Joe Berlinger, who co-produced the METALLICA documentary "Some Kind Of Monster", has opened up about how the film ended up becoming such an honest examination of one of the world's most successful heavy metal bands.
Originally intended to be a promotional video paid for by Elektra Records to document the members of METALLICA going back into the studio for the first time in five years, "Some Kind Of Monster" ended up following METALLICA through the three most turbulent years of their long career, during which they battled through addiction, lineup changes, fan backlash, personal turmoil and the near-disintegration of the group during the making of their "St. Anger" album.
Berlinger, who directed the documentary with Bruce Sinofsky, discussed the making of "Some Kind Of Monster" during a recent appearance on Tom Cridland's "Greatest Music Of All Time" podcast
Joe said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "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, METALLICA frontman] 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, METALLICA drummer] 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," he continued. "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, guitar], 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."
Berlinger added: "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.'"
While initially helping METALLICA towards restoring band harmony, "Some Kind Of Monster" shows "performance coach" Phil Towle, a former psychotherapist who was brought into the picture in January 2001 to help Hetfield, Hammett and Ulrich repair their relationship with then-METALLICA bassist Jason Newsted, attempting to increasingly insert himself into the band's creative process, submitting lyrics for the album and even attempting to join them on the road.
"The presence of the cameras helped keep the process on track," Ulrich told The Wrap in a 2014 interview. "There was another set of eyes and ears there. Sometimes when somebody else is in the room, you watch your p's and q's a little more. I think it kept the whole thing from derailing in some peculiar way.
"We were at a crossroads," Ulrich added. "We had been really good at being able to compartmentalize a lot of this stuff. Suppress it with drinking or other extravagances. This was the first time we had to talk to each other, get to know each other and work stuff out … The cameras were there catching all of it."
"Some Kind Of Monster" also documented Hetfield's spiral into alcoholism and decision to check himself into a rehab facility. Hetfield's re-emergence from rehab is when the film really gets into gear, with the chief worry in his mind whether or not he could do METALLICA sober.
"Hetfield went away, but we said, 'Why don't we keep filming? Because we think it's interesting,'" Ulrich said. "We said, 'We trust you guys.' And they ended up being another set of eyes and ears in those rooms for the next 18 months as we dealt with the aftermath of Hetfield going away and all of the subsequent domino issues that came in the wake of that."
According to Ulrich, METALLICA had no idea how fans would respond to seeing footage of the band's touchy-feeling therapy sessions that ultimately healed the group and kept METALLICA from splitting up.
"As much as you want to control how people react, there are always things that throw you for a loop," Ulrich explained. "The fact that the music world was a little bewildered by it and the fact that the movie world sort of embraced the film was not something we would've predicted."
METALLICA released a tenth-anniversary two-disc Blu-ray edition of "Some Kind Of Monster" in November 2014. The new edition of the film was made available digitally and via VOD for the first time. It also contained a new bonus feature, "Metallica: This Monster Lives", a 25-minute follow-up segment filmed at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival during the premiere of the band's second film, "Metallica Through The Never". The segment featured interview footage with the band and Berlinger and Sinofsky in which they all looked back at the decade since the release of the film.