It’s not that often that a documentary about metal makes it to theaters. But along with Some Kind of Monster, Anvil: The Story of Anvil and the Lemmy documentary, the Lamb of God film As the Palaces Burn will be hitting theaters starting later this week. Starting out as a film about the global appeal of metal, it quickly became a film about the tragic death of a fan and the ensuing trial of frontman Randy Blythe in the Czech Republic. We spoke to bassist John Campbell and the film’s director, Don Argott about the decision to continue filming once Blythe was detained, the experience of making the film, and what appeal it might offer to those beyond Lamb of God’s fan base.
As the Palaces Burn had its premiere last week in Philadelphia. How was that?
John Campbell: I had an amazing time at the premiere. I was a little nervous going in because this is not a really happy movie. Promoting it feels a little odd, but you know it’s a lot easier to support it knowing that its Don’s work and that he’s done a great job. But I had to experience it being able to sit there and watch it on the big screen and sort of detach from the story as far as me personally being in it and just kind of watch and take it in for the spectacle that it is when it’s appropriately screened. It was pretty cool, the crowd was into it I watched a lot more of it that evening than I thought I was going to.
Had you seen the completed film before then?
JC: I have, and my intention that evening was to not watch it and just take my wife out to dinner, but being a gentleman I asked my wife ‘I don’t think you’ve seen the whole movie so if you want to watch, lets go sit up there and then go get something to eat” so we watched about half the flick and went out to enjoy a nice meal in Chinatown.
Philadelphia is kind of your second home, so it must have been kind of surreal to return to a place that you’ve played many a time before and have a movie night there.
JC: It was definitely odd being onstage without an instrument and it didn’t occur to me that that was going to be recorded for posterity and put on YouTube for everyone to see (laughs). It was a little odd in that but it also felt really comfortable. I know quite a bit of that building inside and out and in a lot of ways it was just coming back to a place that we know and are comfortable in.
Switching to the movie itself, how long had you guys been working on the idea; the original concept of the film, about the global reach of Lamb of God fans in metal?
Don Argott: We pretty much had finished that part of the movie. We started in South America and India and went to Israel and when we got back from Israel we spent some time in Napa and shot a fan story out there. We had primarily finished the fan portion of the film and were waiting for the guys to come back home from the European part of that tour to schedule some final interviews and more shooting to round the rest of the film out, which obviously never happened. We were done shooting the fan stuff, and we got the phone call from Larry [LOG manager Larry Mazer] saying that Randy and the rest of the band had been detained in the Czech Republic. At that point, nobody knew what the hell was going on and it took a couple days to really understand that it was much more serious than everybody initially thought. [We thought they’d] ask us a couple questions and we’d be on our merry way, and obviously it was a much bigger deal than that. Then it became a question of ‘what do we do with this movie now’ because it’s obviously much different and there’s something a lot bigger going on here. Should that be part of the film? Should we not make the film? I’m not thankful of what happened, its a tragedy, but I’m thankful that the band had trusted me enough and was comfortable enough to continue filming. What they were going through was extremely heavy and heartbreaking and they let the cameras in on that. I felt that I really had to do them justice and treat this as delicately as humanly possible.
How long was the film in limbo? How much time between when Randy’s detainment happened and when you decided to press on with it?
DA: It was in stages, It wasn’t all or nothing. I knew that if it was going to happen at all, it needed to be an organic process. It needed to be something that wasn’t forced and everyone would have to be comfortable with if it was going to happen the right way. I’m based in Philadelphia, and Larry’s office is based in south Jersey so geographically we’re pretty close to each other. Larry was in constant contact with me because I would call and say ‘what’s going on?’ these guys were still in Prague, so two days in I said ‘I don’t know what we’re doing with this movie, but I should be there at least filming you because I can get to you and I can’t get to the guys and I certainly can’t get to Randy so let me come over. Larry was like “absolutely not, no don’t,” so I got in the car and went over (laughs) and so that scene that’s in the film shows the value of having a camera when stuff is going on versus waiting until everything is over and talking about it after the fact. So that was the first thing that I shot being in that environment when things were unfolding.
Then there was that scene when Randy was in that holding area, where I guess he was being read his rights, and I hired a camera operator in the Czech Republic and the producer and I scrambled and found somebody and said “hey what are you doing tomorrow morning, you need to go to this court house and shoot,’ so early on we were just trying to stay on top of the story as much as possible. There was an overall period of time when everybody got back and regrouped and reassessed what the hell was going on, and I ended up talking to everybody individually and brought up the idea that “what do you guys think about the film and including this?” It took a little time and it needed to take time I think for everybody to kind of get their heads around what was going on I would say probably a couple weeks after what happened we kind of picked up and started in full swing again with that part of the film.