Film - Metal Lords

With Metal Lords heading to Netflix tomorrow (8th April), read a short interview with the film's writer/ producer (and co-creator of Game of Thrones) D B Weiss...

Press Release

Two kids want to start a heavy metal band in a high school where exactly two kids care about
heavy metal. Hunter (Adrian Greensmith) is a diehard metal fan who knows his history and
shreds. His dream is to win the upcoming Battle of the Bands. He enlists his best friend Kevin
(Jaeden Martell) to man the drums. But with schoolmates more interested in Bieber than Black
Sabbath, finding a bassist is a struggle. Until Kevin overhears Emily (Isis Hainsworth) playing
her cello. The motley crew must contend with school, parents, hormones and teen angst
while trying to get along long enough for Skullf*cker to win the Battle of the Bands.

Directed by Peter Sollett, Metal Lords stars Jaeden Martell, Isis Hainsworth, Adrian Greensmith, Sufe Bradshaw, Noah Urrea, Analesa Fisher, Michelle Fang, Phelan Davis, with Brett Gelman, and Joe Manganiello.

Here's the interview with D B Weiss

When did you first conceive of Metal Lords?

It was years ago before Game of Thrones even began. My life was pretty happy and without major incidents, which does not make for great storytelling. I look back at my experiences growing up and I was a big music kid. I’m still a music kid. I played in a band in high school, and when you do that, there’s a comic discrepancy between how important what you’re doing seems to you and how important what you’re doing looks to anyone outside yourself — which is not important at all. [Laughs]

Like in the film, I had the experience of being in a band with my friends and then joining another band when they lost their guitar player. So I started playing with these guys - their world was a bit different from mine, and that experience was the kernel at the heart of the story of this movie. It’s almost pure fiction, but drawn loosely from life.

Do you remember any of your high school band names?

Not really. It was that thing where you changed your name every single show, because you felt like, if you could only find the right name, then the fact that you didn’t really know how to play very well, would cease to make a difference.

Do you still play?

Yes, it’s something that, for me, is all enjoyment and no stress. The main thing that I love became my day job, which is the only thing anybody can really hope for in life. But it does freight the thing you love with the stresses of a job. Music was something set aside as a place to go when you wanted all enjoyment without any expectations.

At what point did it go from that high school kernel to what we see today?

I wrote the first (different) version of the script in the early 2000s, and I met Metal Lords producer Greg Shapiro through my Game of Thrones partner David Benioff. When David and I started working on the Thrones process around 2006, I figured the plan was, if and when Thrones fell apart— which seemed likely— I’ll go and do my metal movie with Greg. Thirteen years later, I was talking to Greg and he said; “Let’s do Metal Lords.” In the interim, he had won an Academy Award for The Hurt Locker and had produced Zero Dark Thirty and all the Harold and Kumar movies. He had done everything from art house stuff to action to comedy, and I was like, “You have an Academy Award, dude. You don’t have to produce movies about metal kids.” But he wanted to make it anyway, so we took it to Netflix’s [vice president of independent film] Lisa Nishimura. Lisa worked for Island Records for years and is a serious music person, so she got it right out of the gate.

Then you had to find your three stars: burgeoning drummer and fresh metal convert Kevin played by Jaeden Martell; Adrian Greensmith, playing Kevin’s best friend and the ultimate metal fan Hunter; and cellist and metal novice Emily played by Isis Hainsworth. And in the case of Jaeden and Isis, they had to learn how to play correct?

Yes, Adrian’s a really talented guitar player, but he’s all classical and jazz, and Isis and Jaeden were not musicians. Tom hooked us up with Carl Restivo, who is an amazing musician, engineer, and master of many music trades. One of those is teaching kids how to play and how to perform rock music. It was really gratifying to watch Carl and Tom teach these young actors what the music was about. Watching that process also reengages you with the thing that you love. When you see other people sparking to it, it shows it to you in a new light, and reminds you of what you loved about it in the first place.

One of the few dividends of the pandemic shutdowns was that Jaeden had so much time locked in his Airbnb with nothing to do but bang away on the little drum kit that he had in there. By the time we got to the end of the shoot, where we were shooting the montage in the music room and the Battle of the Bands, he was hitting every beat of every fill – not just hitting it, but really selling it. I knew he was a pro on the acting front because I’d seen and admired so much of his work, but it was a pleasant surprise that he took the drumming so far.

It’s interesting that Adrian is mainly a jazz player. It felt like you plucked a die hard metal fan out of a Guitar Center.

Adrian was just starting drama school in London. He’s from New York, but his father’s English. I didn’t know any of that, and I had no idea that he played any instrument at all. Somehow, in his case, that question had fallen through the cracks. It was probably my fault.

Anyway, he was one of the first eight people that we saw, and we probably saw 150 more. When I looked him up and saw that he hadn’t been in any film or TV before, I figured he was playing Hunter as a version of himself. It wasn’t until much later, when I met him in person, that I realized he’s nothing at all like Hunter. He’s the sweetest, most respectful, thoughtful and introspective young man, just just an excellent human being. The abrasive edges of the character are completely foreign to his personality.

You noted that Hunter has some abrasive qualities. How did you balance that with making him someone the audience can root for to find redemption, beyond the memory of the angst we all had in high school?

It was a huge challenge in the casting process – finding an actor who had qualities that kept you tethered to them, that didn’t break the chain of sympathy even when they were being abrasive to all the people around them. Adrian really was able to convey the sadness that was lurking under the surface of this kid. Everybody knows people like that. Not metal people necessarily, but people who protect themselves by putting up that kind of spiky armor that shuts out other people. That’s who his kid is. And metal happens to be his thing. It has nothing to do with metal intrinsically – some people who do it are biologists or bankers or teachers. But I think that we needed somebody who has an inherent empathetic quality to counterbalance that. And Adrian had it.

Isis also has a difficult part to navigate because, not only does she have to learn how to play the cello, she’s the only girl and she has a mental health issue. So you all have to work to keep her from becoming the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” How did you handle that challenge?

It was similar to Hunter’s issues with his broken home, which is a major source of his problems. Obviously, Emily’s issues are different, but in both cases, I wanted the problems to be there and to feel real, but not to drown the movie. We’ve all known people who have a lot to deal with, whether it’s really problematic relationships with your parents, or mental health issues, or personal tragedy or something else. But the people I know who are dealing with those issues… dealing with it isn’t all of their lives, all of the time. There are other aspects to them, other facets to their lives and personalities. I didn’t want her problems to completely define her. It’s a part of who she is. But it’s not all she is.

The film’s big moment is when the band finally plays Hunter’s metal opus “Machinery of Torment.” How was the song written?

Tom wrote the song. Carl Restivo engineered it. I wrote the moronic lyrics.

And from where did you summon those?

From the deep core of moron-ism that lives in my heart and will never die. It was a fun thing to do. Hunter is a smart kid. Intellectually he’s pretty precocious, he thinks it’s fun to quote Tennyson in his class speeches.. He reads Dante and he wants everybody to know it. He’s also the kind of kid who feels the need to use exsanguinate in the first line of his song, to show you that he knows that word. It should be said that the quick fantasy sequence guitar solo that he plays at the very end of the Battle of the Bands, where he is floating above the crowd, was actually done by Steve Vai. In combination with a choral bit written by [Grammy-nominated Game of Thrones composer] Ramin Djawadi, a lot of time and effort went into that seven, eight seconds. [Laughs]

Do you need to be a metal fan to enjoy the film? Who do you envision the movie being for?

I don’t think you do. With anything that centers around some kind of subculture, the basic hope is that you can find a way to make it connect with people who aren’t a part of that subculture. You don’t want to abandon those people – the movie is definitely for them – but you keep one eye on them, and keep another eye on the person who doesn’t know anything about this music, doesn’t care much about it, has at best a passing understanding of it. I was really lucky that Greg Shapiro, my co-producer on the film, is that person. He knows something about the music, but isn’t a huge fan. And also the young actors, Adrian, Jaeden, Isis… this music was foreign to all of them. So there were all these different lenses through which I was seeing the movie for the first time in a fresh way, people to whom this style of music didn’t really matter. Yet!

So when you’re talking to Isis, or Adrian, or Jaeden about their characters, you need to be able to ground them in some relatable reality that makes sense to them, otherwise they’re just saying words. And I think when I saw how nuanced and excellent their performances were, it made me feel like, on the acting front at the very least, we’d gotten through to a place where it was going to be interesting to people who weren’t pre-sold on metal.

There are many movies I’ve seen about cultures and subcultures that I know nothing about and didn’t even think I was interested in. But the movie made me interested, by letting me see around the edges into what these subcultures meant to the people in the movie, and what emotional needs it served for them.

The idea was to kind of keep the eye on the prize of the characters, to tell their story through this music and show what the music meant to them, or what it came to mean to them. I think it really helps to have Kevin and Emily. Kevin, for instance, at the beginning, he’s not doing this because he loves the music in his heart. He’s doing it because he has one friend, and that’s what his friend likes. But he finds something that he didn’t know he was good at and uses it to get himself to a better place than he was before, and then he pulls his friend along with him, so they can all be there together.

What do you hope audiences take away from Metal Lords?

I’m hoping that people can see something of themselves in the characters, and come away from the movie feeling a little bit better than the felt going into it. On the surface, the music can be dark and aggressive. It’s often meant to freak people out. But the uses to which the music is put are often the opposite of that. It’s music for people who don’t feel like they have a place in the world they see around them. Music for people who are looking for a way to express that feeling of being on the outside… and also a road for those people to find their way inside something else. To me, at its core, this is a story about three people who don’t fit in, learning how to not fit in together.


Master of Reality, Black Sabbath
Ride the Lighting, Metallica
Screaming for Vengeance, Judas Priest

Photos - Scott Patrick Green / Netflix © 2022
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