Interview with Metal Film and Music Video Director, Handshake Inc.’s David Hall

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By Laina Dawes

“I felt that I needed to take a shower after watching that…it was kinda dirty, like it came from a very, very bad place,” laughs Dave Hall. The co-founder of Handshake Inc., the London, ON – based film and music video production company is discussing “Pussy”….no, not that…..the latest video from Germany’s Rammstein and pondering not only the state of current metal music videos, but why on earth the band members felt it necessary to film themselves having sex accompanied to a (not a very good) song. “It probably is a publicity stunt. I don’t know really what else – I guess to get people talking. So in that regard, it worked. It makes you think…. but there is really something unsettling about it.”

And unsettling is something at Hall is familiar with, but not in terms of watching unattractive musicians have sex with ‘professionals.’ The decision to create film and music videos for extreme underground metal bands was not exactly a conscious decision, but something that came to Hall organically. A fascination with the music, artistic innovativeness and raw talent (and the balls to contact and eventually build a professional and personal relationship with Today is the Day’s notoriously difficult frontman, Steve Austin) led Hall and Handshake Inc. co-founder, filmmaker/ photographer David Cardoso, to create a company that in a relatively short time, has made some of the most innovative metal music videos and films the metal industry has seen in years.

And this all happened from London, Ontario….not exactly a hotbed of cultural and artistic creativity. Hall, who graduated from Montreal’s Concordia University’s film school and is also a screenwriter, was so inspired by Today is the Day’s Axis of Eden (2007, Supernova Records) that he wrote and directed a film inspired by the album. Austin later invited Hall and Cardoso to go on tour with the band to shoot additional footage and to screen the film at every tour stop.

Intrigued by his s work, obvious talent and his graciousness (he invited me to tag along on a roadtrip to Detroit where he and Cardoso shot footage for an upcoming music video for North Carolina’s Weedeater), I chatted with Hall about his recent and upcoming projects, including the highly anticipated documentary on the uber-popular Maryland Death Fest.

Why Metal?

I never really consciously sat down and thought that I’m going to make metal stuff: I went to film school in Montreal and graduated in ’99 and then I worked in Montreal and worked on some movies. I fell out of it for awhile because my wife was in school – she’s a doctor – and then we had kids and I kind of fell out of filmmaking for about five years to raise a family and that sort of thing. When I was finally in a place where I could start doing stuff, I really liked music videos, and I was really into underground metal and I thought that it would be cool because a lot of metal videos I find are very generic and not really inspiring. And the ideas that I tend to gravitate towards is non-traditional stuff and I figured that those ideas would work well with metal. I also wanted to apply a traditional quality filmmaking to making metal-related stuff.

So how did the feature film for Axis of Eden come about?

I sent an email to Steve and told him that I wanted to make a video and if let me make it, I’d send it to him and if he liked it, it was his. If not, no problem, no strings attached. So he emailed be back and later we talked on the phone and he said ’yeah, that’s sounds great. Go for it’ and he was really excited. I didn’t know at the time that Steve was really into film and had always had this pet project in the back of his mind to make this film like The Wall or something like that for one of his albums. I made the video, and he loved it and called me a week later and said, “I have this crazy idea making like a feature film for Axis of Eden, doing a video for every single song and then whatever you want to do.” Of course I jumped at that and went at it, and got it made.

It’s funny now, because knowing Steve now, he is so picky – he’s his own guy and writes his own music and takes himself so seriously. The fact that he gave me carte blanche and said ‘go for it,’ is amazing. So I made the film and gave it to him and he really had no suggestions. He was like, “this is it. Amazing! I love it,” and it went from there.

How did the idea to create a documentary on the Maryland Death Fest happen?

My initial involvement started was right before we went on tour with Today is the Day, as they were originally supposed to play that year. It didn’t happen but when I found out who was playing – Brutal Truth, Wolves in the Throne Room, Bolt Thrower, like my CD collection basically – I was like, ‘wow, I have to be a part of this somehow and get involved’ so I sent the promoters an email and told them I wanted to do a doc, and they agreed.

At first I really wasn’t sure about how to approach it so I watched Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and thought that it was really well done but it didn’t inspire me. It felt really….no offense to those filmmakers because they really did an amazing job, but it didn’t have any soul. I originally had a rough script with narration mapped out but when I saw A Headbanger’s Journey I changed my mind. I watched the Woodstock documentary with Dave C. and even though I’d seen it before it was so powerful to me because there was no narration, there were no titles, nothing – basically just a chronological edit of three days and it was shot really artistically. A light bulb went off in both of our heads and we knew that this is how we had to put it together.

So we threw the script out the window, we drove down there with five camera guys and I said “I don’t care about traditional shots, I just want you to get out there and shoot what you feel and get what we get.” We have 80 hours of footage and we got every performance, interviewed as many bands as we could, the promoters and even filmed ourselves and just let the cameras go. Now we have all this amazingly passionate footage and we are just in the process of editing it.

You have also created videos for Jucifer, Bloody Panda, Hail of Bullets, Sigh, a feature film and a number of videos for Fuck the Facts. How do you contact the bands? Do you have to go through their record labels?

Up until this point, I’ve actually never spoken to anybody from a music label. I’ve only really dealt with the bands. Curran (Reynolds, publicist; Drummer for Wetnurse) has been a great help and he’s been the one dealing with labels and he’s got two of our videos on MTV. He really handles all of that stuff, so I haven’t really even dealt with any labels, which in a way I really like. I really like dealing with the bands and with labels you just really hear really band things. I’m sure a lot of them are great, but it’s just something I haven’t had to deal with yet. I have a couple of new projects coming up, and obviously with MDF, I’m going to have to start talking to labels because of licensing and stuff like that.

Is there any band that based on their attitude or personal ideologies you wouldn’t work with?

I just really have to like the music and respect the band. If somebody came to me and wanted to make a video but I really didn’t like the music I would say no, because our company isn’t really a business per se. We get paid but we aren’t knocking on doors 9-5, relying on income from our business to survive – we have other sources of income and we just sort of exist. Luckily we can decide whom we want to work with. If I didn’t respect the band or really respect the music or if there was a situation where I wouldn’t have full and complete control because of the label, I’d probably say no.

Do you have a social and / or philosophical direction in your to filmmaking? Is their an overall point you are making within your films and videos?

I’m actually anti-political when it comes to art. For whatever reason, I’m not against art that has a political message, but it’s probably because I grew up white middle-class and North American so politics honestly never really had a bearing in my life – I guess I’m really lucky in that way.

The way I create is that I meditate, I put the song on repeat on my IPod and listen to it over and over again and just let the images come to me. So when I’m doing that, I’m more interested in exploring the personal relationships between people and awkward moments. All of the stuff that I make is edgy – not really the video stuff but the movies, like Axis of Eden. There is stuff in there that is super super offensive. There’s no nudity, no violence, but there is a language. I am fascinated with creating a response based on images and language and for me personally, politics don’t really come into that. I think that that attitude might make some people cringe, like ‘that guy is so apathetic,’ It’s not like I really don’t care, it’s just that I’m not really that interested in it.

The bottom line is, is that it is always about the dialogue you have with the band that dictates what you are working with. At the end of the day, it is their music, their name. When people see a video, they don’t know who the director is and they don’t walk away thinking, ‘man, that director sucks.’ They walk away thinking man, that band sucks.’ For me, you have to respect the band’s ideology.

For more info on Handshake Inc., please check www.handshakeinc.com

To view their music videos and portions of Axis of Eden, go to their YouTube page.

You can contact Dave at [email protected]

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.