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Metallica Through the Never: Combining Concert Footage and Creative Storytelling in 3D IMAX

There have been concert movies and there have been apocalyptic feature films, but rarely if ever have both genres been featured in the same production. Until now.

Production designer Mark Fisher worked with the band’s production manager, Dan Braun, to develop a proposal for the most ambitious and complex indoor concert set ever built. Fisher collected the most outstanding symbols and set pieces from Metallica’s previous shows and rebuilt them on an epic scale. Above, Lady Justice from the

Justice for All

tour.

Metallica Through the Never from Picturehouse hit more than 300 IMAX 3D theaters on September 27 in North America, with plans to expand to more screens in early October. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9.

The music-driven feature film combines a bold narrative with live performance footage of Metallica appearing on a props-and-pyrotechnics-laden stage in front of a real arena audience.

The film’s narrative features Trip (played by Dane DeHaan of The Place Beyond the Pines), a young roadie sent out on an urgent mission during Metallica’s live set. While attempting to retrieve a mysterious item, circumstances place Trip in a postapocalyptic urban streetscape, where he is pursued by the Death Dealer, a mounted executioner. Trip must escape this and other dangers in order to deliver the precious cargo to the arena, where Metallica (James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo) are performing some of their most iconic songs.

Filmmaker Nimrod Antal, who wrote and directed Metallica Through the Never, says that while there would have been far fewer technical tools to work with on any similar project several years ago, the film’s genesis came more than a decade ago. “The band had been approached years ago, I think by IMAX, and there were conversations about putting a project together. But for whatever reason, they felt they weren’t ready to do it. Then at one point a couple of years ago IMAX called me and asked if, first and foremost, I was a fan of Metallica. I said yes—they were a big part of the movie soundtrack of my life growing up. So I found that appealing.”

The finished film draws from more than 60 hours of footage shot with 24 cameras, which director Nimrod Antal was able to place wherever he needed to get the most dynamic shots.

IMAX executives told Antal they wanted to shoot a concert film in 3D—a format the director (Predators, Kontroll) had never worked in before. “I found that appealing as well,” he says. “Ultimately IMAX had the idea of weaving a story, a narrative, into such a concert film, and I found that very odd and something I also had never done before. I met with the band and they challenged me to come up with a story that could be not only woven in, but also somehow connected to the concert itself,” Antal says.

As if the concept wasn’t challenging enough, 3D only added to the pressure to get it right. “Before we even started, I had concerns about how the editing [process] would work in 3D, considering the fact that the music itself has to play a major role in any concert film, and any format would have to complement that music. I knew we’d have a relatively aggressive montage, given their music. So I was concerned about traumatizing the viewer because of the 3D elements,” says Antal, a native Californian of Hungarian descent.

Antal and his crew also had some concerns about a very ambitious shooting schedule. “But we managed to do about 40 setups a day with two cameras—two ARRI Alexas—which would have been a lot even for a 2D shoot. I was very fortunate with the team we had. We think the blacks [the Alexa] offered were just different from the RED camera and some of the other gear we were contemplating at the time,” he says.

Antal has a habit of storyboarding everything, and the production team found the narrative portion of the film relatively straightforward. Yet the concert side (featuring 17 songs performed on stage in front of a live audience) was another challenge. “Each song had different elements transpiring on the stage that had to be captured effectively and had to be unique—from using large props to pyrotechnics to lasers” and other lighting, Antal says.

The completed stage is 200 feet long and 60 feet wide, equipped with an astonishing array of pneumatics, hydraulics, lasers, trap doors, projection LEDs, pyrotechnics and more.

“And we had to work really, really fast. The end of one song meant the operator had to scramble offstage within seconds before the next song started up with these massive 40-foot balls of fire!”

The director placed additional cameras in the rafters and other sites, sometimes running 24 cameras simultaneously—including one that hovered directly over the stage with a view of an LED screen on the floor. The performance footage is shot in large part from the band’s point of view. “We also made good use of dollies and a couple of 30-foot Technocranes.”

The editing process also proved to be intricate. “Even apart from the 3D elements, postproduction was the longest I’ve ever done on any film, ultimately lasting maybe nine or ten months [because] we simply had no point of reference. This was another appealing thing about the film,” Antal says. “Stitching the story and concert together proved quite difficult, and we often heard stuff from various [film editors] like, ‘Wow, I’ve never heard of anything like this’ and ‘I’ve never done anything like this before.’”

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