We know at minimum it will be a digital online release. That certainly gives us more freedom with the length of the episode. If we exceeded our financial target, that would give us more money to do more travel and film more bands. Down the line there is the possibility it could be broadcast or put on DVD, and even in that case we might be able to get away with doing a longer episode.

If we did exceed our goal, one idea we had was putting the extreme metal episode on a single DVD and put together some special features from the main series that we never got to do. We did over 300 interviews and we have tons of extra footage that we filmed on the road. We could put together some killer stuff.

Out of the 11 Metal Evolution episodes, which generated the most response?
The episodes that have generated a lot of response are the styles of metal that are most controversial. Glam metal and nu-metal particularly have always polarized metal fans. There’s one camp that loves it, and one camp that wants to destroy it. I think people appreciated the fact that we took those episodes head on and acknowledged there was a debate and tried to give a balanced perspective on why it is part of the evolution of metal music.

And while I’m still not a fan of glam or nu-metal, from the perspective of documentary filmmakers we see their value in the story. They really did represent huge leaping off points in the history of the music.

Most documentary filmmakers are pretty anonymous, but since you are also the narrator of your films, you’ve become well-known. Do you think you’ve become one of the public faces and voices of metal?
Scot (McFadyen) and I direct and produce together, and I think that balance of perspectives is important to make sure we’re giving respect and an informed approach to metal for fans but also finding a way to present it to a broader audience. For me, going to metal shows is a bit of a different experience now, which is a good thing. It means people are seeing our movies and enjoying them. I welcome it when people come up and mention they have seen our stuff and like what we do, and get the occasional critique, which is helpful too. Metal fans are very opinionated, and we get the occasional slap on the wrist, which is probably a healthy thing.

Your films have documented both individual bands like Iron Maiden and Rush, and larger scenes and movements. Do you prefer one over the other?
For us we enjoy both tackling individual bands and broader subject matter. At the end of the day what matters most is a great story. That may lie in one particular artist. For example, we’re doing a documentary on Alice Cooper right now. Or it may lie in a huge phenomenon. We’re also doing a documentary on the devil right now, which is obviously a pretty massive topic.

Moving forward we’ll always have one foot in doing stuff on specific rock and metal bands, but we’re definitely interested in broadening out and doing other documentaries and possibly dramatic features and other TV shows. For us, it’s also a business, and you can’t keep making heavy metal documentaries your entire career. We’ve got to find other things out there to keep us inspired and also put bread on the table.

I’d imagine it would be more difficult working with TV shows because of the interference in the creative process. Have you found that to be true?
I think we have been lucky. When we worked with VH-1 Classic and our Canadian network they had very little creative commentary on what we had done. That had a lot to do with the fact that they knew our previous work. VH-1 has aired three of our documentaries and they know what our approach is. We definitely hear the stories from colleagues in the industry who have had tough relationships with networks because they want to shape the story. But so far we have dodged that.

You mentioned the devil documentary you’re working on. Does that focus mainly on music, or the entire cultural, historical and religious aspects as well?
Our devil documentary is focusing more on the power of the devil in popular culture from the 1960s to the present day. We’re zeroing in on how films like The Exorcist shaped people’s perspective on the devil. We’re looking a little bit at heavy metal music, but we’re also looking at questions like why exorcisms became increasingly popular in America during the 1990s or why there was a Satanic panic in the ‘80s. It is looking at the devil in society, and why it seems never to go away.

What’s your timetable on shooting and getting the extreme metal episode of Metal Evolution out to the public?
If the campaign goes according to plan and we raise the money by mid-December, the goal is to start research and writing it before the end of the year. We’d like to get out and do the filming early next year. Hopefully somewhere around April we’ll be ready to get it out there. We have a pretty clear idea of the bands and locations of the episode. We know the sub-genre pretty well. We’re confident we know where the stories lie in extreme metal.

Anything else you’d like to add?
We just want to appeal to everyone who is a fan of extreme metal or a fan of the series that wants to see more. Chip in what you can. We want this to see the light of day, and we are relying on everyone out there to make it happen.

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