Pollstar talked to Lamb of God bassist John Campbell and film director Don Argott ahead of Sunday’s worldwide premiere of the band’s feature documentary film “As The Palaces Burn.”
Argott had filmed about 50 hours of footage that was originally about Lamb Of God’s loyal, worldwide fanbase when frontman Randy Blythe was arrested and jailed in June 2012 in Prague, Czech Republic, accused of pushing a 19-year-old fan from a stage during a 2010 concert. The teen later died of a head injury.
With Lamb of God’s blessing Argott continued filming, documenting the legal proceedings and conducting one-on-one interviews with band members as Blythe was released from jail, charged with manslaughter and eventually acquitted by Prague’s Municipal Court in March 2013.
“This is about as crazy a journey that you can go on,” Argott told Pollstar. “You start out making one film and then all of a sudden I’m in a Czech courtroom with a guy’s life in the balance whether he’s going to go to jail for 10 years. You start to look around like, “How the f**k did we get here?”
Campbell discussed how the tragedy brought him and Blythe closer together and what the film taught the bassist about himself.
Following the Feb. 16 premiere at Philadelphia’s Trocadero Theatre “As The Palaces Burn” will be screened worldwide in more than 25 countries beginning Feb. 27. Interview below....
The documentary was originally going to focus on the band’s fanbase around the world and how music can bring fans together. How did the project come to be initially? Did the band contact you?
Argott: The band’s manager/management Larry Mazer reached out to me. … They had done two previous films that had done really well – a concert DVD and kind of a behind the scenes, all access, on the road DVD. But they wanted to do something a little bit different this time around. … Because their fans are kind of really loyal and rabid around the world, to kind of put the spotlight on them and obviously use the band’s tour as the backdrop of all that.
What made you want to work with the band? Were you a fan before?
Argott: I personally wasn’t a fan of Lamb Of God’s music per se but I grew up listening to heavy metal so I knew that world inside and out. I started listening to music when I was 13 or 14 so punk rock and heavy metal are a huge part of my life. When Larry originally pitched me the idea I hadn’t followed them in their career but I knew of them. Obviously they’re a pretty big band. For me [it] was less about whether I liked the music or didn’t like the music. I just thought it was an interesting angle to take. I try to approach every one of the films we make that you don’t have to be a fan of the music per se (to enjoy the film).
How many hours of footage did you shoot altogether for the film?
Argott: Probably anywhere from 100 to 150 hours of footage, something like that. It’s hard to quantify that because you just roll a lot of times. The first part of the film, which we still used a fair amount, that in itself was probably about 50 hours of footage. … I used to be able to figure that out a lot easier when we used to shoot on tapes because tapes were an hour long and I could look back at the end of a project and say, “OK, there’s 100 tapes here so that’s 100 hours of footage.” But since everything’s digital and everything’s a file, it’s harder to figure it out.
Campbell: A little side question on that – do you think you shot more for the film because of the twist that it took? I felt like we pretty much had the film in the bag before the twist got thrown in.
Argott: Yeah, definitely. I mean, we basically made a second movie.
Campbell: Not only is a normal movie hard [to make], but this one was even harder.
Argott: We basically started making the film again after everything happened with Randy. Putting all that together to make it seem like it was one cohesive film was another story. But yeah, there was probably as much or more footage on the second part of the story as the first part of the story.
After Randy was arrested, did you have a conversation with the band about continuing with the documentary?
Argott: When it originally happened I got the call from Larry, the band’s manager, and I think at that point nobody knew anything, nobody knew what the hell this was about. Probably the first day or so the feeling was like “Oh, this is probably a big misunderstanding. Randy will get released in a day and we’ll kind of go on and finish the rest of the tour and that will be that.” Once it got to that point where it was clearly more serious … it was something that the band needed to be on board with if we were even going to go forward with making this film.
I reached out to everyone individually to see how everybody was doing. We’d all become friends at that point and it was a pretty heavy moment that was going on. It was clearly scary for all of these guys.
Once it seemed like it was going to be a pretty significant story and a significant part of the band’s history, then it was a question of “OK, let’s talk about the idea of the film and does this have a place moving forward or not?”
John can jump in on the band’s side.
Campbell: From my perspective we had an immense respect for Don and (film editor) Demian (Fenton) putting films together. Don approached us saying, “Hey, I understand this may be too early to jump back into this but when you guys are ready I would like to continue telling this story.” It only made sense that he continued his work.
I got asked in an interview recently if the movie would have come out had Randy been convicted and gone to prison. Honestly, it had never occurred to me that the movie wouldn’t be, at the very least, completed, knowing that Don and Demian were doing it. And as far as releasing it regardless of the outcome, I would have been fully into that just because these guys are making this great movie and are great filmmakers.
John, did the band ever consider nixing the documentary because you didn’t want the legal process filmed?
Campbell: No, we’ve had a lot of experience with having documentary-esque things in the past. We released a DVD in which our guitar player and singer get into a full-on, drunken brawl and our guitar player knocked out our singer so we’re [into] the warts-and-all approach. It only seemed natural – this fairly tragic thing happened and we just happened to have these amazing people documenting and presenting the story. Why wouldn’t we continue?
The film includes candid footage. Were you were able to forget there was a camera crew observing you?
Campbell: Yeah, I mean it almost comes along with part of the job. We go on stage in front of hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands of people. That’s something that you get used to. We had a guy following us around with a camera who we became very good friends with, who put out two DVDs involving some live stuff, so we had already gotten used to the fact that we might have a person around with a camera. And then Don and Demian came in and filled that role and we immediately connected with these guys. We have a lot of things in common outside of the work that we’re trying to get done. Through this and just being on the road together, I feel like we became really good friends with them.
Don, can you talk about the process of making one cohesive film, following Randy’s arrest?
Argott: It was tough. Putting documentaries together in general are very difficult even with the best of circumstances. Then when you have a film like this that has, in essence, two separate stories happening. We struggled a lot … it [ran] the gamut of “Should we just ditch the original idea and just focus on the story? How can we tie this all together and make it seem like it was one complete thought?” … If you look at our edit room there were probably 15 or 16 incarnations of the film before it got to the final cut. Every one of those cuts is an attempt to tell the story. It’s like writing a script – you go draft after draft after draft until you kind of get it right. … We tried a lot of different things.
One of the obvious things was to do a foreshadowing opening scene, start with the courtroom scene and draw you in that way. But the problem was [it] sounded good on paper, sounded good as a concept and then you put it together and watch it and you’re like, “Oh, that totally doesn’t work.” … Ultimately you look back and it’s always the most simplest thing is the right thing, which was let’s just tell the story the way we started, which is how we all got into this – making this film about the fans and like nobody knew anything horrible was going to happen and then 30 minutes in, have the rug get pulled out from under you. People have responded to it so far, and I think it was the right way to tell the story.
There’s no blueprint when you make a documentary; you don’t have a script to follow so it can be anything. You have hundreds of hours of footage you have to put in some kind of order that tells a story. That’s just challenging. So hopefully we got it right.
John, how did Randy’s trial, as well as taking part in the documentary, affect your relationship with your bandmates?
Campbell: You know, we’ve had a long career and have struggled mightily and been through a lot of hardships. This is probably up at the top of [what] we’ve endured together. Me personally with Randy, it’s his sobriety that he had found a few years before this was going on [that] brought us closer, which was great for us to be able to have this much better relationship to communicate as these crazy things are going on. As far as Randy and I, it only served to bring us closer and be able to communicate positively through an incredibly difficult time.
When you first got a chance to watch the documentary, what did you think about how it all came together?
Campbell: Well, again, as part of the process and the story trying to get told, we see a couple of different edits here and there. You eventually, I guess, become a little desensitized to the fact that there’s this tragic story going on around you that you lived. It’s interesting to see it from the camera’s perspective and from the edits and the retelling of the story. No offense, Don, but it’s not a movie that I’m probably going to watch multiple times. (laughs)
Argott: No, I don’t ever want to see it again either. (laughs)
Campbell: It documents a really difficult time in my personal life and in my band’s career. If it was just in the band’s career I might have a easier time watching it. But ultimately this movie is about a tragic event in which a young fan dies.
I received a press release that says the film includes never-before-aired feelings between band members. John, was there anything new that you learned about yourself or your bandmates from watching the film?
Campbell: (laughs) I’d never shed a tear in an interview before and Don and Demian were over at my house, in my living room, shooting an interview and asked some pretty rough questions that just hit me right there. I had to get up and walk away from the camera. Thankfully they didn’t draw out the drama of that. … but it pretty much had to be in the movie. And thankfully it works. But yeah, I got to learn that about myself – that I can indeed shed a tear in front of the camera. [It’s] not the manliest thing to do, but you know what? That’s all right.
Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, Comcast Theatre, Hartford, Conn.
July 24, 2010
Don, did you have a favorite moment in the film?
Argott: One of the standout moments for me was the scene with Randy coming up into the mountains after he got released from prison and they played the show in Iowa. I really wanted to do a check-in scene with Randy to see how he was doing after everything had gone down.
Randy was definitely somber but also just trying to regroup. There was something about that scene. That day we ended up hanging out together after we put the cameras away.
Campbell: I love the scene where Randy’s sitting by the river (before he was arrested) and saying, “I don’t know what they’re going to find out but one day they’re going to find out and it’s all over.”
Argott: That’s a great line. It doesn’t have any weight behind it until you know what the hell is around the corner. And it’s crazy that all that kind of stuff that you say and you have no idea. And it really goes to show you that your life can change in an instant. And that’s what happened with this. …
Even though [the film is] not something that I’m sure the band wants to sit down on family movie night and watch again, I hope [the band] looks back on it that it was worthwhile to document.
[John], you point out getting upset in front of the camera – but I mean, who wouldn’t? ... You handled this about the best that a group of people could possibly handle a kind of impossible situation. I love that ... overall vibe.
Campbell: Well, thanks, Don.
Argott: (laughs) You’re welcome, John.
For more information and a list of theaters, venues and show times visit AsThePalacesBurn.com.