Director Recalls Metallica’s Unhappy Reaction To First Some Kind of Monster Viewing: “Every Scene Was Either Gonna Be Changed or Put on the Chopping Block”
Filmmaker Joe Berlinger recently appeared on the Greatest Music of All Time podcast to discuss Some Kind of Monster, the 2004 documentary about the making of Metallica’s St. Anger. Berlinger co-directed the film with the late Bruce Sinofsky.
As part of the interview, Berlinger revealed that when the band first saw a rough cut of the movie, they hated it — so much so that they almost shelved the entire thing.
According to Berlinger:
“I think we had started this project early 2001. So, it’s two and a half years later — September of 2003 — it’s really the first time, other than the one time we showed James [Hetfield] a scene that you see in the film where we showed him the footage and had that conversation and let them know, like, ‘We have to do it our way or we need to go too. But if you wanna do it our way and just let us make the film, we’d love to do it.’ And he said yes.
“So now it’s a year and a half later. We have a rough cut of the film. It’s September of 2003. A couple of weeks away is the Sundance Film Festival deadline, to submit a rough cut, ’cause the festival is in January of 2004. It’s now September of 2003, and we are at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch in northern California because Lars [Ulrich] is good friends with George Lucas and we needed a screening room. And the whole band has assembled, and the managers. And Bruce and I are really nervous, because they haven’t seen anything, and there’s some raw honesty in the film.
“We have a screening, and each bandmember is in a different corner of this big screening room, and the management is kind of up in the back, huddled in the back. It’s a longer cut. The movie was ultimately, I think, two hours and 20 minutes. This was probably a three-hour-and-15-minute rough cut, because we wanted everything in there. We knew we had more editing to do, but we wanted to know if any scenes were gonna trouble them. We were basically looking for their blessing, which is a very precarious position for a filmmaker to be in.
“So, the movie plays. It’s a three-hours-plus screening. [There was] literally not a peep through the whole screening — not a laugh, not a moment of recognition — just total silence. And it wasn’t feeling good.
“We had agreed that at the end of the screening, we would all travel back to where [Metallica’s] headquarters is in San Rafael, which is about a half-hour drive from where we were. And Lars just kind of looks at me, pats me on the back and just kind of shakes his head. James just kind of looks at me — like, this stare — and walks out. The management looked a little nervous.
“So, on the ride to their headquarters to talk about the film, Bruce and I are regaling ourselves with the worst notes we’ve ever gotten from network executives, because we feel like, ‘Oh my God. This is not gonna be good.’ And sure enough, we sat around the table for hours. ‘You can’t tell our fans that we paid [then-new Metallica bassist] Rob Trujillo a million bucks.’ ‘We can’t show Lars auctioning off his art. They’re not gonna understand.’ ‘We can’t show this. We can’t do this.’ And the whole film was just crumbling before our eyes with lots of people airing concerns. Other than Lars — I mean, Lars was the one guy who was kind of pretty chill about the whole thing, I have to say. And I don’t remember exactly what I said, or Bruce said, but we defended ourselves really well; we had an answer for everything, why that scene is important in the film.
“And at a certain moment, I happened to look over at James Hetfield at the right moment, because I saw this moment of clarity come over him. And he pushed himself out from the chair, stood up — and this is after hours of conversation — and he said, ‘Look, it’s painful to watch. But you guys did exactly what you said you would do. It’s an honest, raw, truthful portrait of what we went through. I’m not sure I ever wanna look at it again, but we either treat this movie like Cocksucker Blues [the unreleased documentary film chronicling The Rolling Stones’ 1972 American tour] and lock it away in the drawer and nobody gets to see it, or we let these guys make the film they wanna [make]. We can’t sit here and tell them what scenes to cut and put in and take out or whatever. Let them make the film they wanna make. And I’m good with that.’ And he walked out of the room. And Lars looked at me and gave me a ‘good job’ [look]; he gave me great affirmation in that look, like, ‘You got your film.’ And Kirk [Hammett], who was a little nervous about it, also was in agreement. And I think the management was a little nervous about it but saw the power of the film.”
“It went from a conversation where literally every scene was either gonna be changed or put on the chopping block to, ‘You know what? We’re not gonna ask for any changes. Make the film you wanna make, and we’re happy with it.’ And they asked for zero changes.
“So there is nothing in Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster that is in the film because we don’t want it, and there’s nothing on the cutting-room floor that was taken out because they requested it. It is truly our film. And that was a magic moment of just going full circle and James realizing that, ‘Let’s put it out there.’”
Berlinger went on to direct Hetfield in the Netflix Ted Bundy biopic Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile.
You can check out the entire interview with Berlinger below.
Metallica are currently deep into “some pretty serious writing” for their next album. After first floating the idea of working on new music while under quarantine in April, by June Lars Ulrich had revealed that Metallica were, indeed, in writing mode. James and Rob have both said they’ve been busy working on new songs, too, and Kirk Hammett has trumpeted the fact that he has over 600 song ideas recorded (after infamously losing his cell phone with 300+ ideas prior to the sessions for Hardwired). The band were having some technical issues collaborating over the internet and were looking into doing so in-person in a bubble last they checked in, but that was months ago already, and Lars recently revealed that new material was coming along at a “glacial” pace.