Iron Maiden: Flight 666
On April 21, Ireland’s metal fans made the pilgrimage to multiplexes and movie houses to see Iron Maiden: Flight 666. The documentary – which follows Maiden on the first leg of last year’s Somewhere Back in Time World Tour – was screened for one night in more than 450 screens in 41 countries.
It was the widest simultaneous worldwide release of any documentary feature, and the latest ambitious project for Canadian filmmakers Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen following Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (2005) and Global Metal (2008). The pair’s next documentary will be about Canadian progressive rock legends Rush. With Iron Maiden: Flight 666 just released on DVD and Blu-ray, Metalireland spoke to Glasgow-born co-director McFadyen about Maiden, movies and all things metal.
How did you and Sam get involved with making Iron Maiden: Flight 666, and was it your idea or theirs?
I emailed Rod Smallwood [Iron Maiden’s manager] about the release of Global Metal and I added a PS: “We should do a doc about Maiden some time.” He replied within 10 minutes saying it was a great idea, but he had it in mind that the documentary might be about the recording of their new album in 2010. We were busy with the Rush documentary anyway so I thought we’d get back to Maiden in 2010 – but then I saw the press release for the Somewhere Back in Time tour. I knew that with the whole scope of the tour and Bruce [Dickinson, Maiden vocalist] flying it would be a great opportunity. Rod was just concerned that the band wouldn’t agree to having cameras in their face 24/7 – especially considering how logistically challenging the tour was going to be. Anyway, he managed to convince them and we had a couple of months to put everything together.
Rod has a fearsome reputation. Did you clash with him or indeed any of the band members or crew during the making of the movie?
It was intimidating walking up to the plane on the first day at Stansted. Their crew are pretty much English soccer hooligans. I wouldn’t say the reception was warm at first. They definitely took the piss out of us, but it was our job to give it back and slowly get the band to feel comfortable with us and like us. Nicko [McBrain, drums] and Bruce were very open, and, after a couple of weeks of drinking pints and playing tennis with Adrian [Smith, guitar] and Steve [Harris, bass], they warmed to us. It made it much easier to have the cameras around them.
You and Sam are metal fans, and now you’re making films with the genre’s biggest names. Is there any truth in the idea that you shouldn’t meet your heroes?
Sam had to get over that fascination with his idols when we made Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. I didn’t really grow up with metal in the same way as he did. In the Eighties, I was more into the Clash or Joy Division, and I developed an appreciation of metal later. But Sam is a huge metal fan, and Maiden is his favourite band of all time. I think what we talked about was that Maiden doesn’t actually have that much to hide, which is great. Once we got to know them, we saw that they’re really great people and now we’re friends.
You interviewed everyone from Dio to Slipknot for Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, but what were the unique challenges of focusing on one band for Iron Maiden: Flight 666?
There were a lot of pressures involved. We respect the band and they have to like it. Then there’s hundreds of thousands of fans around the world, and you want it to live up to their hopes. And then you also want to make something that’s going to appeal to non-Maiden fans. I thought focusing on one band would be less work, but in fact it was more difficult than our previous films. I’m not sure I’d want to do it for every band, but we got through it.
Metal is often dismissed by critics, yet it’s one of the most commercially successful and best-loved genres of music. Do you think your films are helping to change the mainstream media’s attitude towards metal?
I don’t know if it’ll fully change but I think we’ve had some effect. Before our first film, the only representations were The Decline of Western Civilization and Spinal Tap. We were the first to take heavy metal seriously in film. Kerry King’s [Slayer] wife told us she showed Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey to her parents to give them some insight into why she married Kerry. Lamb of God showed the DVD to their parents to give them some understanding. It’s definitely a window or a bridge into a culture, something that connects people.
2009’s other big metal movie is Anvil! The Story of Anvil. Maiden are at the other end of the spectrum from Anvil in terms of popularity, but do you see a similarity between the films?
I think the Anvil film is a great human story, but it’s true that the films couldn’t be more different – other than they’re about a metal band. The other similarity is that Maiden and Anvil have both stuck to what they want to do musically and didn’t give up or change due to trends. We know the Anvil guys and they’re hilarious. As Canadians, we call them true ‘hosers’! I just worry that they will feed the stereotype for non-metal fans.
In the Anvil movie, Lars Ulrich suggests that coming from Canada might have held Anvil back. Has the metal scene been traditionally less well developed there than in the USA and Europe?
Maybe the industry wasn’t established, but it didn’t really stop Rush – other than they got signed by a US label. I personally don’t think it’s all just that Anvil’s as good as every other metal band! I don’t think it’s that simple. One thing about Canada is it has a smaller population and it’s really spread out. Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal have their own unique scenes, and you have to drive three days from Vancouver to Toronto. A lot of great bands have came out of Canada but the real test is if you can make it in the US. We’ve interviewed bands like Max Webster who were huge in Canada but lived a very modest lifestyle, then we went to the US and all the bands are living in mansions – everyone from Rage against the Machine to Tool.
What stage is the Rush documentary at?
It’s going to take us into next year and it’s a challenge because it’s more about the history and influence of the band. The similarities between Rush and Maiden are that both bands are hugely successful and influential but they’ve never got the critical acclaim that they deserve.
Would you guys consider making a film about one of metal’s less known acts?
The closest thing I would consider doing – though he’s not unknown – is Sebastian Bach. He’s a good friend of ours and he’s truly one of the most hilarious people. It’s kind of a sad story because he was hugely popular when he was 18 and now has to do reality TV shows and has never been able to have fans accept his new music. He’s always expected to recreate something he did when he was 18, 19.
Obviously you were aware how popular Maiden are around the world from featuring them in your previous movies, but did any of the fans’ reactions while filming Iron Maiden: Flight 666 surprise you?
Being from North America, we’re used to a certain level of excitement at concerts. Maiden shows here are crazy. And when we went to Bangalore for Global Metal and saw the reaction there, we thought that was the new height of excitement. But when we hit South America in Flight 666, I’ve never seen fans like that, singing along to every single note. In Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile and Brazil, the crowds were insane.
How challenging was it to coordinate the simultaneous worldwide cinema release?
It was a brand new way of doing it. It showed the power of Maiden fans and how mobilised they are, that they’ll come out and sell out 450 screens in 41 countries.
Are you happy with the DVD and Blu-ray versions?
You’ve got to see it on Blu-ray – that’s the way it was meant to be seen. The second disc has the complete versions of the 16 songs from the documentary, so you have the complete set from the last tour – one song from each location around the world.
Iron Maiden: Flight 666 is out now on EMI.
Interview by Andrew Johnston ::: 25/05/09