The temperature is hovering at about 100 degrees when I first set foot on the courtyard of the Sybil Brand Correctional Facility, a defunct prison that once harbored close to 2000 inmates before being shut down in 1997 as the result of poor physical conditions caused by the infamous 1994 Northridge earthquake.
But on this blistering August afternoon, dozens of actors in orange prison jumpsuits are gathering together and circling around the band SLAYER as they rip through the first single “Replentless” from their album of the same name.
Scanning the faces, this savvy horror fan spots Derek Mears, Jason Voorhees from 2008 FRIDAY THE 13TH remake. Tyler Mane, Michael Myers in both of Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN flicks is also here. So is Danny Trejo (MACHETE), Nick Principe (LAID TO REST), Sean Whalen (THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS), Vernon Wells (THE ROAD WARRIOR) and Tony Moran (John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN).
Not too far off from the main monitor, we spot the producer of this music video Felissa Rose. Yes, the same gal who once played Angela in the original SLEEPAWAY CAMP.
And at the helm is BJ McDonnell, director of HATCHET III and the seasoned camera operator on dozens of Hollywood pictures such as JACK REACHER, NEIGHBORS and AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. As a lifelong metal fan, getting the opportunity to direct a video for a band that he grew up listening to is a dream come true. Blumhouse.com got to chat with him about how this music video came together.
BJ McDonnell: Yes. Sean Whalen said his friend Felissa was revamping Carolco Pictures and was looking for scripts, and so Jason (Trost) and I had a script we hadn’t shopped around yet that we sent over. We pitched it, met with Felissa and Harrison (Smith). Everything was cool, and they loved our script and we were waiting to see what was going to happen with that. A couple of months later, I got a message from Felissa that Slayer wanted to do a music video for their new album and if I could send over a pitch. Being a huge fan of Slayer, I thought fuck yeah! I was working on THE LONELY ISLAND movie at that point. I came home, listened to the song and got the lyric sheet and I did a pitch that was self-contained and brutal and took place in a prison.
BH: So once you pitched this thing, it goes through the record label and then the band. They loves it. When did you first get to meet Slayer? Did you get to discuss with them beforehand at all how you were planning to pull this off?
BJM: I met Gerardo Martinez at Nuclear Blast and he’s the one that got the pitch out. We hit it off really well, because we started talking about music and the band and Retroband, the toy company, which I love. So we bonded over toys and music. (Laughs) So it was all about toys, horror and metal bands! They sent the pitch to the guys and they liked it, but I never spoke to the band until the day we shot their performance. I’d never met them until then! I was a little bit nervous, because here’s a band that I’ve always loved and looked up to and I’m about to meet them and tell them, “alright, let’s do this” and “I want you to do this!” I didn’t know how that was going to work! They’ve been around forever and they know the drill, so who am I to tell them?
BH: They seemed super cool! And they seemed really into what you were doing with the video onset from what I saw!
BJM: They were one of the coolest bands ever. I couldn’t ask for better guys to have to work with on a first time basis. They were so into doing what I wanted to do and they were so cooperative and ready to just go out in the 100 degree heat and play their asses off over and over and over again just to get the shots that I needed. I think we did it 19 times I believe. I had a technocrane from Crane Shot with my buddy Paul Vought, Jan Olboter and Pia Sanders. We had Tony Gardner and Adrienne Lynn Booth doing the makeup FX. My director of photography Eric Leach. We brought a lot of cool people in too. A lot of great crew I’d worked with in the past. Without the crew, I could never have done some of this stuff.
BH: Let’s talk about some of the people in front of the camera, because as you know, the horror community is a very tight-knit group. And it was great to see people like Derek Mears (Jason in FRIDAY THE 13th) and Tyler Mane (Michael Myers in Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN). You had Danny Trejo, Jason Trost, Tony Moran, Vernon Wells, Sean Whalen, Nick Principe. So many familiar faces in the horror community! Were these all just friends you decided to bring in?
BJM: For the most part yeah. But when I did the pitch, it was never meant to be a “horror” thing. It was intended to be a brutal, action short film for the music video. I think it’s just the fact that we have Jason Trost, who’s a good buddy, and we’ve got Tyler Mane and Sean Whalen who are also good buddies. Why not ask them to do it, because it would be cool to work with friends? Felissa had people she knew like Tony Moran and Vernon Wells and asked them. It all came just came together that way! Everyone’s referring to it as a horror thing and there are a lot of horror faces in it and it’s pretty brutal, but it was never meant to be a “horror” music video, but it was meant to be as violent as possible.
BH: Well the average person will see it as that! But for us horror fans, it’s more like Easter Eggs for us to spot those faces, which is just cool!
BJM: It’s cool, because you ask friends to do stuff and they’re excited to come out and do it and that’s really what it’s about in the long run. Being able to bring in your friends, your family and your crew and making it all happen.
BH: The video came out great! People really seem to be digging it. How do you feel about the final result, considering how quickly it all came together?
BJM: I really am very happy with what we did. People saw the photos online before the video dropped and saw a prison and guard suits and said, “oh, it’s a St. Anger (Metallica) rip-off.” And it’s like, no guys! This is the complete polar opposite to St. Anger. And it’s funny that people relate that stuff just because they saw a prison outfit. How do you compare something just from a photograph? If someone did a live performance music video, and another band did a live performance music video, are they ripping off that other person’s video? No! It’s just funny what people say online.
BH: Speaking of the brutality of the stuff in the video, not to mention the blood sprays, you’re not doing multiple cuts of the video or censoring anything, right? I mean, it’s not like it’d play on MTV to begin with.
BJM: Nope. Dude, it’s Slayer! We’re not doing an alternate cut. What’s the point? If you’re going to do a music video and make it violent and you’re going to make it crazy, why would you make a toned down version of it? When I hear Slayer, it makes me want to go burn down the next town. (Laughs) Or drive my car as fast as possible! (Laughs) I just love them.
BH: What’s your favorite Slayer album?
BJM: Seasons In The Abyss. Yeah. You?
BH: Reign In Blood! To me, that’s the quintessential Slayer record.
BJM: Yeah, I mean they’re all pretty darned good. I’m so excited, both for the new album and the video. I’m so stoked. I’ve been so tired of seeing music videos of a band playing in a warehouse! This has a more old-school feel to it, where there’s a story and the band is involved with it. After a while of watching a band playing in a warehouse with a few different angles, you think, well the song’s good but I’m bored of this video. I don’t think people will be bored with this one!
Slayer’s 11th studio album “Repentless” is now available! Special thanks to Felissa Rose, Larry Layfield and Devin Reeve. Check out the video for the title track directed by BJ McDonnell below!