Don’t Be a Dick: A Tale of Indie Filmmaking, Extortion and MDF

David Hall is the director of Disgorge, Mexico: The Movie, Axis of Eden: The Feature Film, Maryland Deathfest: The Movie and Maryland Deathfest: The Movie II. He attended Maryland Deathfest last May 26 – 29 with the intention of shooting the second sequel. Suffice it to say, things did not go as planned. Hunker down for the most brutal story you’ll read all day.
In medias res. It’s not just a popular convention for storytellers. It’s where we always find ourselves. In the middle. Smack dab. For better or worse, swinging it out, suffering, loving, struggling or flowing upstream. You’re never where you were or where you’re going, yet the past and the future hang on and loom—regret and anxiety, what was, what will be. To quote/paraphrase Exodus (book of the Bible, not the band) and Paul Thomas Anderson, “we may be through with the past, but it sure ain’t through with us.”

So, that’s where I find myself these days. Stuck in the middle. Seriously regretting a faulty decision I made, and dealing with a host of petty grievances fostered by a series of fools who wish to tarnish my reputation and extort monies from me. Where did this all begin? How did I get to this particular moment, so swollen with drama, in medias res-deluxe, surrounded by thieves (I’m trying to include as many extreme metal references as I can) and wishing for the total fucking destruction of my enemies? It all starts at the beginning… or at least, a few months back.


Last year, I released my first film for sale. Maryland Deathfest: The Movie. I had made a few other films prior to that, but they weren’t released by me. The MDF film was a wild experience. We (my ex-business partner and ex-best-friend, who shall be called by the fake-name of “Jennifer” for this piece) made the first MDF film on half of a shoestring budget with whatever cameras we could find and a ragtag bunch of crew members. Attending my first MDF and making a film about it was a glorious experience—I got to see Pig Destroyer, Brutal Truth, Wolves in the Throne Room, Despise You and Bolt Thrower all in the same weekend, and made some amazing friends.

Luckily, the bands and labels involved with MDF were all super chill, and I obtained clearances and permissions to use the bands and their music in the films. A year after my first MDF, I returned to Baltimore, rolled into the Sonar and found my eight boxes full of Maryland Deathfest: The Movie DVDs had been delivered. Success. Triumph. We had pulled it off.

My second MDF was also an amazing experience. This time we sort of knew what we were doing. We had better cameras and a better plan of attack. Maryland Deathfest: The Movie, the Sequel was the working title I gave the film. This later got shortened and smartened into Maryland Deathfest: The Movie II. Eyehategod played, man. Outside in an unforgiving and sweltering heat. I filmed Total Fucking Destruction onstage, hidden squarely behind Rich Hoak. And I discovered Sulaco. Another amazing time. And for the past year, up until last month, the second MDF film was edited, put through post-production, ran by bands, clearances procured, and for the first time, I did PR on the film. During all that, I also managed to find a distributor for the movie, and signed a deal with Sony Red/MRI. The good vibes continued. Everything was perfect. So, you know what that means.


This year—I guess starting around February 2011—things were a little bit different. Since 2007/2008, when I made and saw the release of my first underground metal-related film, Axis of Eden: The Feature Film, I worked with a partner. “Jennifer,” as I have stated he shall be named for this piece: a film enthusiast like myself, though 10 years my junior. I met Jennifer in ’06 while I was teaching editing at a local college. We bonded over our mutual love of smoking buckets and filming the results with the college’s newly bought high-def cameras. We became friends, and when Jennifer graduated, he moved to the big smoke to search out a career in the film and/or television industry. It was around this time that my first video aired on MTV. Encouraged by this success, Jennifer decided to move back from the big smoke and start up a company with me. Handshake Inc. was born. For three years, we worked together making Disgorge, Mexico: The Movie and the first two MDF films.

Last summer, however, things soured between Jennifer and me. Disillusioned by the lack of instant monetary success, and frustrated by my use of the “N” word on his Facebook page, Jennifer decided to pursue his own path. It was like a bad break-up. I came to the office one day and found he had moved out all his furniture. He told me that it was so he could get more work done at home, then later confided in a mutual friend that he was sick of not being able to play the music he wanted at volumes he desired. So be it. Soon, more grievances arose. Jennifer did not have enough control in the business. I would not contribute financially for equipment Jennifer wanted to purchase. It was my responsibility to pay for airfare home from Europe for Jennifer. Eventually I put a stop to everything, paid Jennifer off, and Handshake Inc. became a one-man show.

So, when it came time to “crew-up” for MDF this year, I found myself in a quandary. Who would I hire and bring to MDF to film what was going to be the third and final MDF film? Originally, I pitched the idea of filming the fest all by myself and presenting a sort of POV version of the festival to the MDF promoters. They were not against the idea. But as the overwhelmingly positive responses to the quality of the footage from the second MDF film started rolling in, I felt I “owed it to the film” to pursue filming MDF with a proper crew.

It was around this time that a mutual friend informed me that Jennifer really wanted to be a part of the third MDF Movie. I was conflicted. I knew Jennifer would be able to do a good job of filming, but I also knew he was an entitled little bitch who expected me to pay for all his bullshit and mistakes because my wife is a doctor. Jennifer also informed me he had a new company and a “crew that would follow him anywhere” that were all packing serious gear. “I still buy weed and records a lot,” I informed Jennifer (my vinyl and weed consumption was a major sore point for him), “and I can’t pay you upfront to go.” “I’ll work for a percentage of royalties,” Jennifer replied, adding, “Money is not that big of a worry for me anymore.”

Against my better judgment, and out of a desire to make the third MDF film even better than the second, I relented and agreed. For the short while leading up to MDF, Jennifer and I became friends again, even though I secretly hated him because he had changed from a passionate, trustworthy, pot-loving pal into a pompous, self-righteous sissy.

As MDF 9 approached I felt a lot of apprehension about Jennifer coming with us. I confided in mutual friends and my wife about my misgivings. Mutual friends assured me Jennifer would be a good little girl. My wife, whose judgment I defer to on everything, told me it was too late to renege on Jennifer. Part of me felt bad for Jennifer; he loved MDF and we had had some great times there.

As a last-ditch effort to prevent Jennifer from coming, I drafted up a real bastard of a deal memo for Jennifer and his crew. It outlined the percentage of royalties he’d receive from the sale of MDF: The Movie III, explained his accommodation and travel would be paid for by me, but, most importantly, contained a shitload of conditions that would void the deal memo if broken. I did this to protect myself and to set the tone that I was the boss in this situation, and I had expectations. The most important clause in the contract, as I saw it, was this little tidbit:

“[Jennifer] and his crew shall not retain any film, video, audio or still photographs generated/created for Maryland Deathfest: The Movie III (3), nor shall [Jennifer] or his crew retain any film, video, audio or still photographs generated/created while at Maryland Deathfest 9, nor shall [Jennifer] or his crew retain any film, video, audio or still photographs generated/created while in Maryland, USA between the dates of May 26th, 2011 to May 31st, 2011.”

As I’ve stated, I did not trust Jennifer and did not want him to retain any of the footage… I wanted him to shoot the film and that’s it.

Jennifer emailed me back that the “deal memo looked good,” so I pushed my worries aside and went on with the show.

neg mdf

Cut to MDF 9. May 26, 2011. Back in Baltimore for a third year in a row. It felt amazing despite the oppressive heat and humidity. The lineup for the “Pre-Fest,” which is basically just the first day of the fest now, was insane: Cathedral (their last North American performance), Buzzov*en, Tragedy, Lack of Interest, Flesh Parade, Noisear. The camera crew set up (Jennifer and his three crew members) with a bunch of great shooters I had lined up. At first, everything was going swimmingly. Bands played. We filmed. Nice and easy.

And then.

I think it was after Lack of Interest played that I went to check on how the crew were doing. By the looks on everyone’s face, it was obvious something was really wrong.

“Jennifer’s laptop is missing.”

Oh fuck.

Jennifer’s laptop, which was being used to dump footage onto, had mysteriously disappeared. We all did a thorough search of the venue, asked anyone we knew if they’d seen the laptop, but no.


I immediately informed the venue’s head of security, production manager and promoters. The word was passed along and we soldiered on through the rest of the night.

That was the beginning of the end. I knew it. I could feel it. And I knew what would happen next, of course. Jennifer would expect me to pay for the replacement of his laptop.

Irrelevant were the facts that he left the laptop unattended, and as a freelancer he was and is responsible for his own gear. I felt terrible—I’ve had things stolen and know how helpless and desperate for accountability it can make you feel.

I expressed my condolences and stayed away from the topic of the laptop for the rest of the night. The next day, as MDF rolled along in full gear, was relatively uneventful. Jennifer and his crew kept filming. We used another crew member’s laptop to capture footage. But there was an obvious ‘tude coming from Jennifer and his crew.

It was Saturday morning that the shitstorm began.

I texted Jennifer and asked him to be at the MDF venue for noon.

“My guys are tired—we didn’t get to sleep until 5 a.m.,” came the response.

Here we go. I texted back that he needed to be at the venue early enough to set up.

“How about 2 p.m.?”

Okay. I tried to keep my cool. “Your call. I think you should be there at noon,” was my response.

“Okay. But bring money cuz I have none and have been borrowing from people all weekend.”

Bring money? Um… how about no?

“I don’t have any money,” I texted him back.

And then came the big enchilada.

“Is my laptop a recoupable expense?”

Good ol’ Jennifer. I knew it. The second that shit went missing, I knew I would be held responsible. A series of texts from Jennifer explained why I should pay for the laptop out of profits from the third MDF film; how I should have production insurance; how if it was him and one of his friend’s laptop was stolen, he’d do everything he could to help them out. (At this point I couldn’t help but recall a few years back, when in Toronto, Jennifer told Steve Austin of Today Is the Day that he could park his truck safely in the parking lot of his apartment building. The next morning, Steve’s truck was towed and Jennifer assumed no accountability for it.)

The debate raged on, but I maintained my position. Jennifer projected profits of the third MDF film to be $45,000 (I fucking wish), so paying him for the laptop shouldn’t be a big deal. I told Jennifer I would talk about it after MDF, but for now, my answer was no. I was then told by Jennifer that “My crew is really unhappy about what they are hearing. We’re going to shower and come down there and talk to you in person.”

I didn’t think Jennifer was stupid enough to try anything physical, but “coming down to talk in person,” vaguely sounded threatening to me, and at that point I wanted nothing to do with the situation. I was trying to make a movie. I told Jennifer I was not going to talk to his crew and if everyone was that unhappy, maybe they should just go home.

So, they left. Back to Canada. Good fucking riddance, honestly. I never wanted Jennifer there in the first place, and fuck him for being such a baby. If it was any other member of my crew, I would have volunteered to get them a new laptop in a heartbeat. If Jennifer had displayed even the slightest amount of tact instead of trying to browbeat me into replacing his property that he left unattended, I would have offered to help him, too.

MDF 9 went on. The last day was yet another amazing spectacle of underground metal. The main room was PACKED to witness Ghost’s first North American performance.

stage mdf

The next day, after a much deserved sleep-in, my crew and I packed up and got ready to leave town. On the way out, I stopped at the motel Jennifer and his crew had been staying at to pick up a hard drive of mine that had been left there for me.

“Don’t Be a Dick.”

My hard drive had been plastered with a huge sticker with the above text. I couldn’t believe it. I imagined Jennifer and his crew high-fiving each other as they applied the decal in question. “That’ll show him!” I could imagine them cheering as they gave each other handjobs and slapped asses.

We drove to Pittsburgh that night and stayed at Joe from Complete Failure’s pad. I pretty much knew what would happen when we checked, but another crew member fired up the hard drive left by Jennifer, and sure enough, no footage.

We had been using the hard drive to store footage on. There should have been two days worth of stuff, but instead all that remained was footage that other crew members had shot.

I couldn’t believe it. I mean I could, but I couldn’t. This was how things were going to go down? I did my best to enter a Zen-like state and not play into the childish game Jennifer had started. I didn’t call or text or email him; I just left it.

A few days later, back home in Canada, the message came:

“You can have your footage when you pay for 100% of our expenses.”

Wow. Seriously. How fucking stupid and ignorant do you have to be?

I informed Jennifer that it wasn’t “my” footage—that it belonged to the bands who were in the footage. I informed Jennifer that I had been granted permission from these bands to film them and be in possession of the footage, but had not.

“Then give me the names and contact information of the bands and labels and I’ll contact them myself.”

HAHAHAHAHA. Yeah. And say what? “I’m a thief, want your footage back?”

I wanted, at that point in time, to launch an epithet of insults and curse words at this lowlife piece of shit, but did my best to stay calm.

The next day, my Facebook page got shut down because “someone” reported an image of mine inappropriate. I tricked Jennifer into admitting he had done it. What a fool.

Over the past two weeks, there’s been some back-and-forth between me and Jennifer and his crew. Part of the footage they stole was shot by two crew members who have nothing to do with Jennifer and his petty grievances. They showed up and worked hard, and wanted nothing more than to be included in the production of the film. I’ve asked for that to be returned, but no dice.

On Wednesday, the final act was put into motion. Throughout the whole ordeal, I always felt kind of bad that one of Jennifer’s crew members—we’ll call him Danielle for the purpose of this piece—had somehow been stupid enough to put the minivan rented for the trip to Baltimore on his credit card. He was just a dumb kid. And I didn’t want some random dude out there with a grudge against me over $600.

I got Danielle’s number and texted him that I wanted to pay for the rental of the van. He seemed pleased by this and I made arrangements to get him a check by the end of the week. This seemed to be a positive step in the right direction. Danielle emailed me a copy of the receipt for the van—I emailed him back and informed him that if he was interested in having his footage used in the new MDF film, I would give him a camera operator credit. That’s when the bubble burst.

Hi David,

To be perfectly honest, a camera operator credit isn’t of any importance to me. My career is already well established in the IT industry and there’s not much being a cameraman can get me in that field. As to my footage, since I have no interest in being associated with a project so far from my sphere of influence I will be burying it in my digital vaults to be forgotten.

I went to Baltimore to do a favor for, and help out [Jennifer]; not to break into the high-stakes world of music film production from the ground up. My only remaining interest in the endeavor is receiving payment for the rental van.

Fucking prick. I wanted to strangle him. I wrote Danielle back and said that I would still use the footage, but without giving him credit. He informed me he would “consider it” once he got paid. So I wrote him back again and left out the pleasantries: “No footage, no check.” I had eaten enough shit at that point, and was sick of being toyed with.

Danielle then informed me since I wanted to give ultimatums, he would give me one: “email money transfer me the funds today by 5 p.m. or I will delete all the footage.”

Boom. There it was. Pay or play. If I was confident that me paying this motherfucker off was a guarantee of receiving all the stolen footage back, I would have paid. All I was asking for was a promise that once I paid for the minivan rental, the footage would be returned, and Jennifer and his crew would not even give me that. More petty grievances from Jennifer arose. Where was his cut of the first MDF film? Where was the $500 he had borrowed from a friend to help make the first MDF film?

I just didn’t respond. To any of it. I made a decision to just consider the footage gone forever and get on with my life. It sucks that all the hard work and effort of my honest crew members was going to possibly be for naught, but honestly, fuck Jennifer and his crew of little morons.

The five o’clock deadline came and went. I’m assuming they deleted the footage.


Maybe I could have handled it better. The police were willing to go and talk to Jennifer, lawyers ready to write letters, but honestly, two weeks of this shit was enough, and I couldn’t fathom it dragging out any longer without some seriously ugly shit going down.

It’s embarrassing to me to have to contact the bands and labels involved and inform them their MDF footage is gone. A few bands were interested in releasing full MDF sets. Some wanted the footage to edit and use as they saw fit. And now it’s all gone. Cathedral’s last North American performance. Neurosis playing in a lightning storm. Voivod completely ruling. All gone. Over a fucking laptop. All I can do is offer those involved a mea culpa and promise to be more vigilant about who I hire in the future.

So, that’s it. The end. The unabridged history of shit that was and is the attempt to film MDF 9. What can you do? Everyone is a fucking jerk once in awhile, I guess. I know I’ve been one. Luckily, we still have some footage shot this year, and most of the band audio. I have some really exciting things planned for the remaining assets, so not all is lost. May 2012 will see the 10th anniversary of MDF, so, in many ways, it makes sense to film again and release that film as the third and final MDF film (as was the intention this year).