Q&A: Director Felipe Belalcazar (Death By Metal)

One of the highlights of the upcoming Choosing Death Fest in Philadelphia this April will be the first public screening of Death By Metal, the definitive documentary on Death frontman Chuck Schuldiner. Director Felipe Belalcazar will host a showing (at Grimposium – tickets still available for just five bucks) and participate in a Q and A after the screening. A month before the premiere, Belalcazar is still working to finalize the film — you can help by purchasing exclusive tee-shirts. He talked to us about why he decided to pursue a film on Schuldiner’s life and working with the metal legend’s family and friends.  

When did you decide to do this project? Were you always a passionate Death fan?

No, I actually wasn’t. I’ve been a metal fan since I was ten years old but was always into power metal. My favorite bands were Iron Maiden and Stratovarius. I was heavily involved in the pre-production and production of an ‘extreme metal’ episode (of Metal Evolution) for Banger Films. One of the side effects of doing the episode was that it opened my eyes to the whole world of extreme metal that I knew was there but sort of avoided. I later found out that it wasn’t my thing because I had been shown the wrong entry point bands. Death was the first band that stood out to me – they were one of the few bands where the music fit the lyrics. Once work on the show was finished I thought it would be cool to cover Chuck’s story. The more I read about him I was like “this story needs to be told.”

What about Chuck’s story did you find so compelling? What was it about him as a person that grabbed you?

I identified with him. As a freelancer, you might identify with being close to work and being passionate about what you do.  He seemed like someone who was passionate about his work. Another thing I wanted to show in this movie: Chuck was a regular dude. If you go Death’s Facebook page the image that many fans have of Chuck and Death is often misinformed. Chuck was also an amazing family man – that came up in so many interviews. 

Did all of his family and friends cooperate?

Yes, this is an official documentary approved by the family. I did more than 22 interviews; not even all of them can be in the documentary. I’m told we did the first interview on film with his Mom. She told us everything — from the first day he got a guitar to when he passed away. It was one of the hardest interviews I’ve ever done. We interviewed his nephew, his sister, Chris Reifert (Death and Autopsy) and two to three members from each lineup, including the Control Denied records. We also interviewed (producer) Jim Morris.

What were some of the challenges you faced bringing Chuck’s story to film?

I think having the family agree to be in it. They’ve been interviewed before but it was a long time ago and they weren’t organized interviews for full-fledged media. One of the interviews we did with Mrs. Schuldiner was canceled about 12 hours before because she didn’t think she could do it. (Later) as we were in a parking lot we got a call that she was ready and had to scramble. 

Will there be any kind of partnership to release a “best of” collection or soundtrack of the movie?

Well, there are a lot of things involved with royalties and publishing but I don’t know how any of that works. I guess we could do that at some point but it wouldn’t be with huge fanfare. Maybe we’ll just let people know the songs we used. Outside of demos, I don’t think people will have a hard time figuring out what songs we used.

How did you decided to partner with Decibel and have the screening the weekend of the Choosing Death Fest?

Albert (Mudrian) asked me. I interviewed him for the documentary – we showed up at this house and went to see him for a weekend. I sent him a screener of a few things I had cobbled together and he told me about plans for the festival. I actually based some of my research on Albert’s book and the oral history that the magazine did on Death.

Has Chuck’s family seen the finished product?

Right now we are finished in terms of editing and I could show you it from beginning to end. But I don’t have all of the graphics. They have seen the polished parts. I showed them the chapter on Human and they loved it. I asked if it had the seal of approval and it did.

What are the screening plans?

I’m talking to Vivek (Venkatesh, Grimposium) about screening it in Canada and I’m working on screenings at other metal symposiums. Right now we need to find a distributor so it just doesn’t sit on my hard drive.