By now, Sacha Gervasi’s personal connection to his newest film – ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL – has fallen into legend: fan of heavy metal band meets his idols in London in 1982, becomes band roadie for several years, departs band and scene, and looks them up 20 years later to make a documentary about their travails. Gervasi, also an accomplished Hollywood screenwriter (THE TERMINAL), was encouraged to make the movie about the band – Canada’s Anvil, formed by guitarist/singer Steven “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner – by fellow screenwriter and Steven Spielberg writing alumnus Steve Zaillian (SCHINDLER’S LIST). Now, the little movie that could about the little band that could is getting international attention as one of the best documents ever put to film about the agony of being in a band that until now was filed under the category of “never was.” Here, Gervasi speaks exclusively about his film, the band, and the renewed interest in both.
What was your original Anvil experience like that led to this movie?
I first saw them in front of 60,000 at Donington [a massive English festival] in 1982. They are going back for the first time [this year]. After punk, suddenly, metal got woken up. The new bands like Anvil came along – the predecessors to the American thrash movement. Anthrax started as an Anvil cover band. They would just play every single track from Metal on Metal [their most popular album, from 1982]. Imagine being 16 at that point and you get to go on the road with your favorite band in the world. It was a fantasy come true. They were so cool with me and very protective – like my older brothers. We loved each other and that hasn’t really changed. Then, I went on a detour for 20 years. I wrote to their website in 2005 and reconnected with them. Lips flew out to LA and it was like hanging out with my old buddies. As far I knew, they hadn’t made it. To discover that they had ten albums that I never heard of and there were photos from this small club show, it blew my mind. Lips was still as winningly enthusiastic as 20 years before. The spirit was the same. He wasn’t bitter about it. It was like the magical thinking of a child. I took him to Steve Zaillian’s house and remember looking out the window and said, “he never gave up… I think there’s a movie there.” I think it was immediately apparent that there was something special going on.
What is it about Anvil that distinguishes them from the thousands of bands who call it quits when success eludes them?
I think they were just rebels and they loved rock and roll. Robb’s side was different. His grandfather died at Auschwitz. His father walked out [of the concentration camp]. So when he came to Canada and he son told him he wanted to be a heavy metal drummer, he understood how lucky he was to be alive and whatever his kids did, he would be happy. His father funded the band and paid for the first album where they recorded School Love. He was thrilled that he wanted to be a drummer and was going to encourage him in anything he wanted to do. It was all about confounding the stereotypes. If you going to pursue your dream for 40 years, what does it really mean, when the dream isn’t really happening? The movie is about perseverance and love.
Many writers – even this one – have called this movie the real version of Spinal Tap – why do you think so?
The reason it matched Spinal Tap is that it is true. It is based on people like Anvil. [In one heartbreaking scene in the movie, a club owner] tried to pay them in goulash after he played six songs to 65 people after driving 1100 miles. You are laughing and crying at the same time. Painfully horrible and painfully hilarious at the same time. There he is [Lips] delivering these meals, but he’s writing songs at the same time.
One crucial element in the movie and the resurrection of the band is when Anvil’s original producer – Chris Tsangarides – returns to produce their comeback album – why do you think he did so?
He had his own personal reasons to produce the new album. When they mixed Forged in Fire, it was horrible. When they were mixing it, his wife told them he was leaving him for the guitarist in Whitesnake – John Sykes – and he had a breakdown. He felt that he really fucked the band up. That was as much of a factor. That made him want to do it. It sets them up perfectly and as a result of the movie, they have a real manager. They are booking them in the States and the UK.
The million-dollar question is why Anvil never made it originally – do you think this movie will really help them finally break through?
One of the great things about the film is the knockoff effect. The band never really got their due, but that’s the most satisfying part of being in the movie. It’s introducing a lot of people to the band. I hoped that it would happen. Once people got to know who they were, they would understand what incredible characters they were. You can’t help loving them. Lips’ emotions are so keenly close to the surface the whole time. It’s liberating when someone doesn’t give a fuck. That creates an appetite for the music.