Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster was intended to be a typical promo piece: a behind-the-scenes look at the world's most popular heavy metal band and the recording of their first studio album of original songs in five years. Instead, the result was a feature-length documentary that follows the band through a collective breakdown and the tortuous journey of emotional growth and reconciliation the band members undertake.
Initiated and initially paid for by Metallica's record label, Elektra, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky were hired as the directors based on their previous relationship with Metallica. Years before, the band had allowed Berlinger and Sinofsky to use three tracks for free in the directors' acclaimed documentary, Paradise Lost, which follows the trial of three teenagers in small town Arkansas accused of a horrific triple murder.
Sinofsky and Berlinger began shooting (on DVCAM, using Sony's DSR-500 camcorder) as Metallica began recording, and by the end they had racked up 1,600 hours of material. To shape this seething mass of raw footage into something watchable, they turned to David Zieff, who came on board as editor. Zieff had previously worked with Berlinger and Sinofsky on a Rolling Stone magazine special for ABC.
Zieff began cutting very early into production, but six months after shooting began, Metallica's lead singer, James Hetfield, stormed out of the recording studio; shortly thereafter, he announced he was going into rehab. Production came to a halt. During this hiatus, Berlinger and Sinofsky continued with a limited shooting schedule while Zieff was busy editing hundreds of hours of accrued footage.
Hetfield eventually returned from rehab and the band started recording once again, but by this point, Elektra had decided the project should be turned into a reality TV series, patterned after The Osbournes. Berlinger and Sinofsky were less than thrilled, but they geared up to make a reality series. They hired three additional editors-Larry Silk, Doug Abel and Mickey Millmore-and Zieff, who until that point had done all the editing, became the supervising editor. Once the decision was made to turn the project into a reality show with six episodes, however, the priorities shifted.
Cutting had initially been done on a Mac-based Avid 7.1 system with what Zieff describes as "a couple of big, gas-powered drives," but the project had too much media and the system couldn't handle it. For the reality TV situation, the team hired PostWorks to set up a Windows NT Avid Unity system with four satellite workstations and 3TB of storage.
"Working in Windows NT was new to me, but the system performed flawlessly," says Zieff. Unfortunately, the new editing setup meant that they had to spend two weeks redigitizing the film.
The editing team then had to shape hundreds of hours of footage into six cohesive one-hour episodes. Even though much of the material did not make it into the final cut, those six hours became the building blocks for the film. "As the supervising editor, I had to think about how to divvy up the material to keep everybody busy," says Zieff. "Dividing up the shows forced me to think about what each show would consist of. Originally, we were supposed to deliver all six shows at the same time as the album's release. That schedule changed, but it served us in the long run because designing the six shows helped us define the structure of the final movie."
Partway through this process, Berlinger and Sinofsky, who had never been satisfied with the reality TV approach, sat down with the band to discuss their options. They made a strong case against turning the project into a TV show and convinced Metallica to let them make the feature-length documentary the material warranted. The band agreed and bought the movie back from the record label, reimbursing them for the $2.5 million they had already spent and eventually plunking down another $2 million out of their own pockets.
Once the decision was made to return to a documentary format, the final postproduction push began. Every tape from the DSR-500 was digitized, as well as selected footage from the B-camera, a Sony PD150 wielded by either Berlinger or Sinofsky.
By the end of post, all of this material, plus massive amounts of archival footage, music and original tracks from the recording sessions, had been digitized. Zieff explains that they would typically digitize four channels of audio because, in addition to the sound that was being recorded, they would hook a DAT to the mixing board in the recording studio. In post, they would slave the DAT to the camera master and digitize them simultaneously.
"When they were in recording sessions," says Zieff, "the DATs were the only quality source for their music, vocals and conversations. Our boom was overwhelmed by the high volume in the studio."
However, this was a method that occasionally caused problems. The DAT timecode drifted and almost all of the audio suffered from a delay that wasn't predictable. Zieff or one of his assistants would create a new sequence with the standard audio on channels 1 and 2 and the DAT audio on channels 3 and 4, then go through the timeline and fix each chunk, auto-syncing it so it became a new clip.
Zieff had a slightly different editing style than Berlinger and Sinofsky, one that he calls additive, versus subtractive. Zieff explains, "They prefer to string together four hours of material and watch it, even if the connections [between different segments] are misleading. For them, it serves as a template from which they subtract. My technique is to string together segments to make the best connections you have and then embellish from there. Ultimately, what worked for them worked for me and we used their subtractive approach to great success."