Creating Metal Music Documentary on a Shoe String Budget

Screenwriter Colin Jones discusses the budgetary challenges in making Metal Missionaries, a new doc about the Christian Heavy Metal Music Scene

Metal Missionaries started as an off-chance kind of idea. Bruce Moore, who is the director, producer, and creator of Metal Missionaries, came to me two years ago and said, “I heard you write. I’ve got an idea for a documentary and I was wondering if you’d be interested in writing about Christianity and its place in the heavy metal music scene.” That is pretty much how we got started: a guy with a unique idea tasked a colleague with trying to develop it into something groundbreaking. Neither of us had a clue what we were doing or where this would lead.

I had known Bruce for about two years; we were coworkers, but only casually acquainted. All I knew of him was that he had a deep connection to metal music and had a pretty large following with his cooking show “Brutally Delicious.” I doubt that he knew even that much about me.

Wretched from Grave Robber

Now we sit less than a month away from the release of Metal Missionaries, and honestly I don’t have a clue what kind of reception we’re going to get. All signs are positive and the momentum is really gaining. We’ve been accepted at the Christian Film Festival of Norfolk, VA and are waiting to hear back from international festivals in Bulgaria, Scotland, and Australia. The big ticket for us is Sundance: it is a long shot, perhaps, but we are immensely proud of the project and have agreed to try.

Metal Missionaries takes an in-depth look at the place of Christianity in the heavy metal music scene. Our interviews and conversations with secular and religious artists on the topic produced some wildly varying opinions. Does God belong in a world that is traditionally seen as dark and sinister? Clocking in at seventy-five minutes, Metal Missionaries seeks to answer this question and many more.

How to begin?

We had hardly any budget to work with, but thirty minutes into writing the opener, I had a feeling we were on to something powerful and worthwhile. Typically, it’s a gut feeling; with this project I felt sure we had a really intriguing story to tell. There was something about the message that we were trying to convey that was so polarizing, I could not stop thinking about the project. We were documenting such a unique set within metal music; it was difficult to know how the documentary would be received.

Azahel from Frost Like Ashes

Working on a shoestring budget was also going to be a testament to how badly we wanted this. We were both 911 dispatchers in Hanover, Virginia, making a decent living working for the county, but we had no available cash to be spend on a big budget production. I’ll be honest, I’ve got ambitions as a writer, but I’m still coming into my own. As for Bruce, he’s done a lot of work with editing and producing, and he was crucial through the entire process.

His dream and his dedication were what made this project possible. The connections and friendships that he has formed over his twenty-plus year career in the heavy metal world was what got us interviews with these amazing musicians in the first place and his selflessness and devotion to helping others is what led to all the assistance that made this film possible.

I don’t know if it was the nature of the film that led to the outpouring of assistance that we received or if it was the tight-knit community that is the heavy metal scene. As an outsider, it amazed me to see such willingness to help from individuals of varying and diverse opinions. These men and women have forged a bond through music that is stronger than any other. It was beautiful to watch people spring into action before we even had a chance to ask for help.

Sam John from Whitenoiz

At this point in our film-making careers, we’re still learning as we go, examining our process. Our success with Metal Missionaries offers lessons to filmmakers working with extremely tight budgets. And in that spirit, I offer some tips:

Stay relentless. Regardless of how hopeless things might seem, keep striving to make your artistic vision a reality. There are resources out there, but you are the one that must believe in your project.

Be creative. Creativity is free and makes the difference between a decent work and something that is truly extraordinary. Get creative with your style and delivery; be open to all types of innovation and possibility.

D C Mills from Vials Of Wrath

Be willing to do whatever it takes. You will likely need to call in favors: use all your existing connections (and be certain to return these favors!). Much of the equipment we used for filming was provided by the band members we chronicled. And be willing to work late hours; sometimes spaces and equipment can come available (even for free) at odd hours.

Be passionate. You would be surprised how many people are willing to offer assistance to a project that the developers believe in—at no cost! True passion is contagious, so sell your project and ask for help. The worst thing you will get is a “no,” and that is not the end of the world. We received help from so many talented people. Our musical score, for example, was written for us by Klank for free!

Attack social media. Use it to your full advantage.  It’s no secret that the best way to get the word out on a new project these days is to utilize every bit of social media possible. Post and tweet relentlessly; you never know who the next person to see your project is going to be. If you aren’t social media savvy, ask a friend for help. Social media is the key for the success of your film.

And have fun!


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