As a New York native, still residing in Brooklyn, Adam Dubin seems an unlikely choice to direct a definitive documentary about the San Francisco Bay Area thrash metal scene.
But Dubin, 55, came to make "Murder in the Front Row" -- making its metro area premiere on Tuesday, Dec. 3 -- honestly.
The director of early Beastie Boys music videos for "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)" and "No Sleep til Brooklyn," Dubin began working with Metallica nearly 30 years ago, directing music videos, documentaries and concert films for the group. That experience piqued his interest in the world Metallica came from, which resulted in the documentary.
"Murder in the Front Row" is a testament to Dubin's extensive knowledge and research, with footage and interviews with members of Metallica, Testament, Exodus, Slayer, Megadeth and more. It premiered on April 20 in San Francisco and has been on the festival circuit internationally ever since, and it's slated for a home video release most likely during the spring of 2020.
Here's five things to know about the film...
• Dubin says that working with Metallica made him feel that "it would be cool to go back one day and explore that story of where they came from, this San Francisco scene that was kind of legendary." His main source material was the photo-heavy book "Murder in the Front Row" by Bay Area scenesters Brian Lew and Harald Oimoen, who also assisted in making the film. "They were there when the whole scene got going, when Metallica first came to town and even before that. In 2012 Brian handed me this book, which was riveting. The photos are so full of life and vibrancy. He really captured this early time when these bands were just getting going. That excited me. It still took a number of years to get the wherewithal, but we started in earnest in 2016 to make the movie."
• Dubin says that his affiliation with Oimoen and Lew helped open doors, as well as his own credentials with Metallica. But what really got people on board, he says, "was the philosophical approach...A decision we made right at the beginning was we were going to treat everybody sort of the same. That's how it was at the beginning of the scene; Nobody was super famous yet. We must've filmed 20 or 25 interviews of non-famous people, but these were the people that helped build the scene, who booked the shows, drew the flyers. That's a lot of the movie, not just the musician/rock stars. When we got to the musicians, they knew we were telling the story the right way and with a lot of respect for everybody there."
• Dubin was always confident Metallica would be part of the film, but the group members -- two of whom migrated from Los Angeles and merged with musicians from the Bay Area -- had its conditions as well. "They were very clear about the fact they wanted to be in the film but did not want it to be a story about Metallica -- and I was very clear about that to them. They have their own story, which is obviously very big and overwhelming and will be told in its own time. But they had a place in all this stuff, so all of them sat for interviews, and they're pretty good on camera and very powerful and were very generous."
• Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett did surprise Dubin with one of his revelations for the film, however. "Kirk was talking about those early days, when he was in Exodus opening for Metallica in San Francisco during that brief period Dave Mustaine was in (Metallica). (Hammett) said that he watched one entire show and thought Metallica was just fantastic, then he goes on to say 'I thought his band was so great, they'd be so much better with me.' I'd never heard him say that before, and I looked at Brian Lew and his eyes were as wide as mine. And (Hammett) could not know that the wheels of fate were about to turn in this favor and he'd be in (Metallica) a month later. That was so crazy, and cool."
• Dubin says he's been very pleased with the reception to "Murder in the Front Row" nationwide. "We've had a wonderful screening run. A lot of independent theaters came in; A lot of metalheads grew up to become managers of independent theaters and they reached out. The fan base was there, and we had a lot of well-attended shows, sold-out shows. I've been able to do Q&A's in a lot of places. So it's been a wonderful thing. And I love Detroit, so in a way it's a treat to wind up the schedule there. That city has always been special to me."
"Murder in the Front Row: The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story" screens at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3, at the Tangent Gallery & Hastings Street Ballroom, 715 E. Milwaukee Ave., Detroit. A Q&A with director Adam Dubin follows. $13. 313-873-2955 or tangentgallery.com.
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