Fire-breathing facemasks. Flaming angel wings. A giant penis that ejaculates soap bubbles onto a frothing arena audience. These are just a few of the eye-singeing spectacles on display in the new concert film from the German industrial Neue Deutsche Härte/industrial band Rammstein. Directed by Jonas Åkerlund, the Swedish filmmaker behind the 2002 meth comedy Spun as well as videos and concert films for the likes of Madonna, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, Rammstein: Paris was shot with 30 cameras over two nights in the French capital in March 2012. After a successful theatrical run in 46 countries, an extended version of the film was just released on DVD and Blu-Ray. "They do a pretty old-school show," Åkerlund says. "They don't have the big screens on the side of the stage. They go for beautiful lighting, big pyro and good old rock & roll."
We recently spoke with the veteran auteur (and original Bathory drummer!) about working with Rammstein, the process of making the film and his long-awaited movie based on the notorious black metal tome Lords of Chaos.
REVOLVER You shot a couple of videos for Rammstein prior to this concert film. What do you like most about working with them?
JONAS ÅKERLUND It's a combination of me liking them and them liking me, I guess. It's gotta be close to 15 years now that we've worked together. Mostly videos, but we're always trying to do other things and take our relationship to the next level. Rammstein is one of those clients that I need in my life. I need to be reminded about what integrity and creativity and fun are because not all projects have that. So I need a little injection of Rammstein every once in a while.
The production for the tour you filmed them on was massive: Two stages, a giant floating ramp, tons of props and more pyro than I've ever seen in my life. Was it challenging to keep track of everything that was going on?
The bigger the show, the more cameras and the more people you need to get it all covered. You gotta make sure all your guys—especially the camera operators—learn the show so they know every step of the way. So we rehearsed a lot with cameras by watching the show over and over.
The good thing with Rammstein is that everything is very precise. It's exactly the same every night because of all the pyro and the safety of the band members onstage. They can't really move around that much, so I always know where they are, and we always know when all the pyro and effects are gonna happen. So in that sense it's easy, but like you said, it's massive and it's a long show so there are a lot of [camera] cues. I think there were over a thousand cues that my assistant director shouts out over our intercom.
The amount of pyro Rammstein uses is insane. What kind of safety concerns did you have?
That's more on the band. All the band members are licensed pyro technicians; otherwise they wouldn't be allowed to be onstage and that close to the fire. So for us, having cameras onstage was a big no because the whole stage is this metal grid and all the pyro is right underneath the band. You can imagine if they stand in the wrong place at the wrong time. [Laughs] It's not good.
Were there any concert film clichés that you wanted to avoid?
All of them, actually. I'm not a big fan of concert films because I think concerts are made to see live. The experience that the audience has while seeing it live, you cannot translate onto film. Most of the concert films I see are made with ten cameras on dollies, edited live on a bus in the back of the venue and then you're done. I don't want to see that. I want to see it live. So my whole take on this film was to come up with a way to capture what we see onstage and translate it into a different experience for the screen. The only thing I really have is their fantastic music and their great show, but then I add a lot of film tricks.
You've added quite a few special effects to the live footage, which seems like a new approach to making a concert film …
Yeah. We added color grading, slow motion, extreme angles, sound effects, and other things that you cannot get when you see it live. You have to be careful, though. You don't want to make it into some weird art film, either. [Laughs] We're asking a lot from the audience to sit down and watch this for so long. The theatrical version is one hour and 45 minutes, and the DVD version is well over two hours. So I feel it's my responsibility to add a little bit of a flavor to it and make it a different experience.
Rammstein's set is interesting in that some parts are very dramatic and others are basically comedy routines, like when they roll out the giant penis during "Pussy" and spray the crowd with soap bubbles. As a filmmaker, do you see it as your job to enhance those parts of the show or simply capture them?
I like that about Rammstein. They have these theatrical costume changes; they're acting out scenes onstage. It's like theater. And of course they have their sense of humor mixed with these very serious songs, which makes it fun for the audience. So I'll do anything I can to enhance these things. I love the ups and downs that the shows have. Rammstein are true artists—they tell the stories that they want to tell.
Last but not least, I have to ask you about your work on the film you're making based on Lords of Chaos. What's the status of it?
In a few months we can do a proper interview about it. All I can say now is that we are almost finished with the edit. It's a pretty massive project, so we're still working on it. These longer projects, you just get caught up in them. You live and breathe them. But it's almost done.