Photo by Dustin Rabin
Sam Dunn. Maker of multiple award-winning metal documentaries such as Metal: A Headbangers’ Journey, Global Metal, the widely acclaimed Metal Evolution series and multiple high-quality live DVD’s for artists such Iron Maiden and Rush. Operation of a company with its’ own in-house editing suites and studio. Licensing and archival services, kids’ shows (B-Minors), almost round-the-clock live streaming, record reviews, interviews, shows, pre and post productions and of course, an endless gauntlet of media interviews such as this one with media outlets from the other side of the world. Insane.
“Things have been crazy,” he adds, “I have a bad habit of over-committing myself but I’m surviving.” A humble start, indeed. After wryly congratulating Sam for reaching the same dizzying heights as cultural icons as PewDiePie he laughs heartily, noting he was truly honoured to share the privilege with the Scandinavian streamer of also being bestowed a YouTube Silver Creator Award. “When we launched Banger TV, we were kind of late to the party with social media,” he admits. “We hadn’t created an audience for social media the way we were used to with our documentaries, via DVD sales, theatre screenings and airtime on TV.”
“It’s been a challenge, because we know there’s a community of metal fans out there, but it took time for them to know we are on YouTube.” It seems Sam and co. are only just learning that social media promotion isn’t the point-and-click, one-press instant tool that it’s creators would have you believe when enticing you with boosts and business plans. “Social media is something deceptively simple from the outside”, Sam muses, “you know? We have this…. thing. It’s called the Internet. We can put things on Internet, and if we put the things there people will watch them. Right?”
“It was a pretty steep learning curve for us to understand what people already wanted to see from us wasn’t what they wanted to see from us online.”
Adapting richer content to a more rapid-fire platform proved a little less simplistic. “It was a pretty steep learning curve for us to understand what people already wanted to see from us wasn’t what they wanted to see from us online. The media affects the content, to use an old-fashioned phrase. It was odd because we were this company who pride ourselves on documentaries and in-depth documentary material, but that wasn’t what people wanted to watch on YouTube, and it was back to the drawing board.”
However, it seems they were able to adapt their desire for integral, quality media with a changing market. “I guess what we’ve learned over two and a half years is that they love or record reviews, love our live shows and want more personality driven content.” Given the hard work put in to the in-depth, quality film-making over the past decade, Sam was still confident they had a market, but was understandably reticent about the translation to one-shot, bite-sized online videography on YouTube, Vimeo and the like. ‘We thought we knew what people wanted from us and we discovered that they still wanted us – they just wanted us to do something different! laughs.’
“We realised really early that if it was all dependent on me, that was a dire situation pretty fast.”
“I had an expectation that there was an audience we’d grown through our documentaries, people who went to our showings and bought our DVDs. But, going back to the content, I wasn’t so sure.” Not sure? “Yeah, I wasn’t so confident that BangerTV doing record reviews was our sort of thing. We pride ourselves on being smart with what we do and it was like ‘Well, ok, what is a way we can approach a review show in a way like no-one else?”
Which is something BangerTV seems to do well and consistently. Anyone who has watched even brief reviews or interviews gets a sense of genuine inquiry behind each video, a sincerity and yearning to move beyond the notes and uncover deeper, more personal elements of the music, the story, the people. When asked how he feels he was able retain this level of quality in more snapshot formats such as the brief reviews on BangerTV, he remarks, ‘I think a very important step was first and foremost finding a great team of intelligent, articulate engaging metal-heads you know? We realised really early that if it was all dependent on me, that was a dire situation pretty fast.”
The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, or at least it seems in this case.
Any manager worth their salt, especially in the day and age of the information and knowledge economy, knows that good businesses are built on good relationships, good networking and fostering good workplace culture. When quizzed on Banger Films’ organisational culture, Sam likes “to characterise it as casual, but focused.” The director notes that it is “an appreciation of and love for music that unifies and runs through everybody” involved in Banger Films, from presenters, those that handle official business affairs to book-keepers – everyone is drawn in by a love of music. “It’s really part of the DNA,” he muses with sincerity.
“Combining metal with anthropology is at the heart of that film and the story.”
However, he’s no stranger to the allure of working in the music industry and makes sure their work is task-focused and attention is still paid to detail. “Given we work around music, the capacity to get distracted is very high! It’s about building the team of people who can live in the musical environment everyday, but still remember were here to create shows and content that are high quality.” However, unity seems to be high on the agenda too, both within his organisational culture, filmographic style and work ethic. Which makes sense, given his formal academic training in anthropology, a social science dedicated to the study of cultural and social systems and dynamics.
“It really goes back to our first film headbangers journey, which came out in 2006,” he reflects. “Combining metal with anthropology is at the heart of that film and the story.” However, he also notes that ‘I don’t think anthropology per se has remained part of the story as we’ve moved into other films and documentaries. I think the spirit of anthropology remains in the sense it’s about that doing the deep dive and really looking at what is at the root or cause of a particular musical scene or movement or career. You could argue it translates into how we review our records even, in that we try to dig down just a little bit deeper’. Unsurprising, given the level of praise towards the depth, humanity and discourse in reviews for Dunn’s various film work.
“What I’ve gathered is you can’t do it alone”
We ended our conversation with the ultimate question – what advice could a successful metalhead film-maker and director impart to budding metal entrepreneurs?
“I’m a bigger fan of sharing experience than advice. What I’ve gathered is you can’t do it alone; building a good team, recognising that any endeavour, from making a film to making a record, putting on a show…it requires a dedicated competent team of people, so learn to work with others and learn to work with people smarter than you, ‘cause that’ll probably pay off in the long run!” It is refreshing (but also stereotypically Canadian) to see someone so personable, friendly and community-minded representing often aggressive music in an industry that attracts and sometimes inflates ego.
There you have it, future metal go-getters. Be nice to others, learn to work as part of a team, be humble and go just a little further, ask a few more questions, be inquisitive, and you too shall reap the rewards.
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