TORONTO – In February 2008, Iron Maiden launched an unprecedented tour that saw them play 23 shows in 13 countries and travel 70,000 kilometres in a private jet piloted by lead singer Bruce Dickinson.
The plan seemed a little bit insane – and so did Canadian filmmakers Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn for tagging along and documenting the heavy metal band’s entire tour.
“When you tell people you’re going on Iron Maiden’s jet and the lead singer is flying it around the world … they’re all thinking that’s crazy,” McFadyen said during a recent interview. “(They think) he’s going to be drunk, there’ll be women in the cockpit, but the reality is so contrary to what people believe.”
Indeed, “Flight 666” – which will screen in theatres in six Canadian cities for one day only on Tuesday – showcases a band that seems eerily functional, lucid and free of baggage (aside from the 12 tonnes of music and stage equipment onboard their jet).
Where other metal documentaries have illuminated bands in various states of emotional decay – 2004’s splendid Metallica doc “Some Kind of Monster” featured more head-shrinking than head-banging – “Flight 666” tells a different story.
“So far the feeback we’ve got is that people are very struck by the personalities of the band, that they’re likable people,” Dunn said.
Added McFadyen: “After a while, you realize that’s the story. They’re highly functional, they’re successful, they’re well-balanced.”
Yep, the guys in the band bring their kids on tour with them, play tennis and golf together and know when to give each other space.
If the typical rock-band conflict had been there, the filmmakers say they would have faithfully documented it – but it wasn’t their goal to uncover dirt.
“What we found is that everything that had been done about heavy metal had mostly been sort of mocking it, or coming from an outsider’s perspective,” said McFadyen, who’s from Mississauga, Ont. “Looking at it, making fun of it. At a time when heavy metal arguably deserved to be made fun of, at times, when it was like the glam metal of the 80s.
“But outside of that there was a whole other subculture that had basically been ignored by filmmakers.”
Certainly, McFadyen and Dunn have earned their metal stripes.
They directed 2008’s “Global Metal” and 2005’s “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,” and are currently working on a documentary on veteran Toronto rockers Rush – on whom, McFadyen says: “I don’t think Canadians understand how successful they are and how they’ve influenced so many musicians from Trent Reznor to Billy Corgan to Gene Simmons.”
Even with that impressive rock resume, earning Iron Maiden’s trust was difficult.
“At the beginning of the film, you’ll see they’re pushing the camera away, and joking with us, and taunting us a bit,” said Dunn, a Victoria native. “Because they’d never really let anyone into their world before from the outside, they don’t really trust media that much, and I think they felt the need to take the piss out of us a little bit as Canadians.
“It took a while to develop their trust, after a few games of tennis and a few nights at the pub, I think we showed that we could endure the tour so they started to let us in and let their guard down.”
One of the most striking features of the film is the reaction of mesmerized concert-goers around the globe.
Crowds in South America and Central America were particularly awestruck. A show in Costa Rica drew the largest audience in Central American history, while one of the film’s most arresting images shows a rapt Colombian fan clutching one of Nicko McBrain’s drumsticks with tears streaming down his face.
“Certainly we were taken aback by the emotion of the fans,” Dunn said. “We didn’t think the passion for metal could ever reach that fever pitch.”
Added McFadyen: “I think you kind of forget sometimes how much music can mean to people. Here, sometimes it gets trapped in with advertising, it’s trying to sell you the next energy drink.
“You forget sometimes how much it can mean to people when they don’t take it for granted.”
Meanwhile, the band keeps in touch with Dunn and McFadyen, who estimate they receive about 10 emails a day from the group or its management.
When they reunited with the band in Vancouver recently, Dunn and McFadyen were shocked by the warm reaction they received.
“Are these the same guys who … were calling us tundra monkeys and colonials and giving us a hard time?” Dunn said with a laugh.”I guess because we had survived the tour, they recognized that and that we hadn’t blown anything up and we didn’t step on too many guitar cables.
“So we were then part of the family.”